Post-Beur Cinema: North African Émigré and Maghrebi-French Filmmaking in France since 2000 by Will Higbee (review)
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Post-Beur Cinema: North African Émigré and Maghrebi-French Filmmaking in France since 2000. By Will Higbee. (Traditions in World Cinema.) Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013. xii + 204 pp., ill.

This is a major study of one of the most exciting and vital areas of contemporary French cinema. Will Higbee has excellent knowledge of Maghrebi-French and North African émigré filmmaking and proves a reliable and enlightening guide. A compact introductory chapter provides the essential background to beur cinema, which came to the fore during the 1980s and consolidated itself in the banlieue films of the 1990s. Higbee’s focus is the period since 2000, whenmany beur and North African émigré filmmakers chose to experiment with popular narrative genres such as comedy and historical epics in order to escape being ghettoized as directors of marginal, ethnic cinema. Drawing on aspects of production, distribution, and reception, Higbee goes on to chart the emergence of commercial and populist filmmakers like Djamel Bensalah and Rachid Bouchareb supported by highly talented and bankable beur stars such as Jamel Debbouze, Samy Naceri, and Gad Elmaleh (some of whom became directors themselves). The following chapters examine the historical turn with ‘counter-heritage’ films such as Mehdi Charef ’s Cartouches gauloises (2007), the politics of difference and space in the work of Abdellatif Kechiche (a case-study of the beur auteur), journey narrative films like Hassan Legzouli’s Ten’ja (2004), and screen representations of Islam and the Muslim community. Higbee attributes the relative death of films engaging explicitly with Islam precisely to the concerted desire of these filmmakers to enter the mainstream. Yet he reveals convincingly how, overall, this strategy has not resulted in any loss of social or political relevance due to a renewed engagement with issues of displacement and diaspora, the national and the transnational. An outstanding feature of this authoritative volume is to provide an accessible, scholarly synthesis of the key debates in an expanding critical field. The wide-ranging primary material is contextualized in sociopolitical terms, and Higbee succeeds admirably in presenting clearly for the non-specialist reader important but relatively unknown works such as Ismaël Ferroukhi’s Le Grand voyage (2004) and Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche’s fascinating Dernier Maquis (2008). He also offers incisive and well-judged close readings of selected scenes, notably the controversial sequence depicting the 1945 Sétif massacre in Bouchareb’s problematic, big-budget gangster film Hors-la-loi (2010). Oddly, Higbee’s short Conclusion, ‘Post-Beur Cinema’, feels a little rushed, even forced, with its repetition of phrases like ‘way beyond’ and its late gesture to gender through reference to Nora Hamidi’s Des poupées et des anges (2008). Some of the general material here could perhaps have come earlier as the springboard for a more extensive theoretical articulation and justification of the term ‘Post-Beur’, especially since beur, for reasons Higbee well demonstrates, is now refused by many of the figures involved. One wonders also if this new term might encompass fringe/DIY gay beur filmmaking and thus offer a means of critiquing the heterosexual presuppositions of commercial beur cinema. The book is illustrated with twenty stills and is generally well edited, although the grammatical correction on page 43 of the title of Roschdy Zem’s 2011 film Omar m’a tuer has the unfortunate effect of eliding its urgent contestatory force.

James S. Williams
Royal Holloway, University of London
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