Diane Kurys' first film, Diabolo menthe (Peppermint Soda), made in 1977, depicts the lives of two schoolgirl sisters growing up in the early 1960s, a period which coincides with Kurys' own adolescence. Kurys' films are of interest not just as projections of individual preoccupations but also because their focus on girls and women of the baby-boomer generation produces a symptomatic text for analysing wider issues relating to female identity. Her work needs to be understood within the specific context of French cinema and French culture, in which the concept of the auteur, if ostensibly ungendered, remains resolutely masculine. The commercial and critical successes of Diabolo menthe and Coup de foudre, Kurys' two most incontrovertibly women-centred films, coincide with the period when the women's movement in France had its greatest impact on social and political life. In the light of recent gender theory which insists on the fluidity and constructedness of gender positions, Kurys' signalling of 'femininity' in François Truffaut's films might be considered progressive. Diabolo menthe was a huge success, well received by the majority of critics and the highest grossing French film of 1977, at one point coming second only to Star Wars. Cocktail Molotov focuses on a trio of teenagers who miss out on what was going on. Un homme amoureux, Après l'amour and A la folie are some other films that are discussed in this book.
Debates about (and resistances to) France's changing identity as a plural, multi-ethnic society are thus at the forefront of public preoccupations. This book aims to assess the ways in which filmmaking in France might contribute to such debates by foregrounding the voices and subjectivities of ethnic others and thereby reframing the way in which difference is conceptualized. The core focus is the appearance and after-effects of two related phenomena in the history of French cinema, cinéma beur and cinéma de banlieue. The book traces the history of beur filmmaking practices from the margins to the mainstream, from low-budget autobiographically inspired features to commercial filmmaking, and assesses their effectiveness in addressing questions of identity and difference. It attempts to gauge the significance of place in the construction of identity through an analysis of films set in the multi-ethnic banlieue. The book also assesses the extent to which the inscription of displacement and identity in films by emigre Algerian filmmakers overlaps with or differentiates itself from that found in beur cinema. For filmmakers of Maghrebi descent, filmmaking is more than just a question of representation, it is also a way of negotiating their own position within French society. Bensalah's Le Raïd demonstrates how the themes of beur filmmaking can be recuperated by beur filmmakers as well as by white filmmakers. Ameur-Zaifmeche's difficulties in making Wesh wesh illustrate how beur filmmaking may still take place in the interstices of the French film industry.
An understanding of the social and historical context in which beur and banlieue filmmaking has developed is needed in order to appreciate the significance of their interventions in French culture. There is a moment in Eric Rochant's comedy Vive la République! when a group of unemployed young people, who have decided to set up a new political party to challenge what they perceive as the exclusionary politics of the French Republic, agree that the one beur present should represent both blacks and beurs. The chapter also presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in this book. The book assesses the ways in which filmmaking in France might contribute to debates about France's changing identity by foregrounding the voices and subjectivities of ethnic others and thereby reframing the way in which difference is conceptualised.
The theoretical debates informing British and North American analyses of the representation of 'new ethnicities' in popular culture have been largely absent from French discourses on race, immigration and national identity. This chapter analyses how questions of identity and subjectivity are articulated in four beur-authored commercial feature films: Le Thé au harem d'Archimède, Baton Rouge, Miss Mona and Cheb. Baton Rouge, even more than Le Thé à la menthe and Le Thé au harem, plays to a crossover (male) youth audience for whom ethnic difference is represented as unproblematic. Miss Mona, Mehdi Charef's second film, proceeds to offer a challenge to the masculine heterosexual identity of its protagonists. Like Le Thé au harem and Baton Rouge, Cheb seems to be aimed at the youth market once more. Cheb is a Franco-Algerian co-production, shot in Algeria with the cooperation of the Algerian army, but not subsequently released for exhibition in Algeria.
This chapter analyses Hexagone, written and directed by Malik Chibane, the first of a new generation of beur filmmakers, comparing it with Mehdi Charef's earlier success Le Thé au harem d'Archimède. In both Le Thé au harem and Hexagone, the representation of the parents' generation provides an opportunity for the beurs to distance themselves from the religious beliefs and cultural expectations of their parents. In comparing the two films, each produced at a significant moment in the history of postcolonial France, the chapter highlights shifts in the ways beur cinema addresses its audiences and can or cannot problematise the articulation of beur and French national identity in French cinema. The interventions of beur filmmakers in the French cultural arena need to be seen in the wider context of discourses on ethnicity and national identity in French cinema as a whole.
Critics and historians of French cinema have marked out 1995 as the year of the banlieue film, the most significant of which was La Haine, directed by Mathieu Kassovitz. This chapter aims to compare and contrast the representation of ethnicity in La Haine with the representation of ethnicity in Kassovitz's first feature film, Métisse, made in 1993. One of the links between the two films, however, is the privileged role of the white youth. La Haine takes as its topic the cycle of hatred and violence which tends to characterise relationships between young people and the police in the working-class suburbs of France. Métisse is an allegory about the possibility of racial tolerance and integration, which depends not simply on the assimilation of the ethnic other, but on the overthrow of conventional attitudes to love, parenting, and race. The chapter offers a challenge to dominant notions of French national identity.
This chapter examines the different representations of ethnicity and identity in the six banlieue films of 1995, and establishes a comparison between the three white-authored films, La Haine, Etat des lieux and Raï, and the three films by filmmakers of Maghrebi descent, Bye-Bye, Krim and Douce France. It takes into account the narrative function and degree of subjectivity accorded to the characters of Maghrebi descent, the representation of the banlieue as a site of violence, the values ascribed to the culture of the parents' generation, and the construction of gender and sexuality. In La Haine and Etat des lieux, there is no representation of the family backgrounds or living spaces of the beur youths. Bye-Bye, Krim and Douce France address the situation of ethnic minorities in France through narratives which move beyond the semi-autobiographical bases of films such as Le Thé au harem d'Archimède and Hexagone.
Les Histoires d’amour finissent mal en général and Souviens-toi de moi
This chapter analyses the ways in which gender, ethnicity and identity are articulated in Ghorab-Volta's Souviens-toi de moi by comparing it with a commercially oriented film also centring on a young Maghrebi-French woman, Anne Fontaines prize-winning comedy drama Les Histoires d'amour finissent mal en général. Both Les Histoires d'amour finissent mal en général and Souviens-toi de moi are first feature films by young women who began making films without professional training. The ways in which these two women's films inflect the banlieue film are to be welcomed in that they give visibility and a voice to a central young beur woman character, a phenomenon which is still relatively unusual in French cinema. In the course of the 1990s, there was a proliferation of banlieue films involving ethnic difference and films by a new generation of filmmakers which take for granted a multiethnic social background.
This chapter examines whether similar differences can be found in post-1995 beur and banlieue films. It compares the construction of masculinity and violence in two chronicles of life in the ghetto, Ma 6-T va crack-er and Comme un aimant. Comme un aimant differs from Ma 6-T in its initially humorous tone, its use of space, and its more obviously differentiated and individualised protagonists. The film's setting underlines the economic insecurity and social exclusion suffered by its young male protagonists, who regularly leave the area to find something to do, but find themselves frustrated and disillusioned. Like La Haine, these films each articulate a multi-voiced, cross-race protest at the ongoing exclusion of underclass male youths from the pleasures and stabilities of mainstream society. All films use the sexual impotence of their young male protagonists as a trope for their lack of agency in the wider world.
If the cinematic banlieue is constructed as a site of difference, plurality and otherness, the banlieue film is primarily concerned with articulating the crisis in young beur, black and/or white underclass masculinities. Two white-male-authored films of the early 2000s, however, focus on girl power in the banlieue: Samia and La Squale. Both Samia and La Squale depict rebellious teenage girls who challenge the imposition of an unjust, violent patriarchal order, questioning the way they are treated within the domestic sphere and asserting their right to a place in the city. La Squale differs from Samia in representing the impact of girl power on the communal, external spaces of the city as much as within the domestic sphere. La Squale suggests that the endemic violence of its male youth subculture can only be addressed through further violence, including that of the grrrls.