“OCCIDENTAL”— A Critique of Xenophobic Ideologies

“Occidental”

A Critique of Xenophobic Ideologies

Amos Lassen

The arrival of a gay couple at a retro-’70s Parisian hotel begins a series of absurd anecdotal actions that involve homophobia, racism, misogyny, terrorist threats, and political manipulations.

French/Algerian filmmaker Neïl Beloufa brings us a deceptive and smart film that recasts today’s mainstream ideologies and fears. It satirically reflects the uneasy context of our contemporary world in a film that is a mixture of genres including neo-noir, comedy of manners, thriller and romance.

The film takes place almost entirely within Hotel Occidental, a retro, ’70s site that functions as a geopolitical microcosm while a mass demonstration rages in the streets of Paris. Inside the hotel, the atmosphere is thick with intrigue and eroticism since the arrival of mysterious, flirty, and handsome “Italian” Giorgio (Paul Hamy) who requests the bridal suite for himself and his male companion Antonio, a Muslim who arouses the suspicion of the hotel manager who thinks the men might be terrorists.

The receptionist may be smitten, but the hotel manager instantly suspects their attitude and alerts the police, despite there being no evidence of any wrongdoing. The cops and hotel staff soon find themselves confronted by a series of absurd actions.

The film shows the complexity of present-day morality using the likes of Coca-Cola and a hidden love story in order to reflect upon French life, politics, and pervasive xenophobia.

But it’s clear from the beginning that the two men aren’t who they say they are and that they don’t come in peace… The hotel’s staff react to the uncertain menace of the two men with fascination, sexual attraction, suspicion, fear and sometimes all of these at once. The hotel’s other guests fly in and out of the action (almost all of which is confined to the hotel’s lobby) without consequence aside from a laugh or two. The creeping sense that something terrible is about to happen gradually swells to the breaking point, but we do not know what that something terrible is.

The film is set almost entirely a blatantly artificial Parisian hotel, with riots happening just outside and focuses on the arrival of two possibly gay, possibly extremist Italians whose presence elicits widely disparate reactions amongst the hotel’s guests and its dysfunctional staff. Beloufa takes a flamboyant and catastrophic approach to his themes of discrimination and literal class warfare.

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