Representing vanishing natives: Imed Ben Labidi, ‘The Vanishing Native: Torture and Settler Colonialism in Transnational French Cinema’, Cultural Politics, 16, 1, 2020, pp. 24-43.

29Apr20

Abstract: The thematic foci of the Franco-Algerian war films of decolonization have shifted in the last few decades from evoking triumphalist discourses and redemptive fictional narratives to producing powerful transnational antiwar stories. While being critical of the violent history of colonization, defying earlier French governments’ oppressive forms of censorship, and addressing the history of colonial barbarity in Algeria, many French documentarians and filmmakers have skillfully used moving images to critique and expose colonial transgressions. In their efforts to reimagine the horrors of violent encounters between the French army and Algerian guerilla fighters, their narratives cover daring eye-witness accounts of war crimes, including acts of torture at times described by the perpetrators themselves while catering to the expectations of a global audience. Florent Emilio Siri’s L’ennemi intime (2007) and David Oelhoffen’s Far from Men (2014) are among these transnational productions that accomplish both tasks. In the stories told by the two films, the plots show evidence of a fundamental thematic transformation in filmic representations that collapses the differences between colonizer and colonized, situating both as victims of colonization. The article argues that even though both films consistently reproduce the conventional portrait of the colonized as weak, passive, and deeply reliant on French guidance, Far from Men introduces the myth of the vanishing native, a theme that helps legitimize and normalize the settler’s “right” to occupy the colonized space.



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