Beyond the Language

(Gengo no muko ni aru mono)

- FRANCE, JAPAN / 2019 / French, English / Color / Digital File / 97 min

Director, Photography, Sound, Editing: Nishino Madoka
Appearances: Nicole Blondeau, Ferroudja Allouache, Annie Couëdel, Students of the University of Paris 8 Vincennes-Saint-Denis
Source: Nishino Madoka

Debates full of wit and free spirit, driven by students from all over the world, unfold in a seminar on French as a foreign language, an open course at the University of Paris 8 Vincennes-Saint-Denis. While incorporating black and white footage of classroom scenes from the 60s that are permeated with the university esprit of that era, the film focuses on courses taught by two instructors, Nicole and Ferroudja, on writing and gender (as socially constructed), and literary works made into films. As students in the classroom express their thoughts on being freed from oppression, the film paints a picture of them taking aim at and struggling towards human change in order to engage with society, confronting the viewer with many questions.


[Director’s Statement] In France, with its colonial and immigrant history—and particularly a history of attracting cheap labor from former colonies—some teachers believe that teaching French to foreign students goes beyond learning grammar. Nicole Blondeau strongly respects and empathizes with writers of these former colonies who developed French, the once-imposed conqueror’s language, into a medium for individual resistance and liberation from social bondage. She believes that French can be a tool for self-expression for anyone, encouraging her students to think and express themselves in French. Here, anti-immigrant stigma has meant high unemployment, even for descendent generations. Moreover, the far right has gained ground pinning deteriorating safety and terrorism on the suburban-dwelling marginalized immigrants and their children. In Nicole’s class, students of different origins—French and immigrant alike—engage in discussions sharpening social awareness and honing their thoughts, becoming vocal and involved citizens. Nicole’s student, Ferroudja Allouache, from Algeria, asks her students to overcome the language barrier and speak their thoughts. This stance and her way of life makes people appreciate living alongside those from different cultures.

After studying French with them in 2013, I returned a few years later to ask to film these beloved teachers. In 2019, the French government raised the tuition for students from outside Europe by a factor of sixteen. The utopia of virtually free tuition for international students remains at only about fifty universities that rejected the government’s decision to abolish it. I believe in putting into practice democracy as not only about majority rule, but also protecting minority rights.

- Nishino Madoka

Leaving for France in 2009 to study theater, Nishino shifted to documentary in 2015. Studied film at the University of Paris 8 under Henri-Francois Imbert and Claire Simon. Influenced by the works of Dutch filmmaker Johan van der Keuken. Her first film, Meeting with Clovis: The Musicopath (2016), depicted the charm of a Parisian musician partly with the use of doll animation. Beyond the Language is her second film. Currently editing her third film which follows a year of young students learning French from scratch, and shooting her fourth film in Japan. Nishino is dedicated to celebrating social and individual diversity, confronting colonialism and other dark sides of history, and channeling the positive energies of multicultural societies of diverse nationalities.