Gang violence disturbs more than just a family or two. It impacts the whole neighborhood where it takes root. The community might get a bad name, and the overall quality of life goes down. The 2019 French film Street Flow, which seemed to be inspired by great movies on the subject of gang violence in the past, brings its own sensibility to the matter. It brings a spotlight to the social issue and makes the otherwise hidden political discourse really shine forth in matters like these. It isn’t a preachy political drama; quite the contrary, it is an exciting and yet somber crime drama, told through the life of the Traore brothers, who in a way represent the past, present, and future of French youth, especially those that are living in suburban areas, supported by welfare schemes by the government. Here’s a recap of Street Flow.
The Traore Brothers
The Traore Brothers are a nice specimen of what the story is all about. The eldest Demba had chosen violence and crime as his way of life. The middle one, Soulaymaan, had the burden of setting an exceptionally good example for the youngest Noumouke to follow. They were immigrants, and the matriarch, Mother Traore, had raised her boys mostly alone. The father died a while ago, as he couldn’t bear to see his eldest in prison. Demba was an outcast. He couldn’t go and meet the family, but he impressed Noumouke a lot. Soulayman had his problems with Demba, but he kept them to himself. Demba had helped him financially to get his diploma and complete his education. Soulaymaan was on his way to becoming a lawyer. Noumouke was the most gullible of them all. Raging with anger, he couldn’t control himself at times, bearing a resemblance to Demba. Both Soulaymaan and his mother were worried about him. They didn’t want him to follow the same path as Demba.
The Traore family wasn’t unique in their problems. They lived in welfare communities, which is code for the ones that were surrounded by thugs, as most of them were unemployed and the rate of gang violence was soaring. They were an immigrant family, like many others in the neighborhood, who had a historical connection with France. The Traore family immigrated to France because, two generations ago, Soulaymaan’s grandfather was lured in to fight for France in exchange for a salary and French citizenship. The Traore roots were in Mali, but France is their home now. Soulaymaan believed in his choices and didn’t really want to blame anybody else for his problems. Demba seemed to be a believer in choices too, but hid behind the theory that environment and survival instincts made him choose a world of crime.
How Did Demba’s Gang Wars Impact The Family?
Much of the plot of the movie comes from the rivalry between Demba’s gang and the other ones, impacting the lives of the brothers. Firstly, there was Lakdar, who tried to take Samir out. Samir was Demba’s partner in crime, and so the pair decided to retaliate, but only when the time was right. Meanwhile, Noumouke created problems that further distressed the Traore brothers. Demba always gave Noumouke gadgets and the things he would need to make a mark in school. But neither Soulaymaan nor their mother supported Demba. They wanted him to stay away from Noumouke as much as possible, but Noumouke kept meeting him in secret. When Soulaymaan confronted Demba and told him that he should keep himself in check as his influence was clearly taking Noumouke down the wrong track, Demba got furious, he felt that it was being implied that everything wrong with the Traore family was his fault. Well, to a certain extent, it was! Noumouke decided to steal only because he wasn’t given any money by Demba. Noumouke saw it as a challenge to rise to the occasion and show Demba that he could ‘take’ whatever he wanted.
Noumouke and his partner in crime, a girl in class named Sofia, stole around 30 thousand dollars from a rival gang member’s apartment. His name was Sahli, and he was a bit of a livewire. Demba came to know about the money, and Demba’s longtime acquaintance Abdel had to come between Sahli and Demba to make peace. Sahli demanded 50 thousand dollars, even though he knew there was only 30 thousand in the stash. Demba offered to give $25,000 because he thought the rest was with Sofia. Noumuke later told him that he had only 15 thousand with him, and Sahli was lying about keeping fifty thousand in the stash. The rivalry escalated, and Demba was shot by Sahli.
How Did Soulaymaan’s Views Change?
Soulaymaan was the apple of his mother’s eye. He couldn’t really afford to fight the system in a violent way. On some level, he understood his brothers’ problem, but he wanted to set an example of how to be a model citizen. His friend in class was Lisa Crevecoeur, who was as different from him externally as possible. She was not an immigrant and was the daughter of a well-to-do white man. She hadn’t seen what Soulaymaan and his family had been through. Yet they grew close. Soulaymaan initially felt great and forgot that his family situation didn’t really make for stable ground for a relationship with a white woman. The two were about to graduate, and their final task in becoming lawyers was to participate in a debate where they could persuade the judges and the people present in the courthouse on the given motion. The topic of debate was whether the French government was solely responsible for the rift in society. Soulaymaan had to speak against the motion, which proved to be quite a challenge.
It appeared as if he always wanted to speak against the topic, as he believed in the power of individual choice. The government couldn’t be blamed for everything that the people were doing. Closer to home, he had the example of Demba to prove his point. Could the government really be blamed that Demba’s gang wars kept escalating or that he became a criminal because of it? The real choice Soulaymaan had to make came when the cops humiliated him even though he was completely innocent. Soulaymaan experienced the racial bias inherent in the system when a black cop himself told him of the difference between an immigrant commoner like him and the cops. Soulaymaan had two choices – whether to get filled with rage and question the French government for its policies that were allegedly keeping the youth in the suburbs unemployed and unmotivated, or to stand by his original stance that people can make a choice to change, irrespective of the government. There could be poverty, but at least the violence could be avoided, which was the major issue impacting French people. Before the debate, Soulaymaan’s mother had a stroke, and due to the incident with the cops, he grew distant from Lisa. He couldn’t look her in the eye and started to go down a dark rabbit hole, questioning his identity as a French Arab immigrant. Lisa tried to keep the bond alive, but it seemed they weren’t meant to be until the day of the debate arrived. The two went after each other, and this was where the film’s political commentary soared. They debated so brilliantly that neither could be awarded the winning point, and the debate was a tie. Soulaymaan, in his defense of the government, vented out all the points he deemed were unfair about the system, and yet he found the conviction in his power of choice. He saw Lisa again and realized that he definitely had feelings for her, even though she came from a totally different background.
What Can We Expect From The Sequel?
When things were just beginning to go well for the brothers, Sahli shot Demba, and again, the Traore brothers found themselves impacted by the violence. Demba’s trusted acquaintance Abdel was in on the assassination attempt and shot Sahli, possibly to cover his tracks. The revelation left many questions, which would surely be explored in the sequel. Noumouke’s obsession with an easy lifestyle led him to steal the money, which in turn caused such a heavy backlash. The impressionable years will have to be explored in the sequel, as he is the future. As for Soulaymaan, his relationship with Lisa seems to have ended, as he couldn’t go and meet her at the train station. She was going to London for an internship, and Soulaymaan had to care for his wounded brother. His political stance and his vision of himself would be tested in the sequel.