Marivaux in the suburbs: Reframing language in Kechiche's L'Esquive (2003)

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Abstract

This article examines the extent to which L'Esquive, the winner of four Césars in 2005, follows the recent traditions of beur and banlieue film-making in France, which, since the mid-1980s, have traced the particular histories of immigrant and marginalized populations that have otherwise largely gone underrepresented in French cinema (Tarr 2005). These films, as Carrie Tarr would put it, ‘reframe difference’ in order to highlight the ways in which France's self-conception as a nation state sometimes occludes certain identifications articulated by marginalized individuals and groups. In so doing, many of these films call into question the French model of integration by highlighting the extent to which socio-political and ideological factors have a hand in marginalizing these individuals. While one observes in L'Esquive many of the hallmarks of other banlieue films before it, this film nevertheless sets itself apart in the way it reframes the relationship between high and popular culture through its explicit and very conscious use of language. By juxtaposing the eighteenth century playwright Marivaux's play Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard and the street slang of the Parisian banlieues, L'Esquive puts into question the very divide between high and low cultures. This article explores the implications of such a juxtaposition of different registers by taking into account both the film's production values (casting, budget, etc.) and the impact of its tremendous success at the Césars, as well as the way in which the film deftly deconstructs the much propagated stereotype of a necessarily violent banlieue. Through such sensitive and nuanced portrayal of banlieue life, L'Esquive goes a long way in laying bare some of the otherwise-hidden stakes of the French model of integration.

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