Australian Journal of French Studies

Code-switching as Power Strategy: Multilingualism and the Role of Arabic in Maïwenn’s Polisse (2011)

Australian Journal of French Studies (2015), 52, (2), 162–173.


The presence of multilingualism, and its representation as a strategy for exerting power, is steadily increasing in twenty-first-century French cinema. In recent films such as Un Prophète (Jacques Audiard, 2009), Entre les murs (Laurent Cantet, 2008) and London River (Rachid Bouchareb, 2009), multilingualism does not merely function as a decorative or secondary element, but as a central narrative component, a device for wresting and wielding power and a means of (re)negotiating interpersonal hierarchies. Thus contemporary multilingual French films are not merely multilingual; they are about multilingualism. This article focusses on a sequence of code-switching between French and Arabic in the film Polisse (Maïwenn, 2011). Contrasting this scene with earlier depictions of Arabic in French cinema, it interrogates how Polisse uses code-switching to reconfigure the power relationship between French and languages historically underrepresented, trivialised or marginalised.

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