Screening the Paris suburbs

From the silent era to the 1990s

Long before the emergence in the 1990s of a ‘cinéma de banlieue’ on the heels of Mathieu Kassovitz’s La Haine (1995), French filmmakers looked beyond the gates of the French capital for inspiration and content. In the Paris suburbs, they found a vast reservoir of architectural forms, landscapes and contemporary social types in which to anchor their fictions. From the villas and vacant lots of silent serials of the 1910s and the bucolic riverside guinguettes of 1930s poetic realism, to the housing estates and motorways of the second post-war, the suburban landscape came to form a privileged site in the French cinematographic imaginary. In keeping with directorial vision, the prerogatives of the film industry or the internal demands of genre, the suburb could be made to impart a strong impression of reality or unreality, novelty or ordinariness, danger or enjoyment. The contributors to this volume argue collectively for a long history of the suburban imaginary by contrasting diverse ‘structures of feeling’ (Raymond Williams) that correlate to divergent aesthetic and ideological programmes. Commenting on narrative, documentary and essay films, they address such themes as class conflict, leisure, boredom, violence and anti-authoritarianism, underscoring the broader function of the suburb as a site of intense cultural productivity.

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