Migrant and Diasporic Cinema in Contemporary Europe

Migrant and Diasporic Cinema in Contemporary Europe

Le Thé au harem d’Archimède (Tea in the Harem)

Mehdi Charef (1985)


Language: French, some Arabic or Berber

A key French film of the mid-1980s.  Although not the first film to address second generation Maghrebis in France, Le Thé au harem d’Archimède was the first feature film to be directed by a filmmaker of Maghrebi origin, earning Mehdi Charef the Prix Jean Vigo in 1985 and the César for Best First Film in 1986.  Based on Charef's earlier novel, and produced by Michelle Ray-Gavras, the film coincided with a growing media awareness of the presence of the 'second generation' of Maghrebis in France and contributed to the critics' creation of the term 'cinéma beur' to refer to films made by or about them.  (The word 'beur' derives from Parisian backslang for 'Arabe', and has since been reworked to produce 'rebeu'.)

The film centres on Madjid, a young beur, and his relationship with, on the one hand his first generation Algerian family, and on the other his friend Pat, who lives on the same housing estate, providing a vivid portrayal of a youth torn between two cultures. The banlieue setting, that is, typically, a bleak, rundown working-class suburb on the outskirts of Paris, was to feature prominently in the 'cinéma de banlieue' of the 1990s, exemplified in particular by La Haine.  Here, the concrete tower blocks, dank cellars and lack of spaces for young people foreground the rift between the generations, the disintegration of the family and the lack of future for unemployed youths.  However, unlike independent American black cinema of the same period, the film refuses to dwell on racism and violence, emphasising instead the inter-ethnic friendship between white and beur youths (and the multi-ethnic gang to which they belong) and the shared problems they face. 

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Last edited: 13 10 2006 - Designed by PageToScreen