- Screening Youth: Contemporary French and Francophone Cinema ed. by Romain Chareyon and Gilles Viennot
This volume of fourteen chapters preceded by an editors' introduction examines, as its title indicates, representations of youth in recent French and Francophone cinema. The editors maintain that although the "teen film" is a well-established Hollywood genre accompanied by a significant amount of scholarship, the same cannot be said of filmic representations of youth in the French/Francophone context. Scholars of French and Francophone film have overlooked the "ways film can help us get a better, more nuanced and [End Page 367] true-to-life understanding of the complexity and struggles of youth" (1). The choice of the word "youth" in the volume's title is deliberate. The films studied in this collection embrace an expansive idea of youth, ranging from childhood to early adulthood, and the borders between different stages of development, like the very concept of coming of age, are fluid. The word "youth" is meant to capture this expanse and fluidity. The volume's essays examine films that are about youth but not necessarily aimed at youth as their primary audience. They focus on the particular ways contemporary directors broach the subject matter and how the topic of youth intersects with other concerns in contemporary society (democracy, globalization, economic disparity, immigration). The editors view these films as "sound boxes" offering an amplification and distortion of contemporary life through the filtering lens of young people who, according to the critic Timothy Shary, are entering a "more fast-paced [world that is] removed from the traditions and mores of their parents' generation" (4). The genre of French youth film, if it is a genre at all, does not have the same status as the "teen film" in America with its highly-codified, trope-laden format most commonly set in the high school (think Amy Heckerling's Fast Times at Ridgemont High or John Hughes's Ferris Bueller's Day Off). One reason for this is that the prominent role of the director as auteur in French film lends itself to a kind of general aversion to genre. Most of the directors considered in the volume still display a debt to the New Wave directorial tradition even if, as some of the essays indicate, there is an attempt to move out from under the shadow of the New Wave.
The editors are at pains to argue that the youth depicted in the films in question do not conform to clichés about youth and therefore offer us more authentic images. They present individual struggles with the "process of youth" and avoid confirming preconceived ideas of what youth is. No single image of youth emerges from these films. Each film is better understood, the editors explain, as a "snapshot" of what it means to be an adolescent in contemporary France. Though it may be difficult to generalize about youth, there are a number of recurring themes in the essays and films, such as gender and sexual identity as well as social class and ethnic identity.
Because of the number of contributions, it is impossible to discuss them all. What follows are some summary thoughts about a few of the essays that stood out for this reader. Another reader might well have selected different essays.
Gemma Edney's contribution, "Un Vrai 'Teen Film' Français? The Contemporary Adolescent Genre in French Cinema," complements the editors' introduction as another point of entry into the topic in general. Edney divides [End Page 368] the genre into two types, those that have a popular audience and those that attract critical attention. The latter are about (and not necessarily for) teens, have an arthouse style and tend to present youth in a more realistic and less stylized or idealized way. Edney observes for instance that French actors in these films (as opposed to their American counterparts) tend to be closer in age to the characters they represent, thereby offering what seems to be a more authentic rendering of the teen experience.
Karine Chevalier's essay on the films of...