Megalopolis—Immigrant Cities

1. CAFÉ AU LAIT

1993, 94 mins., French with English subtitles
Director: Mathieu Kassovitz
Screenplay: Mathieu Kassovitz

Metisse (literally, a mixed race woman), the original title of this comedy, was perhaps more accurate and nasty but less metaphoric and cute: Lola (played by Julie Mauduech) is a creamy brown Parisian from Martinique with two lovers, Felix (played by the director, Mathieu Kassovitz), from a working-class Jewish family, and Jamal (played by Hubert Kounde), the black Muslim son of an African diplomat. Like her forerunner Nola Darling in Spike Lee’s “She’s Gotta Have It” (1986), Lola doesn’t like making up her mind but unlike Lola she’s pregnant.

Although the film is filled with anti-black and anti-semitic slurs and jokes, it treats the racial and religious divide in a relatively carefree manner, eventually reconciling the brawling men and transforming competing fathers into domestic pets attending Lola. Although we eventually learn who is the biological father, we never see the baby when she arrives. “What color is the baby?” Felix asks a nurse, who laughs and says that the baby is pink with green stars.

We leave the new happy and unconventional family as a voiceover from racist right-winger politician Le Pen curses at the “bastardized, impoverished race” his fellow citizens are creating.

See Other Films:

La Haine
Crimson Rivers

Further Reading:

Maslin, Janet. “Café Au Lait: Interracial Romance, Leavened by Humor.” New York Times, 19 Aug. 1994. Kassovitz’s film debut “imagines a world where laughter is a formidable weapon, beating out bigotry every time.”

2. CHAOS

2001, 109 mins., French with English subtitles
Director: Coline Serreau
Screenplay: Coline Serreau

The violence, both physical and spiritual, against Malika, or Noémie, her street name (played by Rachida Brakni) the Algerian woman in this film, is hard to watch; the explicit condemnation of Algerian men both at home and in France is somewhat compensated by the piggishness of the French men we also meet in the film’s other plot motor, that of petit-bourgeoise Helene (played by Catherine Frot).

In order to rescue her sister from the clutches of her father and his oppressive patriarchal culture, Noemie, formerly hooker non grata at home, showers her family with gifts: “With one shitty motorbike,” she tells her sister, “their honor melts along with their religion.”

The film closes with four women sitting on the shore of a lake, having escaped the creepy men in their lives: the eldest, Helene’s mother-in-law, not surprisingly turns out to be the moral center of the film, protecting women and celebrating difference.

Further Reading:

Nesselson, Kisa. “Chaos.” Variety, 19 Oct. 2001. Rave review: “Scripter-helmer [Serreau] has zero patience for the hypocrisy and political correctness that relegates abusive practices to ‘cultural differences.’”

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One Response to “Megalopolis—Immigrant Cities”

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