De-essentializing the Banlieues, reframing the nation: documentary cinema in France in the late 1990s
Abstract:This article considers the part played by recent documentary cinema in France in constructing an integrated rather than a fragmented image of the French nation. Suggesting that this may be part of an international trend in documentary-making, it starts from the observation that dominant media discourse in France, along with the critically acclaimed fiction film movement of the cinma de banlieue, has perpetuated an image of these cits peripheral to many French cities as threatening spaces adrift of the national community and emblematic of France's postmodern crisis of identity. Focusing on three documentaries about La Courneuve, a typically pilloried cit to the northeast of Paris, it argues that the ordinariness of the lives they convey, along with the documentarists' emphasis on the continuing penetration of cit space by State institutions and processes, and their insertion of supposedly alien spaces into a continuous narrative of memory and culture, effectively treats geography, history and culture in a way that calls into question the externalizing dominant discourse. Although limited by their lack of appeal to a mass audience that prefers the violence and spectacle of narrative cinema complicit with dominant representations of the banlieues as violent, dangerous spaces, these documentaries and French documentary cinema of the late 1990s in general offer images that de-essentialize the banlieue myth and challenge the image of a French nation in continuous crisis.
Document Type: Research Article
Affiliations: University of Birmingham.
Publication date: 2008-09-22
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