Migrant and Diasporic Cinema in Contemporary Europe

Migrant and Diasporic Cinema in Contemporary Europe

L’Esquive (The Dodge)

Abdellatif (Abdel) Kechiche (2003)


Genre: Coming-of-age story

L'Esquive is the second film by Abdel Kechiche, the charismatic actor of Le Thé à la menthe in the mid-1980s. His first film, La Faute à Voltaire,L'Esquive, he focuses on the second (or third) generation of adolescent Maghrebi immigrants living in the banlieue, and in so doing revitalises the type of film which has become known as 'cinéma de banlieue'.  Instead of foregrounding the experiences of unemployed male youths, he uses the banlieue setting for a narrative of teenage romance combined with the putting on of a school play.  The teenagers in question are engaged in preparing a production of Marivaux' Game of Love and Chance, and timid Krimo, who falls for fellow schoolmate Lydia, persuades a friend to let him have his role as Arlequin to her Lisette as a way of expressing his feelings for her. Unfortunately, he is unable to do so successfully and is forced to abandon the role, and his hope of conquering the Lydia. The school play, though, thanks in particular to its two exuberant lead actresses (Lydia and friend Frida), is a success. The film addresses the problems of a young Tunisian immigrant arriving in Paris. 

The choice of text enables Kechiche to address questions of class, gender and place in French society, as well as to move between classic French and the fast and furious language of the banlieue adolescents, the expression of which is fundamental to the pleasures offered by the film, along with the performances by the young, mostly non-professional actors.  Although the film's narrative depicts the possibility of integration through the French education system, at least for its female leads, it does not shy away from including a scene to remind the spectator of the realities of racism (through a negative encounter between the teenagers and the police). The film was awarded a number of Césars in 2005, despite competition from A Very Long Engagement and Les Choristes, including Best Film, Best Director and Best Screenplay. 

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 29 May 2006 •

Having finally got round to watching this film, I have a number of questions:

I am wondering in what respect this film conforms to the generic conventions of a coming-of-age story. What is Krimo’s insight or decisive experience that will shape his future life? Is it the experience of unrequieted love?

Is it significant that Lydia (as well as the boy who plays the role of the Arlequin) is not of Maghrebi origin? Or was I fooled by her blonde hair? Does the film make a statement about inter-racial relationships?

To what extent does Marivaux’ play Game of Love and Chance provide a relevant commentary on the ‘games’ which Lydia plays with Krimo? What are the thematic parallels? Is Marivaux concerned with class barriers between lovers and Kechiche with racial barriers?

Comment posted by Daniela Berghahn  on  29 Dec 2006  at  02:34 PM

1.  There is a major mix-up in the text posted here. The ‘problems of a young Tunisian immigrant arriving in Paris’ refers to the film La Faute à Voltaire mentioned at the beginning - can this be corrected? 

2. Was I the one to classify this film as a coming-of-age story?  I think it probably is in the way you have identified - i.e. the experience of unrequited love, combined with the failure of his performance.  Though we can only speculate as to how this will affect Krimo’s future, the last sequence suggests a retreat from the world? 

3.  The boy who plays Arlequin is a Beur.  Lydia is not, and I personally think this is very significant, though this is not a point raised by French critics. As I argue in my paper/article on the film, it does rather set up the white woman as the unattainable object of desire for the Maghrebi-French Other.

4.  I argue that, whereas in Marivaux the happy ending brings the couples together on the basis of their class, here the fact that there is no happy ending for the young couple suggests that their ethnic difference is a barrier.  Marivaux offers a comic inversion of social roles, only to reinstate them at the end. In both cases, then, there is a reactionary reading available, namely, that things can never really change.

PS I have nearly finished my article, and could let you have a copy prior to publication if that’s helpful.

Comment posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04 Jan 2007  at  12:12 PM

Thanks for your comments, Carrie. I’d love to read your article prior to publication. Your third point is very interesting and I am amazed it was not raised by critics.

Comment posted by Daniela Berghahn  on  08 Jan 2007  at  09:13 PM

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