In this first major study of French colonial and postcolonial cinema, Dina Sherzer compiles essays by some of the foremost scholars on the subject who interrogate and analyze the realities behind the images of the nation’s past and present.
In this first major study of French colonial and postcolonial cinema, Dina Sherzer compiles essays by some of the foremost scholars on the subject who interrogate and analyze the realities behind the images of the nation's past and present. Through an examination of France and its colonies, multiethnic contemporary France, and cinematic discourses which have been and are being produced about France's colonial past, these authors explore how the images relay underlying assumptions and their relation to historical and political facts. A variety of subjects and viewpoints inform these studies, which cover the entire range of films on that topic.
The authors expound upon the role French and Francophone films are currently playing in reconstructing and imagining France's colonial past. Not only do the essays examine how French cinema has represented the encounter of French citizens with individuals from former colonies during the colonial era; they examine how French cinema has portrayed and has come to terms with the immigration of former colonial subjects to France. In addition, the book features another postcolonial facet by analyzing films of directors from the former colonies who give their own representation of colonialism and presentation of their culture.
This study is a major contribution to postcolonial research. Race, gender, and geography are central themes throughout this book that presents innovative material that contributes to the history of French cinema and emphasizes how cinema participates in and is a part of national culture.
- Introduction (Dina Sherzer)
- 1. Imperial Frame: Film Industry and Colonial Representation (Martine Astier Loutfi)
- 2. Split Screens: La Maison du Maltais as Text and Document (Steven Ungar)
- 3. Whither the Colonial Question? Jean Renoir's The River (Nandi Bhatia)
- 4. Regarding Rouch: The Recasting of West African Colonial Culture (Paul Stoller)
- 5. Le Colonial Féminin: Women Directors Interrogate French Cinema (Catherine Portuges)
- 6. Empire as Myth and Memory (Naomi Greene)
- 7. Filmic Memorial and Colonial Blues: Indochina in Contemporary French Cinema (Panivong Norindr)
- 8. Third Cinema or Third Degree: The "Rachid System" in Serge Meynard's L'Oeil au beurre noir (Mireille Rosello)
- 9. Decolonizing Images: Soleil O and the Cinema of Med Hondo (Madeleine Cottenet-Hage)
- 10. Post-Tricolor African Cinema: Toward a Richer Vision (John D. H. Downing)
- 11. Race Matters and Matters of Race: Interracial Relationships in Colonial and Postcolonial Films (Dina Sherzer)
- About the Authors
Reflecting on anthropological writings, Clifford Geertz quotes James Clifford, the metaethnographer, as Geertz calls him: "What has become irreducibly curious is no longer the other but cultural description itself." This reflective and deconstructive stance has also shaped postcolonial studies that have examined the nature of visual and verbal representations of the Other, the American Indian, the African, and the Arab created by Western scholars, travelers, writers, and colonizers. This collection of essays is very much in the mode of such studies. It deals with a rich topic composed of multiple realities, past and present, involving France and its colonies, multiethnic contemporary France, and cinematic discourses that have been and are being produced about these realities. More specifically, these essays examine how French cinema has represented the encounter and cohabitation of French individuals and various Others during the colonial era, how French cinema is currently imagining and refiguring France's colonial past, and how it renders and comes to terms with the cohabitation of individuals from the former colonies and French individuals in France. As such, this book is a contribution to postcolonial research, but it also goes beyond that to include another aspect of postcolonialism by offering analyses of films by directors from the former colonies who give their own representation of colonialism and their own presentation of their culture, so that now it is with the lens of the Other that images are constructed.
Resolutely postmodern, these essays interrogate and analyze images of the past and of the present, examine how the images signify, and point out the underlying assumptions behind them and their relationship to historical and cultural facts. Some of the issues raised include: What were the components of the colonial imagination? How was and is the Other represented? What is the nature of the images shown on the screen? What of the past is represented, history or memory? What constructions have been elaborated about the Empire and the metropolis at the time of colonization and after decolonization? What discursive contexts allowed and enabled such cultural constructions to emerge? How are colonial wars represented? Several authors discuss how the films participated in the creation and maintenance of the cultural hegemony of France. Others note the ambiguous messages of the recent films set in the colonies that display an uncanny nostalgia for the Empire. The authors dealing with films set in contemporary France document how the films they discuss participate in the ongoing debate about identity and ethnicity. And the authors who present Francophone cinema document how the Empire writes back, as it were, and bring to the fore the powerful messages of films that intertwine the colonial past with various aspects of African culture that are not often known to the general public.
The scholars who have contributed to this volume are specialists in film studies and teach film at their respective institutions. Their essays reflect their expertise, in that they not only focus on the content of the films but also take into account how narrative and cinematographic techniques such as lack of plot, episodic structure, mise-en-scène, and lighting participate in the creation of meaning. They also pay attention to intertextual relationships that might exist between the films and novels or sociological and cultural documents. In addition, these scholars bring to bear issues of distribution, reception, and spectatorship, which are relevant in that they determine who can make films, who sees them, and how spectators are manipulated to react in specific ways to crucial issues of gender, ethnicity, and identity.
A brief overview of colonialism and the history of cinematic productions in France from 1895 to the present will help to identify the historical context in which the films were made. In a nutshell, here is the story. From the beginning of the twentieth century to World War II, there was not much interest in the colonies on the part of directors, because of the expense involved in filming far away and because of the lack of interest among the French public. When nationalisms began to rise after World War II, during the colonial wars and the period of decolonization (1945-1962), issues related to the colonies were not judged to be appropriate topics for films and would have been censored. Immediately and for several years after decolonization (1962-1975), a reluctance set in that prevented directors from looking outside French borders. Only since the mid-1970s has France dared to examine its colonial past.
During the nineteenth century, France embarked on a series of conquests, annexations, and campaigns of pacification. It conquered Algeria in 1841 after eleven years of warfare; it annexed Tunisia in 1881 and Madagascar in 1885. From 1900 to 1914 the pacification of various colonies continued, agreements were signed with local authorities, and administrative organizations were put in place that imposed French models for schools, hospitals, and the army. Native soldiers were trained to serve France, and in fact they were enlisted to fight in the trenches of eastern France against the Germans. Colonists began developing infrastructures such as ports and railroads, which facilitated the exportation of raw material to metropolitan France. In 1914 France possessed an empire twenty times its size, expanding into Africa, Asia, and the Pacific. These exotic distant lands were a source of profit and contributed to the strength and power of the metropolis. But anticolonial resistance began to be felt as the two societies, one of which oppressed the other, engaged in contact and confrontation and as asymmetries became more and more marked. In the year 1895 Louis Lumiére made his first films, and already by 1900 his cameramen brought back documentaries from the colonies. Georges Méliés's 1902 film Trip to the Moon, usually read as a precursor of science fiction films, is unconsciously emblematic of the conquering spirit of the time in its scenes of scientists trying to slaughter the inhabitants of the moon, represented as tribal people with body painting and spears, who were resisting the invaders and forcing them to leave.
From 1914 to 1930, France tried to devise a way to deal with the colonies that would best serve its own self-interest. Part of the question to be answered was whether it was better to export the colonies' raw materials to France or to develop industry in the colonies. Nationalism, as well as anticolonial resistance, was on the rise. Meanwhile, French cinema from 1915 to 1929 offered its viewers fictional adventures outside France, in North Africa and in the eastern Mediterranean. Several genres presented the encounter with the Other in exotic lands. The oriental-tales films in the vein of The Thousand and One Nights, with revealing titles like La Sultane de l'amour (1919), staged brutal, mysterious, and tragic passions with the oriental woman as seductress. The other genre, that of colonial films, used the French colonies of North Africa as settings for such stories as Jacques Feyder's L'Atlantide (1921), shot in the desert. An adaptation of Pierre Benoit's best-selling novel by the same title was a huge success and was followed by a series of films shot in Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. Among them was Henri Fescourt's La Maison du Maltais (1927), set in Tunisia (see Chapter 2). These films were about adventure, exoticism, and forbidden love. Jean Renoir's Le Bled (1929) was a propaganda film that hailed the mission civilisatrice of the French and displayed their technical skills. The films from that period did not concern themselves with the political and social problems of North Africa.
From 1931 to 1939, France continued to organize health services and scientific and technical development in its colonies. In 1930, with the advent of the Depression, the difference between rich and poor became more marked, and the colonized intellectuals began to question the presence of the colonizers. The 1931 Exposition coloniale celebrated the Empire even as it was already crumbling. In 1937 riots erupted in Meknes and agitations spread in Morocco; in 1938 there were riots in Tunis and other parts of Tunisia. This is the period of the colonial cinema, with Jacques Feyder's Le Grand Jeu (1934), Julien Duvivier's La Bandera and Edmond Greville's Princesse Tam Tam (1935), Julien Duvivier's Pépé le Moko (1937), and Pierre Chenal's La Maison du Maltais (1938). The films, which took place in North Africa, presented the colonies as the French directors imagined them, as territories waiting for European initiatives, virgin land where the White man with helmet and boots regenerated himself or was destroyed by alcoholism, malaria, or native women. They displayed the heroism of French men, along with stereotypical images of desert, dunes, and camels, and reinforced the idea that the Other is dangerous. They did not present the colonial experience, did not attach importance to colonial issues, and were amazingly silent on what happened in reality. They contributed to the colonial spirit and temperament of conquest and to the construction of White identity and hegemony.
From 1940 to 1945 the soldiers of the Empire fought for France in World War II. As the war ended, nationalisms developed in many countries, and the French sought to repress them and organized military campaigns against them. In 1944 there were troubles in Rabat. The Thiaroye massacre took place in Senegal--native troops coming back from the front requested the money owed to them, and since they seemed to revolt against the French authority and might agitate the rest of the population, the French army killed them. In 1945 there were strikes in Douala and agitation in Conakry. The films that are usually discussed with regard to this troubled period of French history are Jean Delannoy's L'éternel Retour (1943) Henri Clouzot's Le Corbeau (1943), and Marcel Carné's Les Enfants du paradis (begun in 1943 and screened in 1945), which have become classics. From 1941 to 1943, however, several other films--among them Le pavilion brûle (1941), by Jacques de Baroncelli; Malaria (1942), by Jean Gourget; Mahalia la métisse (1942), by Walter Kapps; L'Appel du Bled (1942), by Maurice Gleize; and Chant de l'exilé (1943), by André Hugon--provided French filmgoers diversion from the war. They were tales of love and adultery set in Africa, Algeria, and Indochina, and they staged French characters as the main protagonists, involved in issues that placed the natives in secondary positions, as servants, traitors, or exploited sexual partners. These films displayed the strength and courage of the French working for and developing the colonies and again offered an apology for the colonizer and the colonizing process.
The postwar Fourth Republic extended from 1945 to 1958. In 1946, just after the war, the French government, in a spirit of generosity and equality, declared all the individuals from the colonies to be French citizens and therefore equal to the French from the metropolis. But the gesture was too late and not enough, and little by little France was forced to divest itself of its colonies. Through wars and decolonization the colonies gradually gained their independence. In 1953 riots erupted in Morocco, which was declared independent in 1956. In 1954 the French were defeated in Dien Bien Phu, and Indochina was declared independent. In 1954 the Front de Libération National (FLN) movement began agitating in Algeria, and a series of military campaigns and operations opposed the French army and the Algerian liberation army.
With regard to cinema, 1945 to 1958 was a very active period. France was trying to reorganize itself and its cinema and to ward off the power of Hollywood. At first, directors made films about World War II, such as René Clément's La Bataille du rail (1945). Then came Jean Cocteau's La Belle et la bête (1946), Claude Autant-Larat's Le Diable au corps (1946), and Jean Delannoy's La Symphonie pastorale (1946). In the early 1950s, while Indochina was on fire and revolts were erupting in North Africa, Max Ophüls directed La Ronde (1950); Jacques Tati, Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot (1951); and Robert Bresson, Le Journal d'un curé de campagne (1951). These were safe, very French, apolitical films, comedies on behavior and social rules or the human psyche.
Several directors dared to engage with matters having to do with the colonies, but their efforts were quickly squashed. Chris Marker praised African culture and criticized European imperialism in Les Statues meurent aussi (1952). His film was censored. Rendez-vous sur les quais, by Paul Carpita (1953), was forbidden because it showed dockers in Marseille refusing to load armaments bound for Indochina as the coffins of French soldiers fighting there were taken off incoming ships. This film has now resurfaced, and its screening was permitted for the first time in 1990. Jean Rouch's Les Maîtres-fous (1954), screened in Paris in the Musée de l'Homme, caused considerable controversy. Alain Resnais's Nuit et brouillard (1956), which explored the memory of the Holocaust, was censored until the director removed the image of a French policeman in a concentration camp. It was not yet time to bring up topics considered dangerous and taboo. From 1956 to 1958, Roger Vadim in Et Dieu créa la femme and Louis Malle in Ascenseur pour l'echafaud made their mark with new ideas and heralded the new cinema. Vadim was innovative with Brigitte Bardot and his presentation of a new image of woman, and Malle explored new cinematographic techniques and an interesting sound track. The young critics of the Cahiers du cinéma (Claude Chabrol, Jean-Luc Godard, Jacques Rivette, and François Truffaut) were preparing the New Wave. Indochina and Algeria did not appear in cinema during this time.
The period from 1958 to 1978 was the first twenty years of the Fifth Republic, which began with Charles de Gaulle's "coup d'état." War was raging in Algeria and France was in turmoil, on the brink of civil war until 1962 when the Evian accords were signed. The movement that came to be called the New Wave emerged on the French scene in 1958 when the critics of the Cahiers du cinéma made their first films, Chabrol's Les Cousins, Truffaut's Les 400 Coups, and Rivette's Paris nous appartient. In 1958 Malle's Les Amants and Alain Resnais's Hiroshima mon amour also came out, and 1959 was the year of Godard's A bout de soufle.
These films were mostly apolitical in that they ignored the Franco-Algerian conflict. In fact, until 1962, "Silence on ne tourne pas" [Quiet there is no shooting in progress] was the rule. "Algeria" was a word that movie directors were told to forget. Censorship was at work, preventing them from choosing topics considered dangerous. In 1960 Godard's Le Petit Soldat, dealing with the Algerian problem and torture, was censored; it was not released until 1963. In 1961 Resnais's Last Year in Marienbad broached the subject of the relationship between France and Algeria, but in a metaphorical way, using a rape scene to represent France's activities in Algeria.
Adieu Philippine (1963), by Jacques Rozier, timidly alludes to the Algerian war through the story of a young man's vacation before he leaves for Algeria. The same year, Resnais's Muriel refers directly but subliminally to the violence and rape committed by the French in Algeria. As Pierre Jeancolas notes, there is a strange silence of French cinema on the subject of decolonization and colonial wars, because viewers preferred to close their eyes; they wanted the past behind them as France was busy entering the consumer society and enjoying an economic boom. The subject of Algeria brought feelings of shame; the war took place not far away like the Indochina war did but in France's backyard. It took an Italian director, Gillo Pontecorvo, and Algerian funds to make La Bataille d'Alger in 1966, a moving film that presented events from the Algerian point of view and did justice to the important role played by women in the actual fight against the colonizers. In 1965 Pierre Schoendoerffer presented La 317éme Section, a precursor of Platoon documenting the heroism of French soldiers fighting in difficult conditions in Indochina. But the film, a faint echo of the Indochina war fought ten years before, raised little interest. Colonial wars were doomed topics (sujets maudits). French people did not want to be confronted with their past, and amnesia dominated French screens and French history generally until the 1970s. Films such as Avoir 20 ans dans les Aurés, by René Vautier (1971); RAS, by Yves Boisset (1972); and La Question, by Laurent Heynemann (1976) were left in the distributors' drawers for a long time.
From 1975 to 1980 France and its former colonies continued their relationship in a spirit of cooperation. France helped the newly independent colonies to develop their infrastructure, trying to keep an important sphere of influence in the world and an outlet for its products. This relationship with the old metropolis was criticized by some for smacking of neocolonialism. At this time one could notice a definite change in the French mentality--it was now possible and tolerable to look at the past and to begin to assess what had happened. A case in point is precisely the work of Pierre Boulanger in Le Cinema colonial (1975). In his introduction Boulanger could write that from 1911 to 1962, 210 films were made about the colonies, mostly about North Africa, which gave spectators biased, fanciful representations that are disturbing today. He noted that the films promoted the myth of aggression; they were apologies for conquest, murder, stupidity, and hatred; and they completely ignored the native populations. It became possible not only to write about the past but also to make films about it. "Silence on retourne, la mémoire nous reviendrait" [Quiet, there is shooting in progress again, our memory is returning to us], an article in L'Express states ironically. And indeed, Jean Jacques Annaud looked at the colonial Africa of 1916 in La Victoire en chantant (1976) and Pierre Schoendoerffer in Le Crabe-tambour (1977) reminisced about World War II, Indochina, and Algeria from the point of view of army officers who believed in France's mission. Alexandre Arcady's Le Coup de sirocco (1978) showed the traumatism of the Algerian French population and the uprooting that their resettlement in France provoked. L'Etat sauvage (1978), by Francis Girot, was a scathing indictment of both African and French racism and of the opportunism and corruption of the French and African authorities in an undetermined African country.
In the 1980s and 1990s the return of the repressed was in full swing. One can speak of the colonial syndrome: just as Vichy continued to haunt the memories, screens, and books of France," similarly colonialism became a topic that was dealt with in many domains, from studies of colonial cultures to research in history and anthropology." Cinema played an important role in this exploration of the colonial past for several reasons. Several directors making their first film in those years happened to have personal experiences shaped by the colonies and by colonial wars and decided to make films on these topics. In addition, it was necessary for French cinema to turn to other places and to innovate. There are now a good number of films that are imaginings and refigurings of colonial culture and life and of colonial wars: for Africa, Bertrand Tavernier's Coup de torchon (1981) and Claire Denis's Chocolat (1988); for Algeria, Alain Corneau's Fort Saganne (1984), Gérard Mordillat's Salut Frangin (1989), Gilles Béhat's Le Vent de la Toussaint (1991), Brigitte Roiian's Outremer (1991), and Bertrand Tavernier's La Guerre sans nom (1992); for Indochina, Jean Jacques Annaud's L'Amant (1992), Régis Wargnier's Indochine (1992), and Pierre Schoendoerffer's Dien Bien Phu (1992).
Even though these films do not purport to be documentaries or truthful renderings of the past, and even though they include many ambiguities, contradictions, and biases, as several of the essays in this volume point out, they are fascinating documents, presenting to French spectators images of the former colonies, of life in the contact zone from a Eurocentric point of view. They capture what outremer (overseas) stood for in the minds of French spectators--tropical, exotic places, the desert of Fort Saganne, the beautiful blue sea of Outremer, the teeming life of the oriental neighborhood of Cholon in L'Amant, the haunting beauty of the Bay of Ha Long in Indochine, the wide landscapes of Africa in La Victoire en chantant and Chocolat. They show the colonies as territories occupied successively by several different European countries, and as multiethnic societies where French individuals from different classes and regions lived side by side with native populations under strict organizations and rules that the established hierarchies and asymmetries designed to privilege the French and to exploit the land and the natives. These films provide concrete examples of what colonization meant, i.e., the importation of French traditions through the French military, the French church, and the French administration, which organized and ruled the different countries of the Empire and tried to push aside native traditions.
A postcolonial orientation is definitely a central aspect here; although these films present the point of view of French individuals, they also show the exploitation of the native populations and the privileged life and prejudices of the colonizers, as well as their use of scholarly knowledge to get control of the land they want to conquer. The collaboration of the native elite with the French is made evident, but so are different forms of resistance on the part of the native populations. Viewers are made aware of what has been called "the weapons of the weak," such as the songs making fun of the Whites by the Africans carrying the two priests and the man praying to Allah but putting on a cross when the priests arrive in La Victoire en chantant and the puppet show depicting the story of the Vietnamese princess killing the French officer in Indochine. They also see clandestine meetings in Chocolat and the rise of nationalism and guerrilla activities in Le Vent de la Toussaint, Outremer, and Indochine, reflecting the powerful will for independence and freedom in the colonies and the bloody military campaigns that France undertook in order to save its Empire. With regard to representation of the natives, in the films of the 198os and 1990s, in comparison to those of the 1930s, the casting has changed. It is no longer conceivable to have an Arab or an African played by a White actor. Nor is it any longer acceptable to have non-White characters playing roles of inept, ridiculous, or childish individuals. The Other can be a medicine man, can go to French schools, and can speak several languages. The films construct a much more positive image of the Other. And finally these films recall with a definite nostalgia how the French communities felt at home in the lands and territories that they had considered their own, that they had worked hard to develop and to maintain, and how in fact these people often had never set foot in France and were first and really only North African French, Asiatic French, or African French. Indeed, these films are the second wave of colonial films or, really, the only colonial films. They sensitize French viewers to the colonial past, and they have an impact on the formation of a common collective memory of the colonies. Perhaps the salient feature that links all these films is that French directors represent France as embroiled, indeed trapped, as an intruder in other lands and other cultures.
Since decolonization and right up to the present, because of economic and political problems, an increasing number of individuals from the former colonies have settled in France. The contact zone is now in France itself, and immigration, the presence of the Other on French soil, has polarized the country. Individuals of Maghrebian origin called Beur, individuals from African origin called Black, individuals from Vietnam and Cambodia, and French individuals are living side by side within neighborhoods in French cities or on the outskirts of cities where several different ethnic groups cohabit in run-down tenements. Concern with the poverty, marginalization, and modalities of integration of these immigrants and of their children, assimilation or preservation of cultural differences, and notions of identity, national culture, and what Frenchness is have been debated on the political scene and in the press." Cinema participates in this debate as it engages with these touchy aspects of contemporary French life. At the moment, three orientations emerge, which can be classified with the labels Beur cinema, Black cinema, and French cinema. Beur cinema is represented by films made by directors of Maghrebian descent who are living in France, such as Abdelkrim Bahloul's Le Thé à la menthe (1984) and Medhi Charef's Le Thé au harem d'Archimède (1985) (see Chapter 8). Black cinema is represented by Med Hondo's Soleil O (1970) (see Chapter 9) and Thomas Gilou's Black Mic Mac (1988). Bahloul's Le Thé à la menthe and Gilou's Black Mic Mac are fascinating presentations of Maghrebian and Black communities in Paris.
Several French directors have been and continue making films about the Maghrebian and Black populations living in France; Claude Berri's Tchao pantin (1985), Gérard Blain's Pierre et Djemila (1987), and Cédric Kahn's Trop de bonheur (1995) deal with the interactions of Beur and French individuals. Claire Denis's S'en fout la mort (No Fear No Die) (1990), Nicolas Ribourski's Périgord noir (1988), and Coline Serreau's Romuald et Juliet (1988) are films about Black and French individuals (see Chapter 11). Serge Meynard's L'Oeil au beurre noir (1988) (see Chapter 8) and Bernard Blier's Un deux trois soleil (1993) are about the 3B's, as they are called in France (Black, Blanc, Beur), and capture the multiethnicity of many French cities. Except for Ribourski's Périgord noir, the subject of these films is the difficult life of immigrants in tenements, their asymmetrical relationships with French individuals, their negative interactions with French authorities, and the poverty, racism, and unemployment that plague the young people. Denis's S'en font la mort and Gilou's Black Mic Mac are particularly interesting documents, sensitive to aspects of the hybrid culture of immigrant populations and mingling elements of the old country and contemporary France. Ribourski's Périgord noir and Serreau's Romuald et Juliet also present French and Black individuals, but in a very positive utopian tone, with an ironic touch (see Chapter 11).
In the 1960s, immediately after decolonization, the idea of Francophony--a cultural association of countries linked by a common language--began to emerge. It became a reality in 1986 with the inauguration of a regular series of conferences and continues to be so, with the French government actively promoting the conception that France now is no longer only a member of the European community but is also, along with its former colonies, a Francophone country. Concomitantly, the cultures, the literature, and the films from the Francophone world are emerging now as dynamic and creative modes of expression. The Empire writes back, the excolonized peoples express themselves and engage with their past and their present. In cinema, the colonies, which under French domination did not have access to production and distribution possibilities, are now progressively overcoming the considerable difficulties, and several Francophone directors have been able to make films (see Chapters 9 and 10).
Francophone cinema has taken several orientations. One group of films presents the point of view of excolonized people on colonization: Chroniques des années de braise (1975), by Lakhdar-Hamina, from Algeria; Emitai (1971) and Camp de Thiaroye (1988), by Ousmane Sembene, from Senegal (see Chapter 10); Rue cases négres (1988), by Euhzan Palcy, from Martinique; Mort dun prophéte (1991), by Raoul Peck, from Haiti, and Afrique je te plumerai (1992), by Jean-Marie Teno, from Cameroon. These films, which decolonize knowledge about colonialism and engage with the present as well as the past, are more biting and more committed to showing the evils of colonialism than are the films made by French directors. They focus on African, Martinican, and Algerian history and colonial past, seen through the eyes of those who are the descendants of the victims of colonialism.
Other Francophone films present images and stories set in the contemporary reality of the former colonies: from Martinique, Siméon, by Euzhan Palcy (1991); from Cameroon, Sango malo, by Bassek ba Kobhio (1991), and Quartier Mozart, by Jean-Pierre Beloko (1992); from Senegal, Touki Bouki, by Djibril Diop Mamberty (1973), and Saaraba, by Amadou Seck (1988). The directors of these films aim at redressing the imbalance that resulted when only images from the West appeared on Francophone screens. Echoing the past and dealing with the present, these films constitute an effort to represent racial and cultural Otherness, which had previously been marginalized or silenced. Francophone directors want to make up for the past silencing of their cultures by the colonizers; their films are the creations of postcolonial individuals who are trying to recover their past and valorize their culture. They use native languages, such as Bambara or Wolof, and present myths, rituals, and beliefs in stories that unfold under non-Western chronotopes. Souleymane Cissé's Yeelen (1987), from Mali (see Chapter 10), and Idrissa Ouédraogo's Yaaba (1989), from Burkina Faso, are the most representative examples of this new cinema.
The vitality of Francophone cinema also manifests itself in France with the appearance of films that both receive prizes at film festivals and attract a wide public. Examples are the Franco-Vietnamese production by Tran Anh Hung, L'Odeur de la papaye verte (The Scent of the Green Papaya) (1993), which was hailed at the Cannes film festival in 1993, and a film on Cambodia by an exiled Cambodian living in France and remembering his country, Rithy Panh's Les Gens des riziéres (1993). In addition, French directors propose images of Africa as well. For example, Patrick Grandperret based L'Enfant Lion (1993) on a children's story relating the friendship between a Black child and a lioness, and Laurent Chevallier is directing a film in Guinea adapting the well-known novel by Camara Laye, L'Enfant Roi. Even though these films are isolated examples, they definitely offer other images, other stories, other places, other languages, other gestures, and other customs. They have an ethnographic and cultural appeal for both westerners and contemporary Francophone individuals who have been raised in the Western world and have not known the country of their origin, and finally they valorize cultures that had been despised and silenced during colonization and even during and after decolonization.
I turn now to the essays themselves. They deal with an impressive array of films, which are the products of the cultures of colonialism and postcolonialism, and they address various issues that constitute contemporary postcolonial studies. Postcolonial studies have drawn attention to documents such as films, novels, photographs, and history produced by the colonizers during colonization and examine colonial realities, colonial culture, and colonial ideology as represented in these documents. This is the topic of the essays by Martine Loutfi, Steven Ungar, Nandi Bhatia, and Paul Stoller (Chapters 1 through 4.).
As an appropriate opening for the volume, Martine Loutfi, in "Imperial Frame: Film Industry and Colonial Representation," studies the nature of the images of the colonies that were produced by filmmakers. She points out how the images were constructed as representations of the exotic and were concerned not with the reality of the colonial experience but rather with financial profit, propaganda, and escapism--characteristics that enabled them to avoid control and government censorship. In her historical survey of Lumiére-Meguish, Feyder, Godard, and Wargnier, she examines the evolution of relationships between the technical and economic evolution of the film industry and the representation of colonial situations. She concludes that film is not only entertainment; it is also propaganda and politics.
In his essay, "Split Screens: La Maison du Maltais as Text and Document," Steven Ungar explores a set of fascinating issues that link France, its colonies, colonial expansion, and justification for colonization with notions of identity, hegemony, colonial imagery, and representation. Colonial films, he argues, are packed with messages related to gender, ethnicity, and culture. He then analyzes two different film adaptations of the same novel: Henri Fescourt's La Maison du Maltais (1927) and Pierre Chenal's La Maison du Maltais (1938), describing and analyzing the differences between them. His essay underscores the necessity for a more detailed analysis of the interwar cinema, which has been viewed until now in a monolithic fashion under the label cinéma colonial.
Jean Renoir's The River (1951) has been hailed in the French press for its beautiful colors, its superb camera work, and its fascinating presentation of Indian life along the Ganges with its religion and rituals. However, the postcolonial reading that Nandi Bhatia offers in "Whither the Colonial Question? Jean Renoir's The River" reveals the orientalist overtones of the film. She documents how Renoir, despite his liberal past and populist beliefs, was expressing the Western position, which presented the Other through stereotypes, and she shows how and why he ignored completely the charged political context of the time.
Paul Stoller, in "Regarding Rouch: The Recasting of West African Colonial Culture," begins by reminding readers of the various discourses through which Arabs and Europeans constructed the African. He then studies how Jean Rouch, in Les Maîtres fous, Jaguar, Moi, un noir, La pyramide humaine, and Petit á Petit, mingled poetic lyricism, philosophical content, and political impact to achieve an early and unsettling repudiation of the racist and primitivist foundations of French colonial culture. This is an appropriate essay by an anthropologist, friend of Jean Rouch, and specialist of the Songhai of Niger.
Postcolonial studies concern themselves with recent documents dealing with the colonies. A salient feature of contemporary French culture is that novels about the colonies are being published and, as noted earlier, directors have been particularly attracted by the colonial past. Chapters 5 through 7, by Catherine Portuges, Naomi Greene, and Panivong Norindr, analyze and deconstruct the contemporary images of the colonies produced by French cinema.
Catherine Portuges's essay, "Le Colonial féminin: Women Directors Interrogate French Cinema," points out that most of the second wave of colonial films have been directed by women. She examines how these directors draw attention to the roles of female subjectivity and of women in the colonies, the effects of war on women, and women's implication in the conflicts--all subjects that have been marginalized and excluded until now. She explores the significance of history, memory, family, and the focus on interiority in Brigitte Roüan's Outremer and Marie-France Pisier's Le Bal du gouverneur. She also discusses the significance of Tran Anh Hung's L'Odeur de la papaye verte, which, although it is directed by a man, is a film in search of the memories of the past, a reconstitution of maternal gestures, and an evocation of the domestic space in his Vietnamese household.
Naomi Greene, in "Empire as Myth and Memory," focuses on two films, Le Crabe-tambour and Outremer, and analyzes the questions that they raise concerning the ways in which a bitter and decisive period has been remembered and represented. She shows how these films blur and transform history, since they are more about shattered dreams than about the past, and how they do not represent the most troubling and guilty aspects, but rather express nostalgia for a lost world.
Panivong Norindr, in "Filmic Memorial and Colonial Blues: Indochina in Contemporary French Cinema," captures a current in today's French culture-its fascination, indeed, its love affair, with Indochina-that has resulted in a number of novels and films. After discussing the contact that enabled this type of cultural production, he considers three films--Indochine, L'Amant, and Dien Bien Phu--in order to examine how they establish and mediate historical memory and participate in the construction of a collective memory of Indochina. He concludes that these films sustain and reinforce the founding myths of the colonial presence in Indochina.
The literary and cinematic production of diasporic subjects (descendants of colonized individuals) now in the process of elaborating a Third World cinema is another domain of postcolonial studies. Beur and Black directors in France are part of this development, but some French directors are also participating by representing, like their Black and Beur counterparts, the lives and conditions of Third World diasporic subjects. The essays by Mireille Rosello and Madeleine Cottenet-Hage (Chapters 8 and 9) belong to these categories.
Mireille Rosello, in "Third Cinema or Third Degree: The 'Rachid System' in Serge Meynard's L'Oeil an beurre noir," sets the stage for her analysis by raising a number of questions about the concept of Beur identity and culture, the representation of Bents in the French press, and stereotypes and their functioning in society. The film she studies, which features Smain, a very popular Beur comedian, addresses one aspect of contemporary France, the presence of Blacks, Beurs, and French living side by side in cities. She points out how this film is directly implicated in the culture of contemporary multiethnic France, since its director in fact asks how French language and French culture integrate the presence of Black and Beur in their images.
Madeleine Cottenet-Hage, in "Decolonizing Images: Soleil O and the Cinema of Med Hondo," presents a typical Third World cinema director, an African individual who has experienced a displacement of culture and language and who, having been able to make films despite enormous difficulties, feels the necessity of addressing African audiences and speaking from their point of view. She analyzes one film, Soleil O, which documents the grim postcolonial conditions among African immigrants in France and the effects of their shifting from continent to continent and from place to place, constantly being rejected as Others by the dominant political, economic, and social structure. She notes how Hondo's fragmented narrative techniques contribute to the creation of a sense of instability, movement, and dislocation in the lives of the characters. In addition, she points out the originality and the appropriately hybrid nature of this film, which combines modernity with aspects of traditional African culture.
Another facet of postcolonial studies looks at how individuals from the former colonies take up the pen or the camera to express their version of the colonial experience, thus decolonizing knowledge by proposing their own images, by presenting their own heritage and cultures. John Downing's essay, "Post-Tricolor African Cinema: Toward a Richer Vision," addresses the African manifestations of these issues. He begins with an informative general presentation of African cinema (Africa and North Africa), in which he underscores the variety of themes, structures, and styles, as well as the difficulty that this cinema experienced because of the censorship of African governments, which do not like being criticized. There follows an analysis of several of Ousmane Sembene's films, which, notes Downing, are particularly interesting for their representation of and discourse about women. In his discussion of Emitai and Camp de Thiaroye, Downing shows that these films are a scathing indictment of colonialism, documenting what French directors hide or cannot show-the brutality of the French army. Downing also refers to Guelvaar (1992), a film in which Sembene attacks postcolonial African religion, corruption, and prostitution. Downing moves on to discuss Yeelen (1987), a film by Souleymane Cissé that aims to make contemporary African generations aware of aspects of Bambara culture before colonization, African experience, and linguistic and cultural diversity.
Finally, postcolonial studies encompass the examination of issues of gender, race, and ethnicity in colonial and postcolonial contexts. This is the topic of my essay, "Race Matters and Matters of Race: Interracial Relationships in Colonial and Postcolonial Films" (Chapter 11). I examine the development of interracial relationships as more than the inscribing of love affairs and titillating erotic moments in films; in addition, they address questions of race, hegemony, and difference. I use films from the 1930s to the present to document the changes that have occurred as films have moved from condemnation and discouragement of mixed relationships to a more free display of physical attraction and the pleasures of interracial love. Although such unions are not yet widely accepted, shifts in gender roles, more awareness of difference and ethnicity in an increasingly multiethnic society, and sensitivity to how the Other is represented account for the changes in attitudes.
In analyzing representation in films from colonial and postcolonial France and Francophone countries, these essays focus on history, memory, difference, gender, ethnicity, contradictions, and ambiguities to bring out how cinema captures the mood of a country and how films are crisscrossed by various tendencies and issues that were and are agitating or are latent in French and Francophone culture. I conclude with a quote from Henri Rousso that seems to me particularly appropriate to the question of cinema, colonialism, and postcolonialism: "When the time is right, an era of the past may serve as a screen on which new generations can project their contradictions, controversies, and conflicts in objectified form." Perhaps the time has come when images of colonial times are helping France to come to terms with its past and with the issues of diversity and difference.