Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Social Commentary in Coline Serreau's Saint-Jacques ... la Mecque

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Social Commentary in Coline Serreau's Saint-Jacques ... la Mecque

Article excerpt

The medieval Christian pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela gives spatial, temporal, and thematic structure to Coline Serreau's 2005 movie and novel, Saint-Jacques ... La Mecque, inviting us to look across time and connect the modern pilgrimage experience to its eleven-hundred-year-old predecessor. (1) Given the cultural significance that the pilgrimage encompasses, Serreau cannot have chosen it lightly to serve as the setting for this intriguing work in which nine modern pilgrims walk from Le Puy to Santiago. In this essay, I propose to show how Serreau effectively uses the framework of medieval pilgrimage to shed new light and perspective on issues in contemporary French society such as ethnicity, religion, and sexism, and then offers a vision of how these issues might be addressed.

The history of the pilgrimage to Santiago spans more than a thousand years. According to legend, St. James, one of the original twelve apostles, had preached the Gospel in the Iberian Peninsula. He was subsequently martyred and his body was buried and forgotten in Galicia. His remains were discovered in the early ninth century and the city of Santiago de Compostela was founded on the site. Soon afterward, people from every corner of Europe began travelling to the Apostle's burial site. Though a few pilgrims to Compostela are recorded in the tenth century, and many more in the eleventh, it was in the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries that Santiago de Compostela came to rank with Rome and Jerusalem as one of the great destinations of Christian pilgrimage. Even then, the pilgrimage was a model of cultural diversity, as people of varied origins intermingled on their way to Compostela. Beginning with the Renaissance, participation in the pilgrimage declined drastically. The route has undergone a revival in the last three decades, not only in Spain but in France, Germany, and other parts of Europe as well. The route was named Europe's Premier Cultural Itinerary in 1987, and UNESCO has since classified the routes in France and Spain as a World Heritage Site, attesting to the pilgrimage's worldwide cultural, historical, and artistic importance (Gardner, Mentley, and Signori 46). Recent literary and cinematic depictions of the modern pilgrimage to Santiago have portrayed travellers of all ages and genders making the trek. The 2010 film The Way, directed by Emilio Estevez and starring Martin Sheen, is another example of how this pilgrimage is making its way into mainstream culture. (2)

Best known for her 1985 international blockbuster Trois hommes et un couffin, Coline Serreau's other critically acclaimed films include the documentary "Mais quest-ce qu'elles veulent?," Romuald et Juliette, and Chaos. (3) Her most recent film, also a documentary, is titled Solutions locales pour un desordre global. Serreau has been labelled by a number of critics as a feminist filmmaker; nevertheless, believing that the term cinema feminin is reductive (Coll 1288), she rejects that label (Rollet, "Women" 89). (4) In her cinema, Serreau seems to follow the mindset of Jeanne Labrune: "Il n'y a pas de film de femme et de film d'homme. En chacun de nous, il y a une part de masculine et de feminine; ce qui compte en fait, c'est l'acte de creation, aussi bien pour les hommes que pour les femmes" (Coll 1288). This corresponds to Carrie Tarr's observation that "French women directors characteristically disclaim their gender as a significant factor in their filmmaking" (Tarr and Rollet 1).

Curiously, most of the critical analysis on Serreau focuses on her works prior to the year 2000. As Ginette Vincendeau stated in 1994, it is as if Serreau's "moving out of the ghetto of women's cinema into popular comedy has almost erased her from the critical map (even recent works on French cinema give her the most perfunctory treatment)" (26). Eighteen years later, this remains a valid statement. Only one book-length study is dedicated solely to her work (Rollet's Coline Serreau), and only a handful of academic articles are devoted to Serreau criticism. …

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