As part of the Lecture Series New Frontiers in Memory Studies, Sébastien Fevry (Louvain la Neuve) talked about “Sepia cinema under Nicolas Sarkozy’s France. Nostalgia and National Identity” in Frankfurt on Wednesday, 4th June 2014.

Click here to see a video recording of the lecture.


As Andreas Huyssen has pointed out, our contemporary society is marked by memorial obsession which can be understood as a fear of the future. In the process of globalization, the return to the past allow us to calm fears about an uncertain future while fostering a feeling of nostalgia for old times that temporal distance makes us perceive as being more stable and more favorable.
In this context, my lecture will examine the wave of nostalgic cinema which culminated in France under the Presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy and which has been called ‘sepia cinema’ by several critics. After the success of Les Choristes (Barratier, 2004), an huge number of films appears with an old-fashioned aspect such as Le Petit Nicolas (Tirard, 2009) or La Nouvelle Guerre des boutons (Barratier, 2011). These films are interesting insofar as they project an image of an ideal past in French society more and more obsessed by its memory, such as was shown by the important debate around the question of National identity launched by the minister Eric Besson in October 2009.
My talk will aim to understand the memorial dynamic that such films have assumed in the French socio-cultural space. More precisely, I will show that the relationship between the political sphere and sepia film is more complex than a simple phenomenon of an echoe chamber. Indeed, the success of sepia film mustn’t hide the fact that the memorial politics of Nicolas Sarkozy was finally a serious failure with a lot of initiatives, such as the creation of a ‘Maison de l’Histoire de France’, which have been criticized and finally dropped. That’s why I suggest that sepia cinema plays a role of compensation, but also reveals, from a more fundamental point of view, an important change in the framework of collective memory. In the context of a weakening of memorial politics, the sepia films tend to mobilise a family memory which appears as more efficient than national memory in the reappropriation and the sharing of collective memories.