Volume 2, Issue 5, April 2012

A Word from the Editor

The release of an Umberto Eco novel is always an event and when the book is set in nineteenth-century France, we take special notice. The Prague Cemetery closes with the connivance of continental secret services in the concoction of the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion that purported to reveal a Jewish conspiracy for world domination. Eco gets us there through the diaries of a schizophrenic anti-hero(s), an Italian forger who has taken refuge in France and drifted from revolutionary to right-wing circles. The multiple-personality device, as Steven Englund makes plain, proves cumbersome, deflecting attention from late-nineteenth-century anti-Semitism to fractured identities with Freud making, unfortunately, an all-too-brief appearance. Despite vivid cameos by real historical figures, the reader reste sur sa faim on fin-de-siècle anti-Semitism. The silver-lining might be to stimulate our students to investigate these questions more fully.

Mathieu Kassovitz’s new film, L’ordre et la morale, released in France in November 2011 and opening in Australia this April, has yet to find an American distributor.  Whatever one may think of the volatile director, his film deserves to be seen : it is a heartfelt exploration of French colonialism in New Caledonia, a project to which he devoted ten years. As Denise Fisher, in her analysis of these events, tells us, the film not only offers a faithful portrayal of the clashes between native Kanak and French armed forces in 1988, it is a timely reminder that the subsequent Nouméa accords are about to expire.

Kassovitz’s critical approach to French grandeur is far removed, Robert Aldrich would say, from Pierre Schoendoerffer’s sentimental appraisal of French decolonization. Le Crabe-Tambour offers a crash course on the loss of Indochina and the officers’ revolt in Algeria, embodied by the handsome « Kurtz-like » maverick Willsdorff, whose exploits are recalled with both nostalgia and reproof by a group of aging naval officers. They are patroling the North Atlantic bound for Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, the bleak remains of empire, and they have yet to process fully their changed circumstances. It is this last point that lends the film its significance. Despite the mesmerizing image of Jacques Perrin in his spotless white uniform with his black cat on his shoulder, the film offers no glib judgment on the loss of empire.

Another classic, Bertrand Tavernier’s Coup de torchon, set in 1938 Senegal, evokes French colonialism in far less ambiguous fashion. Based on a novel set in the American heartland, the plot makes no claims to realism, but, as Alice Conklin points out, Tavernier masterfully captures the look and feel of Africa, its prewar deadbeat White settlers, their racism and violence. Like the other reviewers in this issue, she offers a sensational analysis of the work, while approaching the film as a teaching tool and pointing out what will be evident to students from the first and what might need explaining.

Liana Vardi

Table of Contents

The Buzz

Skating over the Abyss: A Review of Umberto Eco’s The Prague Cemetery, by Steven Englund
The Need to Remember : L’ordre et la morale (Rebellion), by Denise Fisher

Classics in the Classroom

Coup de Torchon, by Alice Conklin
Le Crabe-Tambour: In the Wake of Empire, by Robert Aldrich

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