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AfricAvenir Film Distribution - National Identity

National Identity (Identité Nationale)

For more than 30 years, a public discourse defined by racist resentments has influenced the public debate about immigration and identity in France. In her documentary, Valérie Osouf gives those people a voice who are personally affected by the consequences of this discourse. Detainees who have received a so-called “double peine”, a double punishment. They have not only been imprisoned for committing a crime, but also due to their status as “foreigners”, caught at the nexus between criminal law and the alien laws. The film analyses the complex interrelations between the police, judiciary, prisons and prefectures, raising questions about the relations between the French state and its “foreigners”.

Production Details

Valérie Osouf, Documentary, 95 min., France 2012
Produced by Granit Films


Distribution in Germany, Switzerland and Austria
Contact: info(at)africavenir.org 
Format: BluRay, DVD
Language: French with English Subtitles
Poster/Pictures: Can be sent digitally

Full Synopsis

L’Identite 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’Identite 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 rarely herd speech acts are here granted the necessary time for them to shape themselves, articulate responses to others and perhaps challenge the governing discourse.

The voices attended to in L’Identite 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 our 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 aged 13 and at [the time he committed the crime] [the age of …] [did] [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 our Nation-State maintains with the Foreigner – both constitutive and excluded – L’Identite 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...

Press Reviews

“If we fail to consider the plight of foreigners, if we fail to perceive what our laws can result in, we begin to lose sight of how low our democracy has fallen.”  M. Gaboriau, Magistrate    

„This movie does not pretend to be neutral, which would be an illusion anyway. It is entirely committed and does not try to hide this fact. But its arguments are highly convincing, they are logical and deeply humane. They denounce the regression of criminal law, caused by the avalanche of immigration laws, which intentionally robs foreigners of any chance to become upright citizens.” (Olivier Barlet, Africultures)

“The topic of ValérieOsouf’s film goes beyond the issue of so-called “double punishment”. Her goal is to trace the history of immigration to France, through the prism of the prison system. In this movie, we stand in line in front of the immigration office with the contemporary witnesses, we speak to prisoners who have just been discharged, but also to an illegal immigrant from Senegal who is in prison and whose only offence was to illegally enter France.” (Clapnoir)

„This film displays great depth in its analytical reflections. It is full of passion, cutting back and forth between the victims and the experts, thereby finally giving this issue shape and form and shedding light on links that were hitherto entirely ignored (…) This is a truly great and thoughtful documentary which has definitely provided me with insights about my own national identity. Entirely worth watching.” (viewer, Telerama)

„Congratulations to ValérieOsouf for making this documentary that treats the true and striking accounts of its witnesses with sensibility.She really listened to the people.  Excellent editing and brilliant background plot. This film should definitely be shown on public television.“ (viewer, Telerama)

„A very valuable movie that puts more than thirty years of French immigration policies into the right perspective and gives shape and form to what is usually only presented to us as numbers, administrative guidelines and applications. The film draws our attention to this blind spot in our society, namely the prison, and simultaneously helps us remember certain truths (No! France is not a country with a high percentage of foreigners…) (…) The movie denounces the political strategy of turning foreigners into criminals.” (viewer, Telerama)

„Many thanks to Valérie Osouf for making this movie, and for her sharp-sightedness. The testimonies and interventions are remarkably accurate. The question who is French and who is allowed to be is the big question in this republic. (…) A must-see!”(viewer, Telerama)

Director: Valérie Osouf

After studying history, Valérie Osouf moved to Senegal for five years, where she shot the movie „Sans Commentaire – The country that one never arrives in” with Senegalese immigrants who had been deported from France. In Dakar she wrote her master’s thesis in journalism about film distribution in West Africa. At the time she was already working for the newspaper Le Monde and for the radio stations RFI and Sud FM. In her following movies she has focused on the contemporary consequences of colonialism. In 2008, her film „Cameroon – Autopsy of an independence“ dealt with France’s secret colonial war in Cameroon. At the same time, she developed the script for “Guns of Brixton” about the London riots of 1981. In 2009 she co-founded the production company “Granit Films” in France, together with the multi-award winning film makers Newton Aduaka and Alain Gomis. „L’Identité Nationale“ is her first feature length movie. www.granitfilms.com

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