Academic journal article Framework

Representation and Memory in Les Princes

Academic journal article Framework

Representation and Memory in Les Princes

Article excerpt

Representation and Memory in Les Princes

(Les Princes, Tony Gatlif, France, 1983)1

Brought up on the outskirts of Algiers, French director Michel Dahamani (Tony) Gatlif (born 1948) comes from a sedentarised Romani family of Andalucian origin who moved to France in 1962, at the end of the Franco-Algerian war. Fascinated with cinema as a schoolboy, and inspired by an encounter with Michel Simon, Gatlif trained as an actor before moving into writing and directing in the late 1970s. His third full-length film, Les Princes/The Princes (France,1983), hailed as 'the first film made by a Rom about Roma' (Godrèche 1983), earned Gatlif the Special Prize of the Americas at the 1997 Montreal Film Festival, together with cult documentary Latcho Drom/Safe Journey (France, 1993) and Gadjo Dilo/The Crazy Stranger (Romania, France, 1998). Best known for this 'Romani trilogy', Gatlif has made other films paying homage to Romani culture, such as Mondo (France,1996), Vengo (France, Germany, Spain, Japan, 2000) and Swing (France, Japan, 2002). His films also represent other forms of marginality in France, as in Gaspard et Robinson/Gaspard and Robinson (France, 1990) and Ils sont nés d'une cigogne/ They Were Born of a Stork (France, 1999). Yet they often draw on well-known French actors, including Gérard Depardieu in Rue du départ/Station Road (France, 1986) and Fanny Ardant in Pleure pas my love/Don't Cry My Love (France, 1989). With Gadjo Dilo, which marries a representation of Romani life in a troubled Romania with a coming-of-age narrative featuring young French star Romain Duris and rising Romanian star Rona Hartner, Gatlif appears to have found a significant national and international audience.

The wider recognition of Gatlif's work in the 1990s can be attributed, in part, to the increasing media interest in the Romanies since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia, which has also been reflected in European cinema (Stojanova, 1998). At a time when questions of migration and national belonging are to the fore, Romanies enjoy an ambiguous symbolic status as the ultimate 'émigrés de l'intérieur,' despite being largely sedentarised and subject to (as well as resistant to) the processes of integration. As Stojanova argues, they are conventionally represented in film either in romanticised form, as the embodiment of freedom, passion and non-conformity, or through liberal neo-realist strategies that stress the hostility of the nation state in which they find themselves and depict them as its victims. At the same time, one should not forget that in Western culture they have generally been perceived as 'the quintessential outsiders of the European imagination: sinister, separate, literally dark, and synonymous with sorcery and crime' (Fonseca, 1996, 273). Gatlif himself aims to redress negative perceptions of the Roms both by documenting contemporary threats to the Romani way of life and by providing Romanies with a form of cultural memory. Consequently, his representations of modern-day Romany are imbued with nostalgia for a culture that is fast disappearing, a formula first successfully employed in Les Princes.

Les Princes, set in Stains to the north of Paris, addresses the tensions facing a sedentarised Rom living on the urban periphery, whose family life is disintegrating and whose attempts to make ends meet are compromised by France's ambient unemployment and racism. Its potentially miserabilist scenario, marked by eviction, homelessness and death, can be linked with the politicised cinema of the 1970s that tended to represent first generation immigrants, France's most visible ethnic others, as victims. However, Les Princes insists that its Romani protagonists are neither immigrants nor (entirely) victims. It was released at a time when questions of immigration, race and national identity were high on the political agenda as a result of the increasing visibility of the 'Beurs,' the French-born or French-educated sons and daughters of first generation immigrants from the Maghreb. …

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