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Multilingualism and power in contemporary French cinema
Author: Gemma King

In a world defined by the flow of people, goods and cultures, many contemporary French films explore the multicultural nature of today's France through language. In a cinematic landscape increasingly characterised by multiculturalism and linguistic diversity, a number of contemporary French films are beginning to represent multilingualism as a means of attaining and exerting social power. This book is the first substantial study of multilingual film in France. Unpacking the power dynamics at play in the dialogue of eight emblematic films, it argues that many contemporary French films take a new approach to language and power. The book begins in central Paris in Polisse and Entre les murs, then travels to the banlieue in Un prophete and Dheepan. It then heads to another culturally loaded but very different space with Welcome and La Graine et le mulet, whose border-crossing stories unfold in the port cities of Calais and Sete respectively. Then, in London River and Des hommes et des dieux, the book steps off French soil, travelling to the English capital and former French colony of Algeria. It explores characters whose lives are marked not only by France, but by former colonies, foreign countries and other European states. In its depiction of strategic code-switching in transcultural scenarios, contemporary French multilingual cinema shows the potential for symbolic power inherent in French, other dominant Western tongues, and many migrant and minority languages. The book offers a unique insight into the place of language and power in French cinema today.

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Author: Gemma King

This is the first book dedicated to the career and films of Jacques Audiard. It argues that the work of this prominent French director both reinforces and undermines the traditional concept of the auteur.

The book traces Audiard’s career from his early screenwriting projects in the 1970s to his eight directed feature films. From a prison outside Paris to a war zone in Sri Lanka, from a marine park on the Côte d’Azur to the goldfields of the American Wild West, these films revolve around the movement of bodies. Fragile yet powerful, macho yet transgressive, each of these films portrays disabled, marginalised or otherwise non-normative bodies in constant states of crisis and transformation.

This book uses the motif of border-crossing – both physical and symbolic – to explore how Audiard’s films construct and transcend boundaries of many forms. Its chapters focus on his films’ representation of the physical body, French society and broader transnational contexts. Located somewhere between the arthouse and the B movie, the French and the transnational, the feminist and the patriarchal, the familiar and the new, this book reveals how Jacques Audiard’s characters and films reflect his own eternally shifting position, both within and beyond the imaginary of French cinema.

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Gemma King

In a cinematic landscape increasingly characterised by multiculturalism and linguistic diversity, a number of contemporary French films are beginning to represent multilingualism as a means of attaining and exerting social power. Multilingual cinema is a particularly salient phenomenon in France, both in terms of production and reception. A year during which France's complex multicultural identity and hybrid social fabric was thrown into the spotlight, 2005 was a crucial time for multilingual film production in France. Contemporary French multilingual cinema contains a plethora of films composed of multiple languages. Postcarding is still a phenomenon which appears in the contemporary era, but strategic and meaningful multilingualism has overtaken superficial renderings of language difference. In contrast to more traditional, twentieth-century portrayals of multilingualism, contemporary French multilingual films often portray language difference as a narrative device in itself, and a means of obtaining and wielding influence over others.

in Decentring France
Gemma King

French multilingual cinema is primarily a contemporary phenomenon. The twentieth century may have seen comparatively few French films featuring other languages, yet multilingual films have in fact existed since the advent of sound cinema. The official contracts of co-productions, through which France and at least one other country create a film in collaboration, also implicitly promote multilingualism through their multinationality. The first period of French cinema history to produce a noteworthy selection of multilingual films is the prolific inter-war period of the 1930s. While le cinema du look was a key moment in the development of twentieth-century French cinema in general, it remains one of the less diverse and experimental periods for multilingual filmmaking. Beur and banlieue films of the mid 1980s and 1990s rarely, if ever, represent a multiplicity of languages in the same way as contemporary multilingual films.

in Decentring France
Gemma King

The multilingual cinema of contemporary France operates both within the national centre and on its peripheries, both in dominant French spaces and beyond the borders of the Hexagon. In multilingual films, tensions and politics concerning France as a nation and Frenchness as an identity come to the fore, as do the shifting role and importance of the French language. As a result, multilingual cinema not only foregrounds and values languages other than French, but consequently decentres the French language from its once-monopolistic central role in French cinema. France may continue to be a predominantly centralised country in cultural and economic terms, but multilingual cinema envisions a map of multiple linguistic centres. When applied to the place of languages other than French in multilingual cinema, the rhizome thus reveals a non-stratified framework through which to view the links between languages.

in Decentring France
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Polisse and Entre les murs
Gemma King

Contemporary French multilingual films present a plethora of different language combinations, each associated with their own historical and political stakes. In Polisse, the relationship between French and Italian, between which a number of the film's middleclass characters code-switch for reasons of convenience, differs markedly from the loaded rapport between French and Arabic. In Entre les murs, the foreign language of Spanish is a sanctioned part of the curriculum, while Arabic, Mandarin and Tamazight are learned in the home and discouraged in the classroom. Cultural divisions and inequalities are at the heart of Polisse and Entre les murs's narratives, which frequently explore persistent problems of cultural fracture in French society. To understand the importance of the role of Arabic in Polisse and of Tamazight in Entre les murs, it is necessary to look over the evolution of African language representation in French cinema.

in Decentring France
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Un prophète and Dheepan
Gemma King

Un prophete and Dheepan are part of an ever-expanding number of contemporary French films which foreground and valorise the complexity and richness of multilingual interaction. In the dangerous settings of both Un prophete and Dheepan, language, power and violence are interlaced in a complex nexus that the protagonists gradually learn to navigate with skill. Contemporary multilingual banlieue cinema thus introduces the concept of the treacherous interpreter, and the language-power-violence triad, to re-envision the place of peripheral languages in contemporary (sub)urban France. French, of course, has its value in Un prophete and Dheepan, as the banlieue's lingua franca. In both Dheepan and Un prophete, education is empowering, and the most useful form of education is shown to be the acquisition of language. In both films, multilingualism and translation offer unique opportunities for advancement that challenge traditional perceptions of the value of languages.

in Decentring France
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Welcome and La Graine et le mulet
Gemma King

Welcome and La Graine et le mulet investigate the inner-outer configuration of local-migrant relationships, and provide new ways to understand Mireille Rosello's work on the dynamics of hospitality. Both films explore how the international impacts on the local in multilingual, contemporary French society, especially in its contentious border areas. For La Graine et le mulet, multilingualism is a natural and sustainable solution to globalisation in France. Unlike Welcome, the migrant trajectory in La Graine et le mulet matches that of many earlier characters in French film. Both Welcome and La Graine et le mulet are set in port cities and on coastal borders where even the most domestic spaces are impacted by a culture of movement, migration and transition. These films oscillate between scenarios of inclusion and exclusion, formulating a complex view of language relations on contemporary French soil that extends beyond Eurocentric hierarchies.

in Decentring France
London River and Des hommes et des dieux
Gemma King

London River and Des hommes et des dieux comprise a collection of disparate characters, cultural groups and languages, which find themselves at first in conflict, and then in cooperation, with one another. In these films' multicultural environments, multilingualism is an asset, and those who can speak multiple languages have increased access to control, information and support. In both films French functions in a new way rarely seen before in cinema, and becomes an unanchored language in Des hommes et des dieux and London River's British and Algerian settings alike. Unsurprisingly, terrorism renders both London River and Des hommes et des dieux tragic and violent films. When encountering real or suspected enemies in both films, tensions between groups are brought to the fore, and various characters in each film display mistrust and fear of the ethnic and religious other.

in Decentring France
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Gemma King

This book introduces the readers to an important yet little-acknowledged trend in French cinema, in which multilingualism, and the relationship between French and other languages, is fundamental. Rather. It demonstrates how the representation of French as the only prominent or useful language in cinema is being progressively dismantled. More than ever, it is worthwhile and valuable to acknowledge, learn and use multiple languages in France, and, as Laura Rascaroli describes it, to consider how multilingual film 'comments on today's Europe'. French remains an indispensable element to all eight films examined in the book, whether it is used as the official language on French soil, a language of fading influence (Welcome), an unanchored lingua franca (London River), a native language Des hommes et des dieux or an acquired one (Dheepan).

in Decentring France