“It’s Italian, Villerupt.” With its Italian film festival, this small town in Meurthe-et-Moselle perpetuates transalpine traditions in honor of immigrant ancestors. Many of them waited a long time before feeling “legitimized” in France.
“Benvenuto a Villerupt”, written in the colors of the Italian flag, replaces the Christmas lights on the roads which are starting to flourish in other towns in Lorraine. In the streets, conversations in Italian are flourishing on the sidelines of the 46th edition of Italian film, since October 27 and which ends on Sunday. “It’s a showcase for the city, but not only for the entire territory,” Pierrick Spizak, the mayor of Villerupt, explains to AFP. For two weeks, 40,000 people gathered in this small town on the border of Luxembourg and Belgium with 10,000 inhabitants, more than half of whom were Italians or descendants of Italians.
Yvo (who did not wish to give his last name), 72 years old, was born in Villerupt, where his father came after the war to work in the steel industry, like many Italians. His friends from Lorraine are also Italian, he explains: “It’s Italian, Villerupt!” He remembers, nostalgically, the 1960s, when he went to Italy by a train linking Belgium to Milan. A line which has since been closed, he regrets. “Now it would take five changes” to reach the family village by rail.
Next to the L'Arche arts center, where many films were shown for this 46th edition of the festival, a white tent houses a restaurant, where transalpine recipes are cooked by real Italian "mammas". At the start of the festival, before it brought together so many visitors, spectators even went to eat (Italian) at locals' homes. It was also at l'Arche that the jury awarded its Amilcar on Friday to director Lyda Patitucci, for the film Come pecore in mezzo ai lupi.
For this 46th edition, the programming varied from old films, with a whole retrospective in homage to director Ettore Scola (1931-2016) and the broadcast of emblematic films such as La Terrasse (1980) or Affreux, sales et villains (1976), and new releases , including the arrival of actress Jasmine Trinca and director Léa Todorov, to preview The New Woman.
“Legitimized” over time, Italian immigrants nevertheless suffered from xenophobia during their massive arrivals in France in the 19th and first half of the 20th century, recounts to AFP Piero-D Galloro, professor of sociology of migrations at the University of Lorraine. Qualified employees, capable of working underground and with tools, their skills ticked all the boxes for the need for labor in the mines or steel industry of Eastern France.
But this aroused “fear” among the French, continues the researcher, who cites in particular the novel The Invasion, by Louis Bertrand, published in 1907. The small town of Joeuf (Meurthe-et-Moselle), cradle of former French football star Michel Platini, had 170 inhabitants in 1870... and 11,000 in 1911, three-quarters of whom were foreigners, illustrates Mr. Galloro.
Then the image of Italians, seen as Europeans, Christians, improved in France, and at the same time, the descendants of immigrants wanted to reappropriate their culture. Associations for these descendants, some of whom have never seen Italy, were created in the 1970s, such as Arulef Lorena. In 1990, it had more than 400 member families, according to its secretary, Daniel Cimarelli. It organizes trips, shows, activities for children, transalpine meals... Since then, numbers have decreased and 200 families are part of it today.
The association also offered Italian lessons to children, but gradually, “it declined,” regrets Mr. Cimarelli, noting that in families, “it is often the older children who keep the tradition.” others only speak very little Italian, for example. If Italians suffered from xenophobia in France, the stigmas were “returned” towards a valorization of their culture and their traditions, explains the academic.