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What Was So Funny about Les Aventures de Rabbi Jacob (1973)

A Comedic Film between History and Memory

Michael Mulvey

Abstract

This article reappraises Gérard Oury’s Les Aventures de Rabbi Jacob (1973), a comedy about a bigoted Frenchman and an Arab revolutionary disguised as orthodox rabbis, by considering the film’s original historical context, its attention to traumatic memories, and its place inside French culture as a cinematic lieu de mémoire. Rabbi Jacob represented a comedic medium through which Oury addressed the serious themes of racism and antisemitism as he envisioned multicultural reconciliation between the French, Arabs, and Jews. Rabbi Jacob was inseparable from the history of Jews in France, their deportation during the Second World War, and the postwar acceptance that being Jewish was compatible with integration into France. At the same time, Rabbi Jacob portrayed Arabs as a series of (post)colonial stereotypes leading one pro-Palestinian supporter to hijack an airplane in protest. Rabbi Jacob records an optimistic moment at the close of the trente glorieuses and continues to serve as a source for narratives on philo-Semitism, tolerance, and anti-racism in France.

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Jules Vallès and Séverine

Romantic Socialism and the Afterlife of a Cross-Sex Friendship in French Political Culture, 1880–1929

Michael Mulvey

Abstract

French political culture had a postrevolutionary tradition that considered gendered Ciceronian or fraternal friendship crucial to maintaining ideological movements across time inside the nation. The brief cross-sex friendship between Jules Vallès (1832–1885) and Séverine (neé Caroline Rémy, 1855–1929) has served as a biographical footnote to an 1871 Communard and a Dreyfusard journalist. This article frames the Vallès-Séverine social relation as a fraternal friendship that ideally secured Vallès’s political posterity and strategically empowered Séverine to publish opinions as a woman. Vallès self-consciously transferred his legacy of barricade-driven, romantic socialism to Séverine. Séverine, in turn, attempted to invoke Vallès’s heritage in an effort to protect her published opinions as a woman without civic rights. The Vallès-Séverine friendship was a paradoxical social relation that revealed how two historical actors subverted gender norms and the limits of a cross-sex fraternal friendship inside a liberalizing French political culture.