L’Identité Nationale (National Identity) dramatises the attempt to resist the discourse on immigration that has gradually corrupted the French body politic over the last 30 years, reaching its zenith under the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy (2007-2012). In this resistance, L’Identité Nationale proposes to listen to a number of »speech acts« (paroles) by those who have experienced first hand the effects of the governing discourse on immigration. These speech acts are extended the time not usually granted them in which to shape themselves, articulate response to others and perhaps challenge the governing discourse. L’Identité Nationale thus offers a powerful re-affirmation of the ritual of the filmed interview, in its strongest sense. The film counters the commonly promoted view that the limited attention span of viewers can only be served by a series of short »sound bites«.
The structuring of L’Identité Nationale invites the respondent to experience the physical presence of words, the emotional weight of speech. Witnessing, through the medium of film, complex thinking processes unfold within the temporality authored by the film-maker rather than those notorious »sound bites«, is in fact a profoundly cinematographic act.
Affirming the speech act in all its many dimensions: physical, emotional, moral, political is indeed a film-maker’s endeavour and, for some, a film-maker responsibility.
The voices attended to in L’Identité Nationale are those of people rarely heard in the cinema: ex-prisoners, who have served double sentences, first for a particular criminal offence and secondly in virtue of their status as foreign nationals, trapped as they are by the interface and significant overlap between criminal law and immigration law. (Contrary to Sarkozy’s announcement in 2003, this unjust penal sanction is still in place.)
The speech acts of those who have suffered the effects of the discourse on immigration are juxtaposed with those of elected politicians, criminal justice system professionals and researchers. Taken collectively, these speech acts reciprocally complement and confirm each other, cross over and begin to delineate the contours of what the British have come to call a system of »institutional racism«. This could just as readily bear the name state xenophobia – a sentiment that traverses and negatively informs some of the institutional geographies of the French republic: police, courts, prefectures and prisons – in its treatment of those defined as »other«.
L’Identité Nationale begins with a personal narrative often explored in fiction – that of the break in. Here, the true story of a break in is told by a particular narrator who arrived in France very young (aged 13), committed the crime and still does not hold French nationality. From this starting point, the film goes on gradually to unfold the paradoxes of the major principles we have inherited from the Enlightenment. By reflecting on the contradictory relationship that the nation-state maintains with the foreigner – both constitutive and excluded – L’Identité Nationale invites us to redefine our status as citizens and to question the shape as well as the foundations of French identity. Such questioning is likely to affect spectators well beyond French borders, in all nation-states where identity is constituted through exclusion – an exclusion of unlimited duration…
about the author
Valérie Osouf is a French documentary film-maker. After a B.A. in History, she settled in Dakar, Senegal, where she graduated a Master in Journalism about African film distribution in West Africa. There, she worked as a radio presenter and reporter, as well as a freelance journalist for the French media. She also directed a short documentary about a deaf people who learned to speak, and another one (16 mm) with Senegalese people expelled from France after a change of the immigration laws. Since then, she focused her research on postcolonial identity. Back in Paris, Valérie attended a one year course on scriptwriting at the Femis (French national film school).
She then completed co-directing her first TV documentary, Cameroon: Autopsy of independence, with Gaëlle Le Roy. The film won the audience award at the International Historical Film Festival of Pessac and provoked a national debate in Cameroon. After that, she started writing her first feature fiction, Marie and Djibril (a drama about intimate racism), as well as developing a historical documentary TV project on Brixton Riots 1981. In parallel, she completed a short film about collective history vs. personal memory, Afterwards.
National Identity is her first feature length film.