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Past Forward

Past Forward

French Cinema and the Post-Colonial Heritage

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Dayna Oscherwitz


E-book (Other formats: Paperback)
6 x 9, 6 illustrations


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About the Book

In Past Forward: French Cinema and the Post-Colonial Heritage, author Dayna Oscherwitz focuses on the world of French films with a new lens. Drawing upon a wealth of research and the examination of popular French movies, Oscherwitz offers fresh perspectives not only on the unique importance of motion pictures and their indelible influence on French character, but on current debates regarding individual and collective memory.
            Past Forward traces the development and ascension of the French heritage film—those historical and costume dramas focusing on prestigious French subjects, events, and settings. These motion pictures, preeminent during a period of globalization and fear over the affects of immigration in 1980s France, quickly came to embody a specific version of French national and collective identity: one that idealized the past, condemned the present, and created an institutional form of memory. Oscherwitz presents the intriguing notion that French heritage films are not exclusively expressions of nationalism and nostalgia as has commonly been asserted. On the contrary, although these movies were born out of a perceived loss of French culture, their ambivalence toward traditional hallmarks of nationalism opens them up to new interpretation. Also in contrast to typical conceptions, the author suggests that these heritage films are far from cinematic bastions of multicultural backlash; instead, she argues, popular culture has in its own fashion reinserted the history of colonialism and immigration into the national past, thus reimagining heritage itself.

            Against this backdrop, Oscherwitz goes on to investigate the multicultural worlds of beur and banlieue movies—cinema seemingly in direct contrast with the heritage film—offering the theory that these films serve as a “countermemory” to an institutionalized one and provide alternative models of collective memory and identity. Through careful analysis of several examples, Oscherwitz demonstrates how these two seemingly different realms—heritage and multicultural cinema—are far from mutually exclusive in the construction of French identity.

            Throughout the volume, numerous well-known French movies are reexamined, inviting new interpretations of and challenging old views through investigations of familiar cinematic works. Past Forward is arevolutionary volume that boldly reimagines our ideas about French film and its role in communicating history and memory.


Dayna Oscherwitz is an assistant professor in the Department of Foreign Languages and literatures at Southern Methodist University. She is a coauthor of The Historical Dictionary of French Cinema and has been published in several journals and collected volumes.


“Students and scholars will profit from Dayna Oscherwitz’s perceptive and lively analyses of a wide range of films. With its pertinent discussions of ethnicity, history, and memory, this book is a valuable and timely contribution to French and post-colonial studies. It also offers enjoyable reading.”

—Dina Sherzer, University of Texas, Austin