The Imperialists Are Still Alive! (2010)
Words by Catrin Brooke
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The Imperialists Are Still Alive! (2010)

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Zeina Durra’s 2010 film The Imperialists Are Still Alive! explores a censored sub-culture of New York’s elite, providing us with a multicultural vision of urbanity as we join our heroine Asya through her relentless affinity with gallery openings, clubs and bars. Shot on 16mm, the film is a visual treat, perfect for all the hopeless romantics among us.
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The Imperialists Are Still Alive! is a laudable film in a multiplicity of ways, as its writer and director, Zeina Durra explores a coterie of society often overlooked in film and throughout popular culture. The film is fun, raw and sophisticated, evoking a sense of nostalgia for a life you’ve never lived and for places you’ve never been, a feeling we are appearing to indulge more often, to defy our covid-stricken slumps.


The film follows the revelry of Durra’s heroine Asya (Elodie Bouchez), a French-Arabic, ‘boheme émigrés’, working as a conceptual artist who enjoys satirizing and even mocking the Western stereotype of Arab women. In the opening scene she is modelling for a nude photoshoot, shot by a man, wearing nothing but a scarf and holding toy guns. Asya’s highly strung and free-spirited persona is the sole drive of the film and her courage to create nudist work of this nature in a post 9/11 New York, is enough to rival Samantha Jones’ Valentine’s sushi expo, wasabi and all.

Despite this scene the film is only marginally political. Welcomingly different to your typical film focused on impoverished immigrants trying to assimilate New York’s rough edges, we instead watch Asya zipping about in NYC cabs and limousines, attending art gallery openings and popping to parties: the multicultural vision of urbanity that we should be seeing on our screens. Durra chooses to present to us a bona fide example of a wealthy, upper-east side woman; much more complex than the popular clichés of New York’s pariahs, in the process debunking stereotypes of this often-censored subculture. Asya’s love interest, the shyly tormented and ever so handsome Mexican phD candidate, Javier, subtly brings out her harboured paranoia to which he finds endearing, so much in fact the two begin to sleep together (shock).


Satirical in her approach, Durra is able to beautifully establish the tensions, mood and the very real environment that these young émigrés use as their playground. But the story just continues as just that: a playful and sequential reel of club after club, after gallery, after fleeting encounter. Indeed, most encounters had by Asya are expendable, perhaps to illustrate the enchanted yet ceaseless personality that New York has, as championed by Asya and her nameless acquaintances.

It is unclear whether Durra has tried to create a mood piece or character study; but it can be a risk to structure a narrative so haphazardly. As most of the encounters are completely superfluous it is hard to feel attached to most, if any of the characters, but this entirely encapsulates the very essence of New York and its romantical façade and ego. Elodie Bouchez’s portrayal of a French-Arabic woman originally from Paris, who chooses to move to New York is refreshing, sexy and oh-so-chic. America’s transfixion with Paris is a theme throughout television to which we are no stranger (see Gossip Girl, Sex and the City and more controversially, Emily in Paris). However, watching a woman choose to migrate West from the paradisiacal French city, to a city shattered by ethnic prejudice and still manage to hold her place and internal flame is both uncommercial and liberating.


Shot on 16mm, The Imperialists Are Still Alive is a visual treat, capturing Asya in a dream-like world, out of touch with reality- much like her character. Served with tea and cake, it is the perfect lockdown escapism for all the hopeless romantics among us.

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