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Multilingualism and Power in Contemporary French Cinema


KeywordsTriple Keywords
Language and languages
Foreign languages
Number concept
Feature films--History and criticism
Motion pictures
Political power
Empowerment (Social sciences)
Power (Social sciences)
Learning process
Language shift
Switching (Linguistics)
Code switching (Linguistics)
Political representation
Representative government and representation
Parliamentary government
Standard of value
Context (Linguistics)
Grammar, Comparative and general--Context
Situation (Linguistics)


Dialogue in languages other than French has appeared in a select number of films throughout the history of French cinema. Yet not only is multilingual dialogue vastly more present in twenty-first-century French film, but the use of multiple languages to (re)negotiate power dynamics is a striking narrative and thematic concern in contemporary French cinema. In multilingual film, the depiction of the status of a wide range of languages other than French is evolving from trivialised to deeply complex; through language learning and strategic code-switching, the characters of these films wrest power from one another and wield it in innovative ways. Exploiting their knowledge of a wide range of languages, from rival lingua francas like English to traditionally migrant or socio-politically marginalised languages such as Arabic or Kurdish, multilingual characters in these films offer a counter-perspective to dominating ideologies of the role and status of the French language.This thesis adopts a transnationalist approach to understandings of social power and language, analysing multilingual film through the framework of Ella Shohat and Robert Stam’s theory of polycentric multiculturalism, which “is about dispersing power, about empowering the disempowered, about transforming subordinating institutions and discourses” (Shohat and Stam 1994: 48). Unpacking the power dynamics at play in the multilingual film dialogue of four emblematic case studies (Polisse [Maïwenn 2011], Un prophète [Jacques Audiard 2009], Welcome [Philippe Lioret 2009] and London River [Rachid Bouchareb 2009]), the thesis posits that contemporary French multilingual films, henceforward referred to as CFMFs, represent a move towards revising the representation of language in French cinema, foregrounding the potential of languages other than French (even the maligned or historically disenfranchised) to empower their speakers and to transcend the traditional integrationist paradigm.

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