Ismaël Ferroukhi’s Babelized Road Movie

in Art and Visibility in Migratory Culture


Ismaël Ferrouhki’s Le Grand Voyage follows a father and a son who leave Aix-en-Provence to drive to Mecca together. The emphasis on religion, migration, generational and cultural or national differences invites us to place the film within a recognizable French cinematographic tradition: at first sight, Le Grand Voyage could be one of those “beur” or “banlieue” films, whose focus on the lives of migrants from formerly colonized territories in North Africa have gradually imposed a familiar aesthetic grammar. I argue, however, that Ferroukhi breaks with those well-known genres and experiments with a new type of migratory aesthetics. His Babelized road movie does not represent Islam as the other’s exotic religion, an unknown set of dogmas that is either feared or treated as a block of alterity. In Le Grand Voyage both protagonists are Muslims, but the film shows that religion is both what they have in common and what creates divisions between them. What matters is not so much the representation of Islam or even the notion that Islam is multiple, as the way in which each character relates to his own religious beliefs.

This new point of view is constructed by the film’s treatment of geography and language. Although the father and the son travel together, their journeys are radically different. The film reflects on this disconnection by simultaneously producing two different superposed cinematographic maps of Europe, and by demonstrating that each character adopts a unique way of communicating with the strangers that they meet on the way.