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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Rebels with a Cause: (Re)defining Identities and Culture in Contemporary French Cinema

  • Author(s): Dubreil, Sebastien
  • et al.

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In Fall 2005, widespread riots shook France. Was Paris really burning? What actually did happen in France that fall? If the “social unrest,” as it was called was symptomatic of serious social and political issues in France, it was largely misconstrued in some American media outlets. As a corollary, American students of French at times seem to have an inaccurate perception of the period.

All the issues underlying the 2005 riots are at the forefront of today’ French socio-political debate, especially since a central political figure at the time, Nicolas Sarkozy, was since elected president. These issues revolve around questions of integration of an increasingly diverse population, social justice, unemployment and poverty. After addressing some of the reasons for the divergence in French and American media discourse, the paper examines in depth France’s contemporary social climate, as portrayed in recent French films, from La Haine to Entre les murs. These films, which represent a fragmented French youth in the midst of redefining its identities, oscillating between revolt and desire for integration in a changing culture, constitute effective entry points to present FL students with contemporary cultural contexts and content. Using the frameworks of multiliteracies and intercultural communicative competence, pedagogical techniques are presented to help guide learners explore difficult, yet critically important topics to improve their understanding of French – and American – culture(s).

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