International Salon-Journal (ISSN 1466-4615)

Vol. 9 No. 14, March 2005







Sylvie Blum-Reid


The Passeuse?:

A Response to Florence Martin's Review



Florence Martin

'Passage to 'Franco-Asia': _East-West Encounters_ by Sylvie Blum-Reid'

_Film-Philosophy_, vol. 9 no. 13, March 2005


Should one really spend time answering a review of one's book? No, for the waste of time and energy incurred, and yes, for correcting some of the distortions and inaccuracies encountered and because someone took time to write the review. I welcome the opportunity offered to me by the editor to respond. Publishing _East-West Encounters_, I knew that I would encounter some sort of resistance. Florence Martin's review in its first part mostly reiterates what the book covers, without defining its salient points and contributions, and in the end falls short of deciphering the meaning of the work. Many of the review's critical comments are inserted out of context. I will merely point to a few in order to rectify what seems to be a common practice these days in the American academic sphere and elsewhere: namely the compilation of quotes taken out of context, and the insertion of comments seemingly appropriate to an uninformed audience.


'The study seems to establish the impossibility of translation, reaffirms the unstable position of the cultural hybrid, and equate the French term *passeur* with foreigner', writes Martin. The *passeur* is a transmitter -- a person who imparts knowledge, who passes it on to someone, and, in the context of the book, the Western (ethnocentric) person who is in dire need of knowledge and enlightenment. That person does not have to be a *foreigner*. Martin's analysis establishes the first term of the proposition of foreigner, the book avoids this static idea. Incidentally, a *passeur* is a term that I use in the study not to identify the person as a *foreigner* -- something that Maffesoli has done quite convincingly as I have remarked in the text under review.


I argue throughout the book that the trope of translation is essential when analyzing the topic under focus. However, Martin's review obscures the meaning of *translation*. French writers and filmmakers of Asian origins have used the French language in its most refined way, as a weapon or a tool to subvert the language of their former French colonizers. They navigate between two or three languages, cultures, and world-views. Translation is not impossible here, it is more a negotiation, as is any hybrid sociocultural phenomena between the colonized and the colonizer -- as discussed in Albert Memmi's and Arundhati Roy's essays.


The comment 'no film analyses or word on the visual aesthetics or narrative structures at play' is ludicrous and misleading, especially for anyone who has had a formal training in film studies. In fact, the book received the exact opposite critique in one blind review; this would also contradict Ginette Vincendeau's expert advice no less (in print). I suppose that a discussion of the frame, the image, the image-making process, the spectatorial gaze, the spectatorial position, camera angles, the use of color, sound, camera movements, as well as a discussion of the narrative structure in Lam Lê's films for instance do not enter Martin's overall comprehension of the term. I provide a detailed analysis of the aesthetical form and cinematographic elements used in these films. If this were not the case, then how on earth could I discuss the films in such a manner to warrant Vincendeau's critical praise? Perhaps Professor Martin's review reflects the challenges faced by an academic who has not yet mastered the basic language of film form and film criticism.  


The second part of Martin's review, titled 'An Impossible Return', reads more like her impossible reading of the final chapters of the book and the tendency to stick to the known territory of French filmmakers and their foray into the East. It follows that Rithy Panh is underrated in Martin's text, as is Lam Lê or even Tran Anh Hung, all swiftly acknowledged in one-liners. (Interestingly, she misspells the names of Panh and Schoendoerffer throughout the review.) The book includes the first published study of Rithy Panh, and Martin's review fails to discuss the importance that this information has to a thick description of the filmmaker, his films, and the French film industry.


The core of the book certainly does not support Martin's vague proposition that: 'Perhaps the whole study is about the impossible return of meaning for both the West and the displaced East about Asia'?  For a precise understanding of my use of the word-action–idea *return*, Martin might re-view the section in Chapter 1 when *return* is discussed. Among other things the book proposes to locate the position and identity of Asian filmmakers and writers of formerly francophone colonies in the diaspora. It also discusses the positioning of filmmakers, writers, and academics whenever they treat such a topic. I do not see Franco-Asian filmmakers as 'floating signifiers' -- no need for high theory here, on the contrary. Martin also writes: 'Blum-Reid does not mention these images of Lelouch, Godard, Klein, Varda -- although she looks at the work of Schoendorffer [sic], Paul Carpita, and Robert Kramer'.  Indeed, please refer to page 18 of the book for a statement that covers about one page on the said film, inclusive of Marceline Loridan, Joris Ivens, and Michèle Ray.


In conclusion, yes, some academics have their dissertations published into a book, but this is not the case with this particular work -- and what is exactly meant by such a cliché that is so current that the phrase has lost its currency except among bankrupt banal communications. Such criticism sets the reviewer up for scrutiny and examination of her own scholarship and credentials in the field of film studies. For the value of intellectual debate that book reviews have, I refer _Film-Philosophy_ readers to a five-page constructive (and without complacency) review of this same text by Elizabeth Wright entitled 'Revolving Worlds: Awaiting Postcolonial Renditions in _East-West Encounters: Franco-Asian Cinema and Literature_'. [1] Wright skillfully touches at the heart of the philosophical aspects of the book and indicates its contribution.


University of Florida

Gainesville, Florida, USA





1. Elizabeth Wright, 'Revolving Worlds: Availing Postcolonial Renditions in _East-West Encounters: Franco-Asian Cinema and Literature_', _Senses of Cinema_, no. 28, September-October 2003




Copyright © Film-Philosophy 2005


Sylvie Blum-Reid, 'The Passeuse?: A Response to Florence Martin's Review', _Film-Philosophy_, vol. 9 no. 14, March 2005 <>.









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