An imprecise vision of “self” and “other” in founding French ideology has left the national debate on French identity without a defining image and, hence, at risk during national crises such as les années noires under Nazi Occupation. As an audio-visual treatment of the “self”-“other” relations that define mental image, French cinema about this period offers a visible voice for participation in the national debate.
“Cinematic Concretisations of French Identity: Symptomatic Defences” analyses ten French films about les années noires through lens of Jean Epstein’s and André Bazin’s ontological film theories. L’Assassinat du père Noël/Who killed Santa Claus ? (Christian-Jacque, 1941), Les Inconnus dans la maison/Strangers in the house (Decoin, 1942), Le Corbeau (Clouzot, 1943), and Les Caves du Majestic/Majestic Hotel cellars (Pottier, 1945) ; Le Silence de la mer (Melville, 1949) and L’Armée du crime/Army of crime (Guédiguian, 2009) ; L’Œil de Vichy/The Eye of Vichy (Chabrol, 1993) and Pétain (Marbœuf, 1993) ; Lacombe Lucien (Malle, 1974) andt Les Hommes libres/Free men (Ferroukhi, 2011) comprise the corpus of films. Distributed across four chapters, the film analyses explore variations in identity formation: self and other ; we and you ; he and they ; and multiple identity.
Using defence mechanisms as the operational variable to identify principal “self” and “other” in each film, the study examines the concretised identity that conflict resolution semi-coalesces. Essential questions of the study are 1) What categories of “other” threaten the principal “self”? 2) What composite image of French identity is concretised? 3) How does the concretised “self”-“other” clarify the French mental image?
Equally relevant to identity threats on a broader scale, the study also offers application in the contemporary era as European nations are challenged to incorporate the “other” of massive demographic shifts.