Crossing the Mediterranean: deterritorialised identities in Perdus entre deux rives, Des vacances malgré tout, and La traversée

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While the term ‘Mediterranean Sea’ refers primarily to a geographical category, recent scholarship contends that it is also a ‘contested concept’ used throughout history for ideological purposes. In the context of the Algeria-France relationship, the Mediterranean constitutes an especially complex entity. This article focuses on the shared visual economy between Algeria and France, and examines varying representations of the Mediterranean in three contemporary documentaries: Oujdi’s Perdus entre deux rives, les chibanis oubliés (2014), Bensmaïl’s Des vacances malgré tout (2000), and Leuvrey’s La traversée(2013). Oujdi’s Les chibanis is filmed in Marseille and documents the marginalisation of retired Algerian workers. A reading of the opening and closing images of the Mediterranean suggests that the documentary echoes current political debates on access to French benefits and calls for the inclusion of chibanis within French society. In Des vacances, Bensmaïl films a Paris-based family travelling to Algeria to visit family. In this real-life road-trip, the Mediterranean becomes a spatial questioning of national affiliations. The chronological pace underscores the geographical distance that separates Paris and Algiers, but also the emotional and cultural distance between the father and his family. Leuvrey’s La traversée presents the Mediterranean as an actual no-man’s land, a transitional space where passengers’ voices are liberated. The documentary is fragmented, non-linear and superimposes the verbal/historical over the visual/geographical to challenge exclusive definitions of identity. Ultimately, this article addresses the troubled, intertwined history between Algeria and France by analysing how through changing representations of the Mediterranean, Algerian and French identities are contested and negotiated.

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The Journal of North African Studies





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