Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Re-Scripting History and Fairy Tales in Brigitte Rouan's Outremer

Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Re-Scripting History and Fairy Tales in Brigitte Rouan's Outremer

Article excerpt

In Outremer (1992), French actress, film director, and script writer Brigitte Rowan offers a feminist, postcolonial revision of the history of "French Algeria" in the years between 1946 and 1964.1 Instead of focusing on the political events, the Algerian anticolonial struggle that led to independence in 1962 and France's violent repression of this struggle, Rowan draws on family memories to portray the lives of three pieds-noirs sisters, Zon (Nicole Garcia), Malene (Rowan) and Gritte (Marianne Basler).2 The screening of what Catherine Portuges has called the colonial feminin allows Rowan to reveal how colonial women contributed to the sociopolitical landscape of Algeria and how this in turn shaped their destinies (82). It is significant that each sister's suitor holds a stereotypical colonialist role: thus, Zon, the eldest, is married to a navy officer; Malene marries a farmer who exploits both the land and the native population; and Gritte, the youngest, is engaged to a diplomat. However, as we shall see, they do not remain the passive adjuncts of their husbands; rather they actively contribute to either maintaining or undermining the existing colonial and gendered order.

The film is composed of three sections, each covering the same period of time (1946-64) but each focusing on a different sister. This structure of illusive repetition provides a multifaceted critique of how the politics of gender and colonialism intersect in shaping a society and its history.3 Each section of the film reveals the way in which each sister's consciousness is shaped by certain cultural "scripts" that allots her a place in the society according to gender, race, and class.4 Rofian encodes these scripts in a subtle visual and narrative "grammar" that combines Catholic iconography, fairy tale elements, history, and romance. These scripts not only prescribe social roles; they also shape memory and history. Thus, each section reprises key events of the family history, such as Gritte's engagement party, a family gathering at Malne's farm, and Zon's death, and yet the chronology remains uncertain, because each sister remembers these events differently. The film exposes the illusion of chronology by showing how each sister inscribes the events within the logic of her own story instead of remembering a story with its own inherent chronology. In this essay, I analyze the way in which the combination of the repetitive structure with a syncretic visual and narrative grammar both highlights the fact that history is structured by memory and reveals that memory and consciousness are themselves conditioned by cultural scripts that encode the society's sociopolitical order.

Gender Scripts: Heroic Men and Romantic Women

In Outremer, Rouan uses various cultural scripts, such as Catholicism, fairy tales, romance, and history, in order to comment on the gendering and racializing of the colonial society she depicts, what Gayatri Spivak describes as "a worlding of a world," that is, the textual organization of the practical world (Spivak and Grosz 1). Rouan herself comments on this "worlding" when she explains how education and social expectations affected the people who are the inspiration for the film:

I wanted to show people hemmed in by inherited property and preconceived notions, occupying prearranged positions .... the men of that time were not allowed to cry, they were placed on pedestals, forced to be virile and magnificent statues .... The women were addicted to one man. Such an education creates neurotic women, of which I am one. I was brought up to be married, so of course I never married.5

The gendering of the society is made very clear: men are meant to be heroes, whereas women are meant to marry them. This gendering is reflected in the film's intertwinement of two discourses, history and romance, that are complimentary in configuring gender roles. Since Rouan focuses on the colonial feminin, history-a male discourse written by men and about men and a discourse that prescribes male roles (the heroes of colonial history are the officer, the settler, the diplomat) -is only referred to in voice-off. …

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