Contemporary French Civilization

Traveling beyond the national: mobile citizenship, flexible identities, and layered republicanism in the French return road movie

Contemporary French Civilization (2013), 38, (1), 73–95.

Abstract

The road movie has recently become an increasingly popular vehicle for French and European filmmakers attempting to come to terms with the complexities of contemporary identity within "New Europe" and a postcolonial world. This article considers the ways by which one notable sub-category of French road cinema, the "return road movie," opens the door to a reading of contemporary identity as a concept not strictly delimited by the geographic boundaries of the nation state. At the same time, identity in these films is not aligned with the ethnic or cultural origins of the protagonists. The article identifies twenty films that make up the return road movie corpus and offers a closer reading of two notable examples, Voyage en Arménie/Armenia (Robert Guédiguian, 2006) and Ten'ja/Testament (Hassan Legzouli, 2004). These films use mobility to demonstrate that it is conceivable to be French and retain, or rediscover, a connection to another identity. By formulating contemporary identity as both incongruous with the parameters of the nation state and unaligned with ethnic or cultural origins, subjectivity in "road return films" is presented as malleable and mobile and is not aligned with either a multiculturalist vision nor a traditional republican notion of citizenship.

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Gott, Michael