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Rebecca Weaver-Hightower and Peter Hulme, eds., Postcolonial Film: History, Empire, Resistance

Patricia Caillé
p. 103-105
Bibliographical reference

Rebecca Weaver-Hightower and Peter Hulme, eds. Postcolonial Film: History, Empire, Resistance. New York and London: Routledge, 2014. 326 p. ISBN (hb): 9780415716147

Full text

1Presenting “a cross-section of cutting edge postcolonial research on international cinema, research focused on more recent chronologies, new spaces and emerging technologies” (2), the book comprises twelve chapters, each analysing a single film plus an afterword. The selection of films spans forty-five years from Gillo Pontecorvo’s Italian-Algerian Battle of Algiers (1965) to Dakxin Bajrange Chhara’s The Lost Water: A Salt Worker’s Life (2010). Including fiction and documentary, the objective of the volume is to put into perspective different sets of questions from different locations, “away from what once would have been seen as the core postcolonial regions” (3). And one may wonder that it should include only one film by a woman filmmaker, Djebar’s La Nouba des femmes du Mont Chenoua (1978), the first Algerian film by a woman. Organized chronologically, the volume is divided into three parts.

2The first section revisits a few classics from the 1960s and 1970s. In a well-documented paper on Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers (1966), Nicholas Harrison explores the film’s capacity to capture important ambiguities about Islam; yet Harrison remains cautious about critical film analyses: “Even more careful critical readings of this or some other masterpiece, more respectful of the film’s richness and complexity, would not really tell you how other people had reacted or would react” (41), something one needs to keep in mind when reading the rest of this volume. Stephen Spence’s theoretically powerful reading of Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s The Puppetmaster borrows Emma Perez’s notion of “decolonial imaginary,” both a theory of resistance and a tool for the historical recovery of that resistance that “embodies the buried desires of the unconscious, living and breathing in between that which is colonialist and that which is colonized” (108). Here again, Spence seems concerned about the limits of a project bound to fail as it is unlikely to change postcolonial realities (108).

3The second part, “Millenial Tropes of Neo-Empire,” covers the first decade of the twenty-first century up to 2007, evoking the necessity of grappling with more contemporary inscriptions of the postcolonial with regard to fantasies of history and the inability to pin down historical origins as in “Déjà Vu All Over Again,” an analysis of Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg (2007) by Cynthia Sugars. This section starts with Jehanne-Marie Giavarini’s analysis of a science-fiction film, Cédric Klapish’s Peut-être (1999), which the author regards as dictating a certain “warping of Western linear time” (119), thus evoking the social and racial tensions in France at the time of the Pasqua-Debré laws. Based on Paul Gilroy’s concepts of “melancholia” and “conviviality” (157), Corinn Columpar’s critique of Ray Lawrence’s Jindabyne (2006) explores the extent to which this post-Mabo Australian allegory of the “effort to acknowledge the colonial past so as to loosen its hold on the present” (158) encourages acts of remembering and raises questions of cultural and resource ownership.

4The last part focuses on more recent films, from Fatih Akin’s The Edge of Heaven (2007) to Dakxin Bajrange Chhara’s two versions of The Lost Water: A Salt Worker’s Life (2007, 2010), a documentary about Budhan Theater, a movement that began in India in 1998 to counter the stigmatized image of a tribe, the Chharas. In this intriguing contribution, Henry Schwarz claims that this documentary is able to anatomize the structures of oppression and locate them in the state’s development policies. Describing “the position of marginality” as “an enabling strategy that allows cultural producers to escape from the constraints of the past while avoiding outright confrontation with still-active forces of repression” (271). Can the constraints of negative history that measure marginality and oppression as natural and inevitable be overcome by the tactics as Schwarz suggests? Yu-wen Fu’s analysis of the international critical reception of Taiwanese Te-Sheng Wei’s Cape nº7 enables readers to explore the different temporality of Taiwan’s contemporary fragile autonomy as it signals a reconfiguration of the relationships with its neighbors and former colonial powers, Japan and China.

5The articles offer a range of reflections on the postcolonial condition in films. The analysis of Jean-Claude Flamand-Barny’s Nèg Maron (2005) opens on a fairly elaborate description of the conditions of production and reception of Caribbean films, and may be emblematic of the quest most analyses take on: “The Guadeloupan postcolonial condition resists the binary of oppressor versus oppressed by layering distinctly Guadeloupan references with identifiable issues and universal struggles” (151). In an afterword, Robert Stam and Ella Shohat consider postcolonial theoretical discourse as practicing a “rhetoric of destabilization” that has shifted the focal from militant postures and concerns with roots specific to anti-colonialism, to much more complex positionalities and concerns that have to do with hybridity (284). Taken individually, each analysis constitutes a sophisticated reading of a film, most of them including relevant historical background information on a larger range of cinemas that most readers are probably familiar with. As such, the volume is a useful resource for academics and students in language and culture departments in academia and beyond.

6The volume systematically includes and comments on film stills, forcing writers to privilege the visual content, a constraint that brings a fairly conservative auteurism to bear on the analyses and a largely mythic capacity of the auteur/director’s images to reach out to abstract audiences and transgress the containment imposed by mostly Western dominant cinemas. The volume also falls short on the proposition to explore the postcolonial in the light of technological changes (3), a project that would require much closer scrutiny of the relationships of forces at work in the circulation of films. Is it possible to address the postcolonial character of “the fabric of a national and feminine song that privileges the sound of memories” (62) in La Nouba des femmes du Mont Chenoua, while ignoring that it is an Algerian film shot on 16mm film by RTA, published on DVD in the US only (which does not mean that the film is seen only in the US) and screened in rare festivals? In a reading of Neil Blomkamp’s South-African District 9 (2009), Rebecca Weaver-Hightower insists that “we should keep in mind the material realities involved in film production [...] and how films can call attention to continuing oppression while also inhabiting a problematic political and artistic space” (254). But the analyses do not pay more than lip service to the concrete ways in which these films do just that. Focusing on technological change would require an inquiry into the new routes films take, the formal and informal circulation of films on DVDs, VOD platforms, streaming, etc. – a circulation that may ultimately question the legitimacy of any auteurist approach to film.

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Bibliographical reference

Patricia Caillé, “Rebecca Weaver-Hightower and Peter Hulme, eds., Postcolonial Film: History, Empire, ResistanceCommonwealth Essays and Studies, 38.1 | 2015, 103-105.

Electronic reference

Patricia Caillé, “Rebecca Weaver-Hightower and Peter Hulme, eds., Postcolonial Film: History, Empire, ResistanceCommonwealth Essays and Studies [Online], 38.1 | 2015, Online since 10 April 2021, connection on 19 September 2021. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Patricia Caillé

Patricia Caillé is Associate Professor in the Communication Department of the University of Strasbourg. She works on Maghrebi cinemas. She has co-edited two Dossiers Africultures on “Cinémas du Maghreb et leurs publics” (2012), “Circulation des films et région MENA” (forthcoming). She has also published essays in Studies in French Cinema, French Cultural Studies, Interventions, Mise au Point, etc.

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