Book Chapter

Intergenerational Verbal Conflicts, Plurilingualism and Banlieue Cinema



Johnston C (2010) Intergenerational Verbal Conflicts, Plurilingualism and Banlieue Cinema. In: Berger V & Komori M (eds.) Polyglot Cinema: Migration and Transcultural Narration in France, Italy, Portugal and Spain. Münster: Lit-Verlag, pp. 89-98.

Young Beurs are pulled apart by two opposing forces: family obligations and Maghrebian traditions lie at one pole and at the other are the social institutions of France. These "two spheres of reference are stacked together [...] but do not speak the same language and are often problematic." A crucial primary site and source of conflict which emerges in banlieue film arises across generations, generally within a family context, either between children and parents, or between children and grandparents. This conflict is often particularly marked verbally, especially in earlier banlieue films, by the use of two languages (typically standard French and Arabic), with the latter sometimes, but not always, subtitled into French. Although the above quote makes explicit reference to the situation faced by younger generation beurs, they are, by no means, alone in their struggle between what Begag and Chaouite have termed 'double identity magnets'. Rather, through close analysis of the use of language in Thomas Gilou's Raï, released in 1995 as part of the first wave of banlieue films, this article will examine whether this notion fully encapsulates the struggle depicted onscreen, and will demonstrate that these 'identity magnets' in fact have a transgenerational impact. The article will focus, first, on the parallel onscreen use of French and Arabic, particularly between the two male central characters, Nordine and Djamel, and their mother. The second half of the article will then shift its attention to an analysis of what, following Begag and Chaouite, we will term 'verbal spheres of reference' linguistically contained within the French language, but with resonances that span cultures. We will agree, to an extent, with Tarr (2005) that Raï, while bringing to the forefront the specific problems faced by 'second/third generation immigrants' of Maghrebi origin, 'does so in a way which, however unintentionally, plays into racist stereotypes of an alien immigrant culture spawning an irresponsible, violent youth culture.' However, we will also argue that an analysis of the intergenerational verbal conflicts in the film nevertheless maintains an important role to play in an understanding of the complexities of ethnic identities as they are challenged and renegotiated through the medium of banlieue film. Ultimately, it will be argued that, while the notion of 'double identity magnets' does serve to encapsulate the dilemma of a search for self within a broader framework of conflicting and opposing identities, the limitations of the implicit binary (double identity magnet) fail to do justice to the complexities of the identities under construction. Rather, as we see here in Raï, and can see examples of in other banlieue films, Begag and Chaouite's 'spheres of reference' encompass at once a 'homeland' (mythical or mythologized), a somewhat rigid contemporary French metropolitan republican framework, and the specificities of individual subjectivities emerging against an intrinsically multiethnic backdrop, schematically divided between 'traditional' home and 'modern' public space, but in fact demonstrating a far more pluralist reality than the republican model is yet ready to admit.

French cinema; Banlieue cinema; Conflict; Swearing; Social integration in motion pictures; Assimilation (Sociology) in motion pictures; on picture theaters France Paris Suburban Area

Publication date31/12/2010
Publisher URL
Place of publicationMünster

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Dr Cristina Johnston

Dr Cristina Johnston

Senior Lecturer, French