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Julien Duvivier’s Film “Pepe le Moko” Essay


Films are still or motion pictures shown on screens and in theatres in rapid succession. The rapid succession creates the perception of a continuous story as told by the creator. According to Arnheim, movies represent the culture of individuals in the society (345). In this paper, the author will analyze Pepe le Moko. The film was produced by Julien Duvivier in 1937. It reflects life in Algeria under French colonialists. The events in the movie took place between 1830 and 1962. The film underlines the impacts of colonialism, race, and globalization on French history.

Differences between the Representation of the European Quarter and the Casbah in Pepe le Moko

Two settings are more pronounced in the film. They include the Arabian quarters, also called the Casbah, and the area occupied by the Europeans (Pepe le Moko). The Casbah is used in the film to represent the colonized people of color (Vann 170). In addition, the Casbah is depicted as both alluring and repelling. It is negatively represented as a dirty and crowded place characterized by unfamiliar foods and prostitution. Duvivier depicts the Casbah as a place that lacks proper governance (Pepe le Moko). The region is out of the control of the French police. As such, people like Pepe, who are master criminals, call this place a home. The criminal elements feel safe from the authorities.

On the other hand, the European quarters are elegant and classy. Duvivier uses the lovely Gaby and a picture of a civilized society to paint a picture of an affluent suburb (Pepe le Moko). The place is safe and patrolled by the French police. The presence of high class hotels also indicates a well organized and peaceful society (Halacoglu 67). The existence of infrastructure, such as the airport where Pepe follows Gaby, is another indication of a civilized community.

Differences between Mise-en-Scene and Image Composition in the Two Spaces

With regards to mise-en-scene, the scenes portrayed in the film show the differences between the Casbah and the European Quarters (Vann 190). Image composition, including visual and imaging, is portrayed by the presence of the object showing the differences in the living standards of the inhabitants (Pepe le Moko). The natives living in the Casbah are poor. They live in a crowded and dangerous neighborhood. On the other hand, women are dressed skimpily to bring out their sexual appeal and create a picture of prostitution in the community. Duvivier emphasizes on the ‘vermin’ and foul smell as another indication of the deterioration of the environment in Casbah (Pepe le Moko).

In the civilized European quarters, Gaby and other characters are used to show the elegance of the White people. They adorn expensive suits, shoes, and monogrammed shirts. On the contrary, the natives appear sly, unattractive, cowardly, and treacherous (Pepe le Moko).

Filming of the Spaces and its Relationship to Various Themes

The Theme of Entrapment

Pepe is a doomed ‘anther’ and a mastermind criminal (Pepe le Moko). He goes into hiding to escape from the French police. He seeks refuge in Casbah, the Arabian quarters, which is found in the heart of the French colony Algiers. The narrative of the film paints a picture of entrapment given that Pepe cannot leave the Casbah as he fears to be arrested. The mise-en-scene shows that the Casbah is not a single region. On the contrary, it is made up of thousands of shanties. Duvivier paints a picture of an area characterized by poverty and narrow streets. The poverty and narrow streets tie the natives to their culture, food, music, and their way of life in general, further promoting the theme of entrapment (Pepe le Moko).

The Theme of Paralysis

Casbah is overcrowded and dangerous. It has many corridors and narrow streets. The French police find it hard to patrol the area, which brings out the theme of paralysis in governance (Halacoglu 88). Pepe finds home, allies, and accomplices in the Casbah. He could vanish into the winding staircases while being pursued by the police. He uses whistles and gestures to communicate to his followers. The mode of communication portrayed in the film is unfamiliar to the authorities. As such, Pepe paralyses the activities of the police (Pepe le Moko).

The Theme of Nostalgia

With regards to the use of sound and editing, the songs sung by Tania and Frehel are full of nostalgia (Pepe le Moko). They describe the beauty of Paris, ‘lost’ looks and careers, as well as misfortunes. Pepe also refers to Paris as a civilized European city. He is nostalgic about his connections with his fatherland.


Pepe le Moko portrays the Algerian society during the colonial period. Duvivier brings out the disparities in civilization, wealth, ownership, and power between the Whites and the people of color. The two groups of people are seen living in different parts of Algiers. The colonialists occupy the affluent European quarters, while the natives are restricted to the Casbah.

Works Cited

Arnheim, Rudolf. Film as Art. 50th ed., University of California Press, 2006.

Duvivier, Julien, director. Pepe le Moko. The Criterion Collection, 2004.

Halacoglu, Canan. Middle East Technical University, 2013, Web.

Vann, Michael. “The Colonial Casbah on the Silver Screen: Using Pepe le Moko and the Battle of Algiers to Teach Colonialism, Race, and Globalization in French History.” Radical History Review, vol. 83, no. 83, 2002, pp. 186-192.

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IvyPanda. (2020, September 12). Julien Duvivier's Film "Pepe le Moko". Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/julien-duviviers-film-pepe-le-moko/

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"Julien Duvivier's Film "Pepe le Moko"." IvyPanda, 12 Sept. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/julien-duviviers-film-pepe-le-moko/.

1. IvyPanda. "Julien Duvivier's Film "Pepe le Moko"." September 12, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/julien-duviviers-film-pepe-le-moko/.


IvyPanda. "Julien Duvivier's Film "Pepe le Moko"." September 12, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/julien-duviviers-film-pepe-le-moko/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "Julien Duvivier's Film "Pepe le Moko"." September 12, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/julien-duviviers-film-pepe-le-moko/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Julien Duvivier's Film "Pepe le Moko"'. 12 September.

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