Film Series

Race and Ethnicity in New French Film

Mondays, February 6 — 27 at 7pm

Titled “Without Distinction: Race and Ethnicity in New French Film,” this series presents films that examine the roles of race and ethnicity in contemporary France. While Article 1 of the French Constitution guarantees “equality before the law, without distinction of origin, race or religion,” many in the diverse cultural, racial, and ethnic landscape of contemporary France—especially those in France’s North and West African communities—continue to struggle with issues of integration, assimilation, racism, and exclusion. In these films, both individuals and communities struggle to survive (if not thrive) in a society that sometimes views their cultural identities as “without distinction” (in a very different sense than the kind of equality envisioned by the law) and amid the serious challenges of discrimination and violence, and the vestiges of (post)colonialism in France and the Francophone World.

Professor Brian Martin (co-organizer of this series) and other members of the Williams College Department of Romance Languages will give introductions to the films.



Starring: Tahar Rahim, Niels Arestrup

Malik, the 19-year-old French-Arab criminal enters prison as an uneducated naïf. But by the time he leaves jail, he will know how to read — and how to kill. Jacques Audiard’s intricate study of the bloody rules and rituals behind bars never once glorifies the shocking violence that becomes a rite of passage for Malik, who, friendless, feels he must do the savage bidding of a ferocious Corsican crime boss in exchange for protection. Instead, the director (sometimes referred to as the “French Scorsese”) examines prison as its own specific social system, its corruption, cronyism, and racism a reflection of France at large.

  • Director: Jacques Audiard
  • Rating: R
  • Runtime: 2 hours 29 minutes
  • Genre: Drama

“Essential viewing for art-film buffs and crime-flick fans, but also for anyone who's looking for a great story, terrific acting and masterful filmmaking.”

– St. Louis Post-Dispatch


35 RHUMS/ 35 Shots of Rum

Starring: Alex Descas, Mati Diop

An homage to Yasujiro Ozu’s similarly themed Late Spring (1949), 35 Shots is Denis’s warmest, most radiant work, honoring a family of two’s extreme closeness while suggesting its potential for suffocation. 35 Shots is firmly rooted in place, several scenes unfolding in an apartment building in a run-down section of Paris’s 18th arrondissement, home to Lionel and Joséphine; Gabrielle, an ex of Lionel’s who still aches for him; and Noé, nursing a crush on Joséphine. Dyads align, shift, break, and regroup among the foursome.

  • Director: Claire Denis
  • Rating: Not Rated
  • Runtime: 1 hour 40 minutes
  • Genre: Drama

“To fall in love with it, viewers only have to be receptive to a movie that examines the ties that bind with grace, wit and depth.”

– Time Out New York


White Material

Starring: Christopher Lambert, Isaach De Bankolé, Isabelle Huppert

White Material unfolds as a fever dream, a haunting, enigmatic look at the horrors of colonialism’s legacy, a subject that Denis first explored in her semiautobiographical debut feature, Chocolat (1988). Set in an unnamed African country during an unspecified time, White Material centers on Maria Vial, a coffee-plantation owner who is blindly determined to continue her business while civil war rages on around her. Chaos engulfs the nation, but Maria implores her workers, many of whom have already fled, to stay and harvest the coffee crop. Amid the increasingly violent anarchy, an injured rebel leader known only as “the Boxer” takes refuge at Maria’s farm.

  • Director: Claire Denis
  • Rating: Not Rated
  • Runtime: 1 hour 42 minutes
  • Genre: Drama

“Ms. Denis has an extraordinary gift for finding the perfect image that expresses her ideas, the cinematic equivalent of what Flaubert called le mot juste.”

– Manohla Dargis, New York Times



Starring: Firat Ayverdi, Vincent Lindon

Bilal, a 17-year-old Kurdish refugee, has struggled his way through Europe for the last three months, trying to reunite with his girlfriend, who recently emigrated to England. But his journey comes to an abrupt halt when he is stopped by authorities in Calais, on the French side of the Channel. Left with no other alternatives, he decides to swim across. Bilal goes to the local swimming pool to train, where he meets Simon, a middle-aged swimming instructor in turmoil over his imminent divorce. Simon agrees to help Bilal, hoping to win back the affection of his wife, who does volunteer work helping immigrants. But what begins as a relationship based on self interest, develops into something much bigger than Simon could ever have imagined, as he too will ultimately risk everything to reach happiness.

  • Director: Philippe Lioret
  • Rating: Not Rated
  • Runtime: 1 hour 40 minutes
  • Genre: Drama

“Compelling, finely balanced immigration drama.”

– New York Times

This series is presented by the Williams College Department of Romance Languages, cosponsored by the Williams Center for Foreign Languages, Literatures, and Cultures.