As South and East Asian, African, and Caribbean diasporas disrupt the prevailing Christian and racialized delineation of Europe, nation-states in the European Union are undergoing economic and political integration and dramatic demographic changes. Since the 1980s filmmakers, especially diasporic and exilic ones, have explored the émigré experience with increasing frequency and in greater depth. Accented cinema formations have developed in Britain (black and Asian film and video collectives), in the United States (Iranian, African American, and Asian American), and, to a lesser extent, in Canada (South Asian).
Among filmmakers who reside in France, a cine beur , or beur cinemas, has evolved, exploring the preoccupations and concerns of transnational migrant communities that have settled there. The word beur is French slang for "Arab" and signifies the ambivalence associated with bicultural identity despite French nationality. It also signifies the distinction and tension between French of Maghreb ancestry and their North African immigrant parents. Les beurs constitute a distinctive bicultural group. As the children of North African immigrants from Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco (the Maghreb), concentrated particularly in the banlieues (housing projects on the peripheries of French cities), la génération beur attained prominence during the late 1970s amid racial tension, the rise of extreme right-wing movements (such as the Front National), and national debates about immigration, integration, and assimilation in France.
Beur cinema, which has a kinship with banlieue and "hip hop" cinemas, is part of a larger beur artistic tradition and social movement in music, art, photography, theater, and literature. Beur films are for the most part narratives told in a realist mode that have popular appeal; they are shaped by a shared colonial experience and language (French) and, with few exceptions, are by men about male-centered narratives in which women are largely marginalized. Recurrent themes are the urban multiethnic realities of unemployment, street crime, poverty, and state surveillance and regulation; the institutional, social, and personal consequences of racism; the conflicts and tensions between North African and French cultures; the intergenerational conflicts between North African émigrés and their beur children, especially with regard to patriarchal authority; and the tensions caused by uprootedness, exile, deterritorialization, nostalgia, escape, and repatriation.
The more recent evolution of beur cinema, however, suggests that its composition and concerns are provisional, as some filmmakers make the transition to other areas of filmmaking in France and address non- beur subjects. Addressing themes related to beur (and banlieue ) cinema, the film Bye-Bye (1995) examines contemporary French society, which is becoming increasingly multiethnic, multiracial, hybridized, and fractured along class lines. Directed by Karim Dridi (b. 1961), a Franco-Tunisian filmmaker, Bye-Bye chronicles the anguished, violent, and indeterminate odyssey of Ismaél, a Franco-Maghrebi who escorts his younger brother, Mouloud, south from Paris via Marseilles to their parents' "homeland" in Tunisia. By framing the narrative in the context of a journey, the film emphasizes two features of postcoloniality: the territorial divide between France and its former colonies and their diasporic settlement, and the cultural paradoxes of postcoloniality. These paradoxes are signified in an effective counterpoint, in which the imperatives of capitalism and pluralism contest Islamic traditions and practices, along with parental fealty. Neither side of this deterritorialized and dislocating space offers Ismaél solace.
Ismaél's ambivalence, and Mouloud's unequivocal rejection of the "home country," underscores their generation's displacement and break with tradition and familial, especially paternal, authority. At ease neither in French nor in Maghreb cultures, Ismaél longs for another home (land), which attests to his marginality as a diasporic subject. Thus, in Bye-Bye the émigré experience forsakes the collective for the personal and exemplifies the existential characteristic of beur cinema.
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Michael T. Martin