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  • Hope and Indignation in Fortress Europe:Immigration and Neoliberal Globalization in Contemporary French Cinema
  • Will Higbee (bio)

Over the past twenty years, in France, as elsewhere in Europe, cinema has produced an increasing number of films that engage with the thematics of immigration (both legal and illegal) and represent the living and working conditions of first-generation immigrants. In France, such films have also tended to focus on questions of citizenship and nationality as they pertain to the French-born descendants of immigrants, whose presence within the nation demands a reconsideration of previously fixed notions of community, origins and national identity. Though certainly not limited to the perspective of one ethnic minority, the majority of these French films, from militant immigrant cinema in the 1970s, to so-called beur and banlieue cinema in the 1980s and 1990s, have nonetheless tended to focus on protagonists, politics and narratives of immigrants from France’s former colonies in the Maghreb: Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. Maghrebi characters are still quite visible on the screen. However, since 2000, French film professionals of North African descent have nonetheless begun adopting a broader range of modes of production and genres and now assume a greater variety of roles on both sides of the camera. Moreover, the last ten years have seen an increasing range of ethnically diverse immigrant protagonists appearing in French-language films, and not solely those from France’s long-established postcolonial diasporas.

In many respects, this cinematic shift is representative of the broader social, economic and cultural transformation that has taken place in the way that immigration has been understood in relation to neoliberal globalization and to its belief in the inevitable primacy of market forces, whereby “the once ‘de-bedded’ economy now claims to ‘im-bed’ everything, including political power” (Mentan 215). This has occurred not only in France, but also across Europe. One area in which the consequences of such market fundamentalism have had a direct impact is on attitudes and policies pertaining to immigration of non-European nationals to the European Union. Here, the desire to exploit an ever cheaper, poorly protected [End Page 26] immigrant work force is served by the (often distorted) perception that non-Europeans have of the continent, which they see as a “promised land” of prosperity and opportunity. Such a dynamic has resulted in new waves of economic migration, both legal and illegal, to the EU, starkly exposing the imbalance of power between what Slavoj Žižek describes as “those ‘who circulate capital’ and those ‘whom capital circulates”’ (qtd. in Ezra and Rowden 8). From this context emerges the concept of Fortress Europe. The term reflects an excessive preoccupation on the part of policymakers and media commentators in Europe with controlling the entry and circulation of the non-European Other within, and even outside the borders of the European Union. At the same time, the concept suggests a need to segregate more than ever rich from poor, insiders from outsiders, Europeans from non-Europeans, citizens from immigrants (Balibar 113). In ideological terms, the notion of Fortress Europe further erects racial, ethnic and religious boundaries in response to an increasingly multicultural Europe, while also denying the fact that Europe, as both a geo-political entity and an ideological construct, has “historically evolved through a process of absorbing, hybridizing and assimilating different people from diverse ethnic, religious and national groups” (Loshitzky 2).

In Postcolonial Hospitality: The Immigrant as Guest (2001), Mireille Rosello notes that since the 1990s, in France, such transformations have been reflected in the increasing visibility of “a widespread, diverse and multicultural debate around hospitality” (2). Such a debate is at once political, cultural and philosophical in nature, raising questions about what our responsibilities as individual citizens and host societies should be to the “immigrant as guest.” This discussion ultimately leads to a consideration of what Derrida has described as the ethics of (infinite) hospitality and a politics of (finite) hospitality (Rosello 7, 11). As the title Postcolonial Hospitality indicates, the scope of Rosello’s study is clearly fixed on the place immigrant communities from former French colonies occupy in discussions now taking place in France on matters relating to immigration, integration and hospitality. While not...


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