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Deja Vu by Alexis Zeseman

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BBC Radio 4, 4 February 2009
 
This co-production between the BBC and Arte Radio in France dealt with the relationship between language and culture. It focused on a love-affair between Claire (Caroline Katz), a thirtysomething city type from London, and Ahmet (Kerim Saleh), an Afghan refugee living in Paris. They first encounter in the French capital and pursue what seems like an idyllic existence - eating, drinking and making love - while Claire endeavours to learn French (with the help of a language CD) so as to communicate better with her boyfriend. Her success is limited, to say the least, but it does not seem to matter while the two of them enjoy their life together.
 
Once the action switches to London, however, matters change completely. In her home environment, Claire becomes remote and off-hand in her responses, almost as if Ahmet's presence represent an unwelcome distraction in her life. Ahmet tries to accommodate himself around her, but remains largely on the periphery. Worse still, he finds himself arrested without charge on suspicion of being a terrorist, and suffers the indignity of being interviewed at the local police-station. Although Claire tries her utmost to help, Ahmet realizes that while the two of them communicate on a surface level, their cultures are just too different to permit any close encounter. Ahmet thinks of himself as dirty while in London - almost as if people are looking down their noses at him simply because he is a Muslim. The play ends with him returning to his family in France, while Claire drifts into another relationship with a French-speaking white person. For her it was Deja Vu all over again.
 
Deja Vu stresses how words and gestures assume a variety of meanings in different contexts, to such an extent that people are often left confused by them. As a representative of the inaptly named 'First World,' Claire should show a little more understanding, while Ahmet in many ways remains the innocent victim. Colonialist attitudes are difficult to shift, even though Britain ceased long ago to be an imperial power. The only way they can be challenged is for people to be more accommodating - something clearly beyond Claire's ken. This melancholy Afternoon Play was directed by Lu Kemp and Christophe Rault.