France : At Cannes Film Festival, Hors-La-Loi Addresses Taboo, Raises Controversy

On  May 21st, the film “Hors La Loi” (“Outside the Law“) directed by by award-winning director Rachid Bouchareb for “Indigènes” (“Days of Glory“) rounded off  the official competition at Cannes International Film Festival.  Meanwhile, away from the Palais des Festivals, amidst a large police presence, about 1,500 demonstrators -composed of French veterans from the Algerian independence war, representatives from groups of Harkis and Pieds-Noirs,  some UMP (government party) MPs,  Cannes’ mayor and a few supporters of far-right Front National party- marched in protest against what they felt  was a sullying of the French army and French actions in Algeria fifty years ago.

Algeria gained its independence from France in 1962, after a six year long conflict soaked in blood, which toppled the local French regime and left  both countries with deep, unhealed scars.  50 years after the events and in spite of many efforts from historians, the topic is still taboo in French society and politics .

Blog Impôts utiles expressed  the feelings of right-wing supporters, most of them having refused to watch the movie (fr):

Dernier scandale, le film de Rachid Bouchareb, Hors la loi , qui raconte de façon partiale une part de l'histoire de l’ Algérie.
Ce film a été co-financé par la France (par les impôts des français) par l’ Algérie et la Tunisie.

The latest scandal: Rachid Bouchareb's movie, Outside the Law, which tells in a biased manner part of Algeria's history.
This movie was paid by France (rather by French taxpayers), Algeria and Tunisia.

Away from political agenda, some reviews are enthusiastic. For isntance, Bouillon de culture from Morocco, writes (Fr):

Rachid Bouchareb signe, ici, sans complaisance ou autre flagornerie, une œuvre majeure d’excellente facture, surtout au niveau de la mise en scène.

What Rachid Bouchareb has achieved here, without complacency or toadying of sorts, is a magnum opus of excellent craftsmanship, especially from the standpoint of  film direction.

From France, Sandra.M of In the mood for cinema, writes (Fr):

Une mise en scène ample, lyrique, inspirée, rythmée d'un cinéphile dont on sent les multiples et prestigieuses influences (du “Parrain” de Coppola au cinéma de Scorsese en passant par celui de Melville). Des comédiens une nouvelle fois remarquables. Des questionnements et un sujet passionnants et qui dépassent le cadre de la guerre d'Algérie. Pour moi, un des meilleurs films de cette édition 2010.

A grand, lyrical, inspired and rhythmic  direction by a movie buff whose multiple  influences  are palpable (from Coppola's “Godfather” to Scorcese to Melville). The actors, once again outstanding. A thrilling topic and equally thrilling questions that reach beyond the scope of the Algerian war. In my view, one of the best films of this 2010 edition.

From Quebec, Le Blogue des arts du soleil calls the controversy a “tempest in a teapot” about a film set out by some as the Algerian Once Upon a Time in America (Fr):

Avec son intrigue qui peine à trouver sa voie, ses incessants allers-retours dans le temps, ses personnages qui laissent de marbre, Hors-la-loi est à des années-lumière du chef-d’oeuvre de Leone.

With its plot which labors to find its way, its unremitting time shifts, its characters that leave you indifferent, Outside the Law is light-years away from Leone's masterpiece.

Will “Hors la Loi”, due to open in theatres on sept. 22, help France confront its history in a soothed atmosphere ?
Laterna magica is optimistic (Fr):

(…) En 2010, il n’y a pas de raisons que Français et Algériens ne s’entendent pas. En l’occurrence, Bouchareb ne cherche pas à monter les uns contres les autres. Il prend le parti de ceux qui ont contribué à l’indépendance de l’Algérie, en représentant objectivant leurs actions, en montrant le FLN s’organiser selon une logique terroriste plutôt que démocratique, mais il ne juge personne, pas non plus le comportement de la police Française. Certes Bouchareb a choisit son camp, certes la France est l’ennemi dans le film et représenté en tant que tel, mais Hors la loi ne triche pas, ne semble pas s’arranger avec les faits historiques établis, ne diabolise personne non plus.

(…) In 2010, there is no reason why French and Algerian citizens shouldn't get along. In this film, Bouchareb does not try to antagonize one side against the other. He sides with those who contributed to Algeria's independence, representing objectively their deeds, showing how the FLN ( editor's note: FLN is the National Liberation Front, a political party in Algeria)  structured  itself following  a logic of terror rather than a logic of democracy, but he does not judge anyone, nor does he judge the attitude of the French police.  Bouchareb certainly did choose a side,  in the movie France is certainly the enemy and is pictured as such, however Outside  the Law does not cheat (the audience), it does not seem to muck up with established facts and it does not demonize anyone either.

Le quotidien qui mark jokes about France staying “hors du temps” (outdated), pointing out at an everlasting French failing (Fr):

Que, « Hors-la-loi », le film de Rachid Bouchareb qui a suscité plusieurs polémiques tant sur les massacres de Sétif que sur le rôle du FLN, n’ait pas été consacré par le palmarès du festival de Cannes ne devrait pas trop surprendre les cinéphiles. En revanche, le bruit qu’il a fait sur la Croisette et ailleurs illustre, comme les lois mémorielles, le malaise que la France entretient avec son histoire. Un paradoxe pour une nation qui peut légitimement se targuer d’être au firmament de cette discipline depuis près d’un siècle mais qui est incapable de regarder en arrière sans s’enflammer. Le problème c’est que les Français se réfèrent à Michelet lorsqu’ils parlent d’eux. Du coup, ils se voient comme ils aimeraient être et ignorent que le passé les montre souvent bien différents.

That “Outside the Law, Rachid Bouchareb's movie, which raised a few controversies about both the Setif killings and the role of FLN, was not awarded by the Cannes film festival shoud not be a big surprise for cinema enthusiasts. On the other hand, the stir it caused on the Croisette and elsewhere is a good example, along with those bills about  the depictions of historical facts, of how France keeps feeling uneasy about its own history. A paradox for a nation entitled to boast about being at the top of this very field for almost a hundred years, and still unable to look at its past without flaring up in flames. The problem is, the French like to refer to Michelet when they talk about themselves. As a result, they see themselves as how they would like to be and are unaware of past that often shows them to be quite different from their perception of themselves.

The trailer of the film can be seen here. And for a cartoonist's view of the shared French-Algerian history, go to Large's blog.

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