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Dominic Thomas

Documenting the Periphery


The Short Films of Faza Gune
Pour rendre acceptable cette segmentation, limaginaire colonial est mobilis et revitalis an de parcelliser la subjectivit des domins. (Bouamama, 75)

As Franois Niney has pointed out, Entre les murs (2008) de Laurent Cantet, paradocumentaire jou par les intresss reconstituant la ralit dune classe de coll ge ( 11), serv ed to underscore the complex w ays in which ction and reality were being documented today and ho w the di vision between lmic genres had become increasingly complicated by rapid technological inno vation. Strictly speaking, ( un) documentaire se singularise pour ne plus dsigner quun seul type de document, ou de documentation, visuel ou audiovisuel: un documentair e est alors un lm (ou une vido) qui soppose lm de ction, un peu comme lessai au roman (Nine y, 1516) and La plupart des dictionnaires de la langue franaise comme des vocabulaires du cinma tentent de dnir le documentaire par deux traits principaux: son aspect didactique et son opposition la ction qui recouvrirait lopposition entre rel et imaginaire (Nine y, 16). However, the indiscriminate recourse to such terms as montrant des f aits rels and ren voyant au rel (Nine y, 17) to designate events or features of all forms of lm has served to further complicate the process of cate gorizing lm productions. Gi ven their specic objective of documenting the cultural, economic, political, and social realities of the banlieues, the short lms by F aza Gune that are under consideration here compel vie wers to reect simultaneously on the subjects e xplored and the ef fectivenessand therefore the social functionof the camera itself as a tool. Relying as the y do on diverse evidentiary modes, testimonies, and pri vileged ethnographic

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informers, au-del dtre des uvres de cration, de ction, les lms sont des supports de comprhension dune partie de la vie des adolescents de ma gnration et de mon milieu social (F aza Gune, Personal communication), these lms engage in a dialogue between the center and the periphery. The French banlieues ha ve recei ved considerable attentionon the subject of religion and gender roles (K eaton 2006), comparative urban policies (W acquant 1992 and 2006), ethnicity, race and class (Stovall 2003), social mobility (F assin 2010), police repression (Le Cour Grandmaison 2009)and we are today better -equipped thanks to these historical and sociological analyses to understand cultural and social dynamics in these urban spaces and also to identify reducti ve characterizations of these. However, as new generations of researchers have gained scholarly legitimacy as a result of e xtensive eldwork in the banlieues, it remains of crucial importance to determine what can be gained by connecting these ndings and observ ations with lms and texts generated internally . Indeed, in his discussion of Beur authors (Azouz Begag, Farida Belghoul, Mehdi Charef, etc.), Alec Hargreaves demonstrated ho w they were the rst to write from within the immigrant community itself ( Immigration and identity , 4, emphasis added). Likewise, Beur cinema would also focus on analogous themes, most notably the question of bi-cultural upbringing, Islam in French society, immigrant politics, the parameters of Frenchness, the legacy of the Algerian war, family dynamics, colonial memory , and so on (see Dhoukar). Ultimately, these cultural practitioners provided a perspective on France that w as not a vailable elsewhere. The documentary componentalbeit mediated via ctionwas integral to the genealogy of production, recording an aspect of French society that might not have otherwise been available. The focus on sociological elements complicated the reception of literary works within a highly institutionalized literary establishment (Pascale Casano va has de voted a book-length study to this rpublique mondiale des lettres), and Beur authors were often hea vily criticized for this. Furthermore, the critiques these writers articulated against failed assimilationist and inte grational measures and policies were also construed as calling into question accepted norms and attributes. As Ahmed Boubeker has argued,

Thomas: Documenting the Periphery / 193 Bien sr, le combat peut sembler douteux f ace aux vigiles de la vieille France et ses assignations demeure f antasmatiques, ses compulsions la rptition qui rinventent ltranger pour mieux refouler ses banlieues. Il nempche que, des annes 1980 aux annes 1990, une rvolution symbolique a eu lieu: limmigration devenue llment central dune rexion identitaire sest impose comme une dimension de la socit franaise. (2008, 192)

Relative newcomers to the cultural scene elected to in vestigate subjects anchored in personal e xperience, but also to address perceptions and constructs that circulated concerning these communities. Therefore, when one attempts to cate gorize lms, as Franois Nine y has shown, distinctions between ction and reality ha ve not al ways been that obvious:
ction et documentaire sont tous deux des lms, ils utilisent lune comme lautre le langage cinmatographique base de prises de vues, sons et raccords, mme si leurs tournures dominantes et surtout, on v a le voir, la relation lmeur/lm et la relation monde lm (digse)/monde commun (o vit le spectateur) pri vilgient ici et l des dispositifs dif frents (le drame mimtique dun ct, lenqute discursive de lautre); la ction comme le documentaire est base de prises de vues relles; et le documentaire comme la ction transforme le temps rel, le temps chronique en rcit, en montage. (62)

The decision to engage with dominant society was partially the result of gro wing a wareness of discrimination and the adv ances that had been made thanks to social acti vism and mobilization (Har greaves 2007, 75139). In an intervie w pertaining to the role played by the organization DiverCit, Boualam Azahoum remarked that
Il y a certes des problmes propres au quartier , mais dautres sont lis des contextes socitaux, conomiques, culturels, historiques. Ces problmes sont peu prs les mmes partout, avec des variances dues des histoires locales. [. . .] Lenjeu, ctait donc de dpasser cette situation partir dune mutualisation des mo yens et dune comprhension des changements que nous vivions. (Interview, 203)

Thus, aligning oneself with the momentum in place and w orking towards improving the circulation of ideas and images out of the banlieues necessarily meant fore grounding the dual components of representation: on the one hand, tracing the positi ve de velopments that had resulted from enhanced political consciousness and adv ocacy,

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and on the other emphasizing the benets of coordinating ef forts aimed at achie ving more accurate representations of the banlieues themselves. Such measures w ould entail a direct confrontation with colonial history and postcolonial realities (see Maghraoui), and with an analysis of the social and political mechanisms responsible for producing inequality. The transcoloniality of these questions may seem ob vious to observers, but they remain contested issues in French society today. Le concept dintgration, as Pierre Tvanian has shown, fut ainsi brandi par lEtat colonial comme une concession destin contenir les coloniss et refouler leurs revendications dgalit puis dautodtermination. [. . .] Cest ce refoulement de la question galitaire qui conduit au dbat public tel quil est aujourdhui pos (6465). Some historians, have been slightly less inclined to accept the linearity of these colonial legacies, arguing that in order to comprendre de manire plus globale et moins mcanique le poids du f ait colonial dans notre prsent implique dtre attentif des rapports de pouv oir, ncessairement conjonctuels car redistrib us en permanence (Saada, 71). However, the prcdent colonial (Masure, 568) appears incontro vertible, and as Had Gafaiti has insisted, the fact nevertheless remains that
the French colonial authorities produced an ethnic discourse that w ould serve as the basis of and justication for their policies. Along with economic and political factors that determine the de velopment of immigration in France, this discourse shaped the representation of North African immigrants within France. [ . . . ] the new status of immigrants, and of their children in particular designated as the sec, ond generation, led to the currently exacerbated tensions within the French social fabric and to an increasing racism and discourse of exclusion. (201208)

Nowhere, ar guably, ha ve these transcolonial links been more convincingly present than in the images found on television, whereby the images that do feature on screen tend to be neocolonial in character, presenting migrants and their descendants as alien to the national community and/or as the beneciaries of paternalistic condescension (Hargreaves 1997, 96). Lobservation qualitative des missions montre en ef fet que la production de strotypes positifs ou n gatifs a pour motif persistant la rduction des non-Blancs leurs origines, constitutives de leur tranget la socit franaise (Mac, 398).

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In 1997, Alec Hargreaves published an insightful study of post-colonial minorities and French tele vision, noting that the hea vy capital cost involved in television production and mark eting do not mak e it easy for minority groups to tak e an active role as program-mak ers and suppliers (Har greaves 1997, 96). Since that time, technological evolution has democratized access to production (digital cameras) and distribution (on the internet), and young people ha ve capitalized on these digital and technological adv ances. In turn, this has translated into greater minority participation and therefore visibility . In a 2008 article in Le Monde , Les cits semparent de la camra, P ascale Krmer indicated how les outils, camras numriques et logiciels de montage, se sont dmocratiss, leurs prix seffondrant et leur usage se simpliant lextrme (24). Today,
[v]endus sous forme de DVD, et surtout diffuss gracieusement sur des sites Internet, qui sapparentent parfois de v ritables webtls, sur des vidoblogs ou des sites de partage come Dailymotion [. . .]. Quels quen soient la forme et le support nal, avec des modes dorganisations varis (collectif informel, association, atelier de centre culturel municipal), la cration foisonne dans les cits. (24)

The potential of lmmaking and writing w as partially addressed in the manifesto published in 2007 by the collecti ve of young banlieue artists Qui F ait la F rance in which the y stated nous refusons de demeurer spectateurs des souf frances dont sont victimes les plus fragiles, les dclasss, les in visibles (www .quifaitlafrance.com). Later that year the y published an edited v olume Chroniques pour une socit annonce , and announced that tous les droits dauteur de ce li vre alimenteront cette association pour nancer sur le terrain des projets en direction des habitants de ces territoires en souf france (http://www .quifaitlafrance .com/content/blogcategory/26/58/). The primary concern of the collective has been to reject stereotypes and false characterizations of the banlieues, and accordingly to counter these by re gistering accurate accounts of Frances cultural, economic, ethnic, and social diversity:
Parce que nous pensons que la France est un pays moderne dont le vi re ensemble v slabore par le dcloisonnement des mentalits, la reconnaissance des souf frances particulires, la mise en rcit de sa di versit et de ses imaginaires; parce que nous refusons que lespace public, seule ressource intellectuelle dont dispose une

196 / French Forum / Spring/Fall 2010 / Vol. 35, Nos. 23 socit pour se penser, soit gaspill par les vaines polmiques, la drision systmatique, les discours con venus et linlassable mise en scne des dominants. (www . quifaitlafrance.com)

In F aza Gune s 2006 no vel, Du r ve pour les oufs , the twentyfour year old main character Ahlme reects on her circumstances, concluding Je suis digne et debout et je pense tout un tas de choses (36), and much lik e Gune herself, resolving to be proacti ve (see Adams). The aim of writers and lmmakers could be summarized as examples of concerted action, whereby Exasprs par les strotypes sur la banlieue dont les abreuv e la tl vision, des jeunes des cits prennent le pouvoir mdiatique (Krmer, 24), providing a therapeutic dimension through action, a tra vail aux bienf aits thrapeutiques sur leur propre image, an de contrer celle que vhiculent les mdias [. . .] En passant derrire la camra, ils se rapproprient leur image (Krmer, 25). The question of visibility is therefore twofold, allowing populations that occupy an otherwise marginal status to be noticed by dominant society, and rendering conspicuous a broad range of social issues that necessarily question and place under pressure Republican ideals and v alues. For, as Carrie Tarr has demonstrated, lms from the cinemas of the periphery tell a dif ferent story [and pro vide] the potential to articulate e xclusion and double consciousness in a w ay that challenges the he gemony of French culture ( 1997, 7379). Historically at least, this is a recent phenomenon for until 1999
la question des politiques de la reprsentation des minorits non blanches et des nouvelles congurations de la nation franaise et de ses imaginaires collectifs navait pas t pose e xplicitement. [. . .] Jusquen 1998, la tl vision franaise tait le reet du modle rpublicain franais: au nom du principe d galit entre les individus, il convenait dtre indiffrent aux diffrences, cest--dire ne pas prendre en compte les diffrences entre les individus et les groupes, an de ne pas menacer lunit de la nation en lui opposant des communauts fondes sur la race, lethnie, le genre, la religion. [. . .] L effet pervers de cette indif frence aux diffrences est celui de lindiffrence aux discriminations. (Mac, 391392)

The project of documenting the banlieues, the principles, rationale and logistics of obtaining an eye into the contemporary postcolonial context and of obtaining a view from within that could be juxtaposed with external projections w as advanced by the creation of numerous

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association and groups in the banlieuespartially as a response to the multiple uprisings that had occurred during the 1990s in such Parisian banlieues (among others of course) as Sartrouville, Gar gesls-Gonesse, Mantes-la-Jolie, and Nanterre. Dif ferent associations and or ganizations (www .citeart.free.fr), web-TV netw orks (www .icetream.com), Internet sites (such as www.regards2banlieue.org and www.enattendantdemain.org) and youth or ganizations were set up. As P ascale Krmer has underlined, these are documentaires et des ctions, surtout, qui sonnent remarquablement juste ( 27). On some sites, such as www .les-engraineurs.org, most lms are accessible and can be do wnloaded, the objecti ve being abo ve all to f aire mer ger une parole chez les jeunes des quartiers dits sensibles en d veloppant des projets audio visuels de proximit petite ou grande chelle. The lms address a broad range of important issues, including gender roles and e xpectations, po verty, f amily v alues, education, school, youth culture, disillusionment, language, Islam, etc. Omnipresent are concerns with dlinquance, the nationalistic and x enophobic tendencies of the e xtreme right whose policies ha ve no w been recuperated and mainstreamed by President Nicolas Sark ozys ruling Union pour un Mouv ement Populaire, police brutality , increased surveillance of the banlieues, and police harassment and brutality . Documenting these harsh realities also entails demystifying e xternal projections. As Guy Gauthier has sho wn, lms and documentaries assume multiple forms, ranging from an immersion dans la vie relle ( 207) to lauthenticit du tmoignage ( 208), or a ction documentaire (212). Over time, documentaries have evolved, but what has remained constant is the imperati ve of constructing a narrati ve, of directing and guiding the vie wer, of communicating ideas and positions; ultimately though, the objecti ve is to sustain a relationship to a given reality. Le documentaire, Guy Gauthier has shown, sest dni par rapport la vie, qui lui permet dafrmer sa diffrence; par rapport la ction, en essayant de proter de son ombre gigantesque; par rapport la technique, tantt mise en a vant, tantt rel gue larrire par la question essentielle de lauthenticit (206). Faza Gune, whose three novels Kiffe kiffe demain (2004), Du rve pour les oufs (2006), and Les gens du Balto (2008) have been bestsellers in France, has also proven particularly adept at making short lms.

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She collaborated with the engraineurs group, founded originally as a direct response to media representations of the banlieues: Nous ne nous reconnaissions pas dans limage que les mdias v hiculaient de nous et de nos vies, alors nous fabriquions nos propres images (Personal communication). For Gune,
Les courts-mtrages, cela a surtout t un prte xte de dbat dans de nombreuses circonstances, les lms traitaient de sujets de socit tout en tant inscrits dans la vie quotidienne des jeunes, ce qui a t pour moi de nombreuses reprises de xcellents leviers de dbats lorsque jallais la rencontre dlves dans des collges ou lyces. Ils sidentiaient souvent aux problmatiques traites, et tout en passant par le lm, cela les ramenait eux et leurs opinions. Jai limpression que ces courts-mtrages ont t da vantage un outil pdagogique, une dmarche presque sociologique beaucoup plus quune uvre cinmatographique. Une dmarche trs diffrente de mes romans je crois. (Personal communication)

Cited in Mohamed Ridha Bouguerra s and Sahiba Bouguerra s Histoire de la littrature du Maghreb: littrature francophone, Gune has indicated ho w Mes parents, ils ont connu la guerre en Algrie, Octobre 1961 Paris. Ils ne v eulent pas faire de bruit. Mais nous on est n ici, on ne se tait pas ( 148), and how this realization pro vided the moti vation for her documentary Mmoires du 17 octobr e (with Bernard Richard 2002, 17 mins.). Inspired by Jean-Luc Einaudi s important and contro versial book, La bataille de P aris: 17 octobr e 1961 (1991), on the massacre of o ver tw o hundred Algerians (and physical injury to se veral thousand others) that took place in P aris in October 1961, Gunes documentary stands today as an important contribution to the process of establishing and recognizingas well as memorializingsome of the more disquieting aspects of FrenchAlgerian contact and history . The documentary brings together a number of rsthand testimonies by indi viduals (Algerian w orkers, demonstrators, journalists, photographers, bystanders, or ganizers, etc.) who witnessed the violent response by the police to a peaceful demonstration organized by Algerian workers and pro-FLN supporters against the imposition of a curfe w that limited circulation in the city and prevented workers from getting to night-shifts at various factories. Georges Azenstarck, then a staf f photographer at the Communist newspaper LHumanit, w as on assignment at the time: Jtais-l. Je lai vu devant moi. Such statementsmade in the documentary

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are useful for the ar gument that is being made, b ut also pro ved crucial when he testied before the French courts to support JeanLuc Einaudis accusation that Maurice Papon (the former chief of the Paris police) had been responsible for perpetrating organization of the October 1961 massacres. On the evening of October 17, 1961, Algerian workers congregated at the Place de lOpra in Paris. According to the documentary, the evidence gathered corroborates claims pertaining to the peaceful goals of the demonstration and conrms that the organizers had implemented a set of safety and precautionary measures. All the eyewitness accounts thus contradict the ofcial version of events. Monique Hervo, for e xample, claims that La police tirait, et a je le maintiendrai toujours puisque jtais l, a statement substantiated by Ahmed Touil: Jai vu de mes propres yeux. His brother, Omar Touil, has also asserted that the events of October 17 were to be inscribed in a broader pattern of police harassment, whereby On se faisait raer tout les coups, and Monique Herv o described the alarming, shocking accounts of Algerians being lynched and tortured in the w oods of Boulogne and Vincennes to the eastern and western perimeter of the capital:
Ctait larbitraire le plus complet. [. . .] Ctait le r gne, ef fectivement, de la terreur, de quelque chose qui ne pouv ait amener quune manifestation, a vec le couvre-feu qui avait t dcrt par Papon, qui tait le point dor gue, je dirais, de la rpression. Donc, moi, le 17 octobre reste pour mmoire quelque chose daffreux, mais tous les jours et les mois qui lont prcd, ctait pareil.

Gunes documentary examines one of the most problematic chapters in Algerian-French history , re vealing the constituti ve nature of the apparatus of contemporary identity-formation. It is to these themes, among others, that the short lms under consideration turn their attention. Lik ewise, these pro vide alternative accounts of life in the banlieues that counter those a vailable in what may be considered ofcial outlets. Mathieu Kassovitzs 1995 lm La Haine includes a sequence dur ing which a tele vision news crew pulls up in a banlieue housing estate seeking live footage of urban youth commenting on their role in the previous nights violent uprising and clash with the police. Rather than providing the journalist with the kind of predetermined answers

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she hopes for, one of the main characters, Hubert, shouts out On est pas Thoiry ici! Much in the same way as one would visit Thoiry a wildlife animal park located on the outskirts of P aristhe journalist in question remains within the connes of her v ehicle, keeping a safe distanceand thereby causing of fencefrom the wild youth she encounters. As I will ar gue, Sale rput (2002, 14 mins.), a short lm to which F aza Gune contrib uted, operates interte xtually with the kind of conclusion Kassovitz is drawing in terms of media perceptions of banlieue youth. In Sale rput, a journalist (Carole, played by Isabelle Carr) is gi ven the assignment of follo wing up on a ne ws story about ri val gangs ghting in the neighborhood of La Dfense. Rather than going to La Dfense, she opts instead to visit the peaceful Courtillires estate located at the opposite perimeter of Paris in Pantin where she has a contact. F or her, one must assume, banlieue spaces are interchangeable, perhaps dened by varying degrees of violence, but essentially sharing common signiers. Achille Mbembe has ar gued that a conation is occurring between colonial modes of control, treatment, and segregation, the treatment in metropolitan France of men and w omen judged undesirable, and the treatment of citizens considered to be second-class simply because they are not French of pure stock or of the white race (Mbembe, 52). As with the scene from Kassovitzs lm alluded to earlier, the journalist in question begins to ask loaded questions that ha ve to do with gang acti vity, violence, and so on. Initially , the respondents challenge the premise of her questions: respondent #1: Des gens quand ils nous voient en groupe ils ont peur. Mais nous, on ne veut du mal personne. carole: Do vient la peur votre avis? respondent #2: Cest par rapport ce qui se passe la tl, tout a. Cest les politiques. Cest genre la dlinquance, la violence dans les quartiers. Cest un aperu. However, these responses pro ve unsatisf actory because the y don t conform to the narrati ve she is endea voring to construct and are therefore not ne wsworthy. (This is made e ven more apparent in some of the footage that w as cut from the nal edit, in which Carole states that Jai pas ce quil f aut). She therefore seeks out other

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interviewees, and eventually obtains the kind of response she has been looking for from a teenage girl named Rachida: carole: Vous tes daccord pour rpondre quelques questions? rachida: Oui, y a pas de problme. At this moment the lm switches to the e vening televised news program on which we learn that young people in the banlieues settle differences with weapons that are housed in no less than an armurerie. The journalists fact checking mission to a banlieue thus proves successful in terms of the kind of audience e xpectations they have created through sensationalized news coverage, but grossly inaccurate in terms of the reality on the ground. As Ernesto Oa (a young man interviewed by Pascale Krmer for her Le Monde article on banlieue lmmaking) comments, Aprs 2005 [the social uprisings and riots], on sest dit que ctait ni, quon ne laisserait plus parler de nous comme a, de cette manire blessante, violente! Que ctait de lintrieur que la parole de vrait v enir (Krmer, 25). Although Sale rput w as released several years before the 2005 uprisings, the lm was a response to prevalent assumptions about the banlieues. As Krmer has shown, outsiders ne sintressent quau spectaculaire susceptible de conforter leurs prjugs, les ternels strotypes sur la cit et ses habitants un monde part de violence, de dlinquance, de souf france, peupl de rappeurs, dealers, violeurs et int gristes encapuchonns [. . .] (26). Running stories such as these are not of course without consequence. In the case of Sale rput, the footage screened on tele vision results inor serv es to justifya toughening of police controls in their neighborhood. Adult residents e xpress their concern with cor recting such negative characterizations by contacting the media, b ut of course one knows only too well that such attempts would prove futile. The sale rputor bad repcorresponds to accepted opinions about the banlieue, enabling an apparently inescapable c ycle of violence, a kind of tautology of fear (Dal Lago, 85), triggering a heightened police presence which in turn prompts further anger resis, tance, and oppositionality. The fatigue with such images and ongoing discussions as to how best to represent oneself also culminates in further disillusionment. As Ahmed Boubeker has written

202 / French Forum / Spring/Fall 2010 / Vol. 35, Nos. 23 They are nothing more nor less than caricatures of a sham alienness that reinforces an unhealthy taste for the sensational e ven while appeasing the conscience. With no place of recognition to hang their hats, these new barbarians in the news do not even have the e xtenuating circumstance of being the of fspring of generations of poverty and oppression. For under the state of emergency of monstrosity or subhuman barbarism, they are emptied of all social meaning, depri ed of any experience v proper to them. (2009, 77)

In both Beur and banlieue lms, boredomand therefore the consequences of limited acti vity and opportunityhas become a common feature. In Le bon rien (2001, 11 mins.), written by F aza Gune, three teenage bo ys are seen resting on the grass outside one of the neighborhood HLM b uildings. True to the title of the lm Le bon rien , literally good for nothingtw o of them decide to go shoplifting. In a later scene, one of the young men (Brahim) has now returned home where his mother is struggling to interrupt endless hours of computer gaming. T u me f ais honte she interjects, pressuring him to get up and nd work. His of fhand respond, De toute faon jsuis un bon rien, reveals the extent to which he has appropriated this label. However, faced with his mothers ultimatum that he either nd work or leave home, the camera now marks Brahims decision to respond to the challenge with a transition from the domestic space of the home to the public one where we no w observe Brahim in front of the intrim employment agency scrutinizing job announcements. The agenc ys promotional statement, prominently displayed in the front windo wEt si jessayais lintrim?confronts Brahim with the e xistential choice he no w has to mak e between action (What if I tried Interim? Or: What if I gave Interim a chance?) and the status quo. Realizing that Intrim s list only contains specialized job offerings, Brahim mak es his w ay to the local Agence nationale pour lemploi (ANPE) ofce. At rst he seems reluctant to enter the buildinghis hesitation might e ven imply a concern that others witness him crossing the threshold into this go vernment agencybut eventually builds up the courage at the v ery moment when another man e xiting the b uilding tells him not to w aste his time since the minimum requirement for the positions they have available is the BAC + 3 (i.e., three years of post-secondary education). Not surprisingly, as Brahim is left w andering the area, he com-

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ments that Cest la merde ici. He does make one additional attempt to nd a job at the local auto shop, b ut when his alarm clock f ails to wake him up the follo wing morning for the agreed upon 8.30 start, he realizes it is not worth arriving late and attempting to convince his employer to give him another chance. Disheartened, downhearted, he wanders the streets until the moment he comes upon a young black boy drowning, unable to get out of the canal into which he has fallen. Brahim hesitates, and then decides that he will not intervene (interestingly enough, another version of the lm explored an ending in which Brahim runs to the bo ys rescue). His unwillingness to act operates metaphorically, pointing to a form of social paralysis whereby he has been told or made to feel on so man y occasions that he is a bon rien that he most likely feels incapable of rescuing the drowning boy, much in the same w ay that no gure of authority (either an adult or the French state itself) has been able to sa ve him, or afforded him the skills and training to save himself from his own social drowning. The inadequacies of the broader infrastructure are e xposed, shown to be intrinsic to government agencies and inseparable from the emptiness of political rhetoric, producing o verwhelming obstacles and barriers to social mobility and perpetuating mar ginality and inequality . The impact is most powerfully felt in the home environment where a precarious relationship exists between the hopes, aspirations, and expectations of parents, the demands of the French state, and the autonomy of the children. In RTT (2002, 11 mins.), written and directed by F aza Gune, a single-mother (Zohra, played by the authors mother Kadra Gune) of three children who works the evening shift as an ofce cleaner takes a day off work (through the Rduction du temps de tra vail policy) in order to be able to attend a parent-teacher meeting at the school s request. At the meeting she discovers the extent of her eldest sons (Mehdi) absenteeismthe school has sent out multiple letters, b ut Mehdi and his sister (Nama) had thus f ar successfully intercepted the mail so that the letters from the school do not reach their intended recipient. The teacher remarks that On ne v ous voit pas souv ent en runions, and Zohra informs him that this is because Je tra vaille le soir. Throughout RTT the vie wer becomes a ware of the precarious situation in which the family lives: the children are asleep when Zohra returns from work, they live in an HLM, their nances are limited, etc.

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The interaction between Zohra and the teacher is all the more interesting because her usage of French is f amiliar, often grammatically incorrect, and the le vel of prociency limited (she speaks for the most part in Arabic with her children and the y in turn respond in French): Moi ce qui mintresse cest la russite de mon ls, cest tout. What pains her in disco vering that her se venteen year old son has abandoned school is both that he has relinquished an individual opportunityQuel gchis, je cro yais quil allait tudier , travailler [. . .] (e xpressed in Arabic with subtitles in French)as well as implicated the rest of the family because of his selsh behavioret me sortir de la misre dans laquelle son pre ma laisse. Rak, the youngest child, accompanies her to the meeting. Rather than recognizing Mehdis poor judgment, he interprets this instead as an injustice towards him: Pourquoi Mehdi il v a pas lcole et moi je suis oblig dy aller? His mother assumes parental authority, highlighting that Mehdis choices are not to be emulated: T ais-toi, tu veux devenir comme lui, cest a? The family argument that ensues when Zohra returns home serves to bring into the open conicting views of domestic responsibility. Mehdi of fers his mother some mone y, stating that Moi aussi jen ai marre de v oir ma mre shumilier , apparently clarifying his determination to assume responsibility for the household even if this entails operating outside the strict connes of the system (the unidentied source of the money he offers his mother remains subject to interpretation). RTT ends with a po werful visual sequence, during which Nama and Mehdi are lmed walking along a path that leads them out of the housing estate. Ev entually the path bifurcates; the former elects to follo w the path to school, while the latter heads of f in the other direction. Ho wever, the outcome is left deliberately ambiguous: societal e xpectations call for conformity by adhering to uniform standards of mobility pro vided by educational advancement, yet it remains difcult to trust their application gi ven the inequitable allocation of resources to banlieues schools, such that a feeling of helplessness lingers, coupled with the inescapable do wnward economic and social obstacles and pressures. Metaphors of imprisonmentinescapability, rigid class structures, tradition, and so onare familiar themes. In La zonzonnire (2001, 8 mins.), Faza Gune uses the slang term for a prison, zonzon, whose v ariations on the noun form include

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zonzonnier and zonzonnire to indicate the male and female form of prisoner or inmate. In this case, as with Rien que des mots (2003, 27 mins.), the attention has shifted to comple x gender dynamics in Muslim households. In La zonzonnire, teenage Fatima has been skipping school and both her f ather and brother (F arid) step in. First her father, who in harsh terms (speaking in Arabic) asserts his authority o ver her and restricts her mo vements henceforth between home and school: Je suis ton pre, oui ou non? Ecoute ce que je te dis, cest moi qui f ais la loi, cest moi qui commande! And then her brother who tells her, clarifying gender roles, Tes l pour aider maman, pour aider tes petites surs. Initially, the fathers response and frustration upon learning of his daughter s behavior may be understandable, b ut an additional point is being made here relating to the anxiety young women experience as they seek to negotiate or reconcile expectations at home with public standards. Lik ewise, in Rien que des mots, Lala feels compelled to hide her acti vities and interests from her parents. When she returns home after dark one e vening, her mother (played by Kadra Gune), informs her that Depuis que ton pre est au bled, tu me fais la misre, and that the homeostasis she has disrupted will be restored: Attends quil revienne, il va soccuper de toi! Subtitles are provided to afford access to the non-Arabophone viewer, who will subsequently discover that stability is going to be pro vided by pursuing a planned marriage in Algeria. The emphasis on maintaining or der and abiding by parental appraisals of cultural and social standards are expressed in the ways in which these are ltered and disseminated into the community. This is persuasively displayed in Rumeurs (2003, 8 mins., co-written by Faza Gune and Sonia Chikh, and directed by Faza Gune) when a young black bo y from the banlieue neighborhood observes la lle Chafri (played by F aza Gune herself) dur ing an e xcursion into the centre of P aris walking along the banks of the Seine ri ver talking to a white man. This triggers se veral discussions between protagonists back in the banlieue about gender roles, Islam, immigrant women and those in the Maghreb; the questionable actions and beha vior of the lle Chafri persist in acquiring ne gative overtones as the rumor spreads, and provides the occasion for the community to come together against a shared detractor. Disobedience and f ailure to follo w convention are no w met with such statements as Tu veux devenir comme la lle Chafri? Les gens parlent sur elle

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toute la journe! and Tous les gens du quartier racontent que sa lle sort avec un Parisien, and in the entrance to her building grafti now reads Chafri la pute. The dnouement exposes the potential dangers of collective ignorance as we discover that the lle Chafri has in actuality been working on a homework assignment, conducting a survey that required interviewing subjects outside of her neighborhood. The tenuous relationship between the center and the periphery and between the inside and the outside is of course a subjective one. Similarly, banlieue artists might very well question the pertinence, or possibly even reject such a label. Yet, what remains rele vant is the commitment to meet head-on those images circulating in the media, in political discourse, and else where, and aiming at essentializing and stigmatizing the behavior of underprivileged members of society. The term immigrant continues to operate meton ymically for all kinds of twenty-rst century problems in French society, but the authorities refuse to acknowledge (and are therefore incapable of correcting economic and social dissymmetry) that ethnicity itself remains a foundational element of discrimination. Il serait bien difcile aujourdhui nos gouv ernements de reconnatre que le problme ce nest pas limmigration elle-mme, mais la politique dimmigration quils mnent, tant il est vrai quelle les dnit en mme temps quils la dnissent (La crise de la politique dimmigration, 7). University of California, Los Angeles
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