Skip to main content

Banlieue Cinema (Cinema de Banlieue in french) is a particular type of French films that started in the mid 90s. Banlieue in French means the suburbs. The suburbs themselves have an interesting story, not only inspiring the cinema, but also social anthropology and political theory for two main reasons.

To begin with, banlieues were a response to the mass need of housing, mainly of workers, after the WWII and baby boom. The center of big metropolitan cities (in our case, Paris) had to be gentrified. Subsequently, the state, private interests and architects Le Corbusier and Auguste Perret are the most well known for starting a program of mass construction. This program’s name was HLM (Habitation a Loyer Modere). The first complex was built in Strasbourg in 1953 and named Cité de Rotterdam. Then many ‘’Cités’’ followed in the largest French cities.

Secondly, these suburbs after a while started to be considered as, restricted zones with high crime rate. The habitants, mostly belong to working and lower classes. Moreover, the poverty and cases of police brutality, sparked during the years riots, marches and strikes. To summarize, all these played a crucial role in the formation of politics in France. The most well known is the massive riot started from the suburb of Clichy Sous Bois in 2005. The riot was a response to the killing of two teenagers by the police. The whole Paris was burning for days. Taking these into consideration, Banlieue Cinema, has as its main thematic the social isolation, the poverty, the police brutality and in some cases riots, with a strong dosage of realism and modern reality in the suburbs.

Therefore, we will refer chronologically to some of the most representative Banlieue Cinema Films:

  1. La Haine (Hate) – by Mathieu Kassovitz (1995)

Obviously, if we need to say one movie that relates to Banlieue Cinema, this is for sure ”La Haine”. ‘La Haine” is written and directed by Mathieu Kassovitz. It is a story of three youngsters, Vinz (Vincent Cassel), Hubert (Hubert Koundé) and Saïd (Saïd Taghmaoui). They all live in the suburb of Chanteloup les Vinges. A policeman heavily injures a friend of them, Abdel. The riot starts. The three protagonists find a revolver and think that it could be used for killing a policeman as revenge. They are involved in various funny stories, like the one in the toilets and the art gallery, in contrast to the general violent set of the film.

Afterwards, all night long they are strolling around and having to take a decision. Will they use the gun or not? Moreover, they share facts about their lives. They also explore Paris’ modern structure, which divides the poor from the rich. The image of the advertisement saying, ‘’ le Monde est a Vous’’ (The World is Yours) and paraphrased by them, using a color spray as ‘’ le Monde est a Nous’( The World Belongs to Us), is iconic. It also summarizes perfectly their feelings. Mathieu Kassovitz won the prize of Best Direction in Cannes.

2. Les Triplettes de Belleville (The Triplettes of Belleville) – by Sylvain Chomet (2003)

It is a French animated comedy film directed Sylvain Chomet. It is a co-production of France, Belgium, Canada and United Kingdom. The film narrates the adventure of Madame Souza, who tries to save her grandson. Her grandson, former Tour de France Champion is kidnapped by Mafia, due to his gambling debts. The narration is mainly given by pantomime and songs.

Firstly, the name of the film comes from a TV show which the old lady and her grandson watch. In that TV show, a trio of singers appears, the Triplettes of Belleville. Through this show, the grandmother discovers her grandson’s interest in music. Although it is not a typical Banlieue film, ”Les Triplettes de Belleville” describes the difficulties and harshness of the suburbs. All things considered, Belleville is a mixture of Paris, New York, Montreal and Quebec City. The film had two nomination for academy awards, including best animated feature and best original song.

3. Bande De Filles (Girlhood) – by Céline Sciamma (2014)

Céline Sciamma’s directs this dramatic film, with a particular feminist gaze. Undoubtedly, this gaze is characteristic in her cinematography. It is the story of teenage African-French girl Marieme ( Karidja Touré), who lives close to La Defense. La Defense is a place with the characteristic concrete arc, parallel with l ‘Arc de Triomphe. It has also big skyscrapers and it is the business center of Paris. However, the neighborhoods around Marieme’s area are quite poor.

Without a doubt and by selecting this set, the film emphasizes the big contrasts in Paris. Marieme meets a group of girls and starts her teenage revolution. She drinks, she smokes and she dances just like them. She also gets into fights and steals. The film received nominations in 40th Cézar Awards, including best director and most promising actress.

4. Dheepan – by Jacques Audiard (2015)

Dheepan is a crime-action movie by Jacques Audiard. It describes the hard struggle of a political exile from Sri Lanka, Dheepan (Antonythasan Jesuthasan). Deephan seeks for asylum in France. He was a former soldier of Sri Lanka’s, Tamil Tiger’s liberation army, during the civil war. Together with Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan), a young woman and Illayaal (Claudine Vinasithamby) a small girl, pretend to be family. They arrive as a regular family in France and move to a hostile suburb. The conditions of their living are terrible. Their house is a mess. Dheepan tries to renovate it. In the meantime, he works in different kind of jobs.

Drug dealers control the suburb. The rivalry between different gangs, leads to a mass riot and killing, in which Dheepan also participates. The film has references to Montesquie’s “Persian Letters” and to Sam Penkinpah’s “Straw Dogs”. To sum up, the films emphasizes on how former immigrants in France, host the new-coming refugees from different war zones. The film won the Palm d’Or at 2015 Cannes Film Festival.

5. Les Misérables – by Ladj Ly (2019)

It is the full-length film debut of LadJ Ly. It is based on a short film of 2017 with the same name. The film takes place in Montfermeil, an eastern suburb of Paris. It is a true story of Police violence, which Ladj Ly filmed. It has a direct reference to Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables”. The story revolves around the riots that sparkled in the suburb after an incident of police brutality, in the aftermath of FIFA world Cup 2018.

With this purpose in mind, the film describes the different kind of tensions between the Islamic communities and reveals the role that new technologies play, mostly Instagram and drones. On one hand, they are tools of streaming and filming police’s violent behavior. On the other side, police is able to locate the suspects through their smartphones. Attacks and counter attacks. The film follows a frenzy pace with many surrealistic elements.

6. Athena – by Romain Gavras (2022)

Athena is a film by Romain Gavras. Ladj Ly, director of ”Les Misérables”, participates in the screenplay. The film narrates the story of Abdel (Dali Benssalah), a former Algerian-French soldier who lost his brother after three policemen beat him to death. His younger brother, Karim (Sami Slimane), desides to react. He organizes a riot in the suburb of Athena. The older half-brother of the family, Moktar (Ouassini Embarek), is a drug dealer. On this occasion, he tries to deliver his drugs, but also helps the rebels by providing them protection.

To begin with, the film focuses in the relationship and antagonisms between the three brothers who remained alive. They become the hunter and the victim interchangeably within the chaos of Athena. The film participated and nominated for the Gold Lion at the 79th Venice Film Festival. Netflix streams the movie. Finally, although it is a generally good film, it has a very dubious and polarizing end, that may destroy everything.

Leave a Reply