Saturday, 7 January 2012

Outside The Law

The Three Brothers, Outside the Law?. 

Rachid Bouchareb is a 59-year-old French film director of Algerian descent who worked as an assistant director for French television from 1977 until 1983. His feature film debut came in 1985 since then many of his films have won or been nominated for awards. These have included London River (2009), which portrayed the devastation that an act of gross terrorism can wreak on ordinary people from all walks of life and religion. The film was not only about loss but also about discovering something deep inside us that we did not necessarily know we had. He was also responsible for Days of Glory (2006) an honest film that dealt with the discriminatory treatment of colonial North Africans by the white French during WW2 and led to a change in French government policy some sixty years later. His latest feature film effectively starts where Days of Glory finishes.

Outside the Law (2010) starts in Algeria in 1925. Three brother’s Messaoud (Roschdy Zem), Abdelkader (Sami Bouajila) and Said (Jamel Debbouze) along with their mother, father and sisters have their land seized by the French government, land their family has lived on and worked for generations. The film then move’s forward to 1945 and VE Day. As the celebrations take place in Paris the north-eastern Algerian town of Setif, the birth place of the Algerian struggle, is witnessing the massacre of several thousand Algerians who themselves were taking part in a celebratory march. Among the many dead is the brothers father shot down in cold blood. Over the next decade Messaoud joins the French army fighting in Indochina, Abdelkader becomes a leader in the Algerian Liberation movement, the FLN, after being incarcerated in Paris’s Prison de la Santé for so called civil disobedience. Meanwhile Said has moved with his mother to the shantytown in Nanterre and goes on to make his fortune by running a nightclub and managing a boxing gym in Pigalle. The brothers eventually meet up in the French capital were each has his own solution to the Algeria’s problems.

Setif Massacre 1945

Like Bouchareb’s previous films this is an emotionally charged piece of movie making that can be enjoyed on many levels, it forms the second of his trilogy of films about this monumental struggle. A talented filmmaker, who is concerned with bringing to light, through the medium of cinema, France’s colonialist past. This time cleverly using three of Hollywood most popular genres the gangster movie, film noir and to a certain extent the western, which is a great way to get across this meaningful story and one that does not presume intimate knowledge of the subject. In France there were public protests against the film for revisiting Algeria’s struggle for independence and was accused of being anti-French and although Algeria finally won its independence on the 5th July 1962 after 132 years of French colonial rule there is still an underlying hostility from some quarters of France.

Could I suggest that before seeing this splendid film you should watch Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers (1966) that vividly recreates a key year in the Algerian struggle for independence from the occupying French in the 1950’s.  A film that works as a movie and as a political statement, a piece of work that still has relevance today that can still be seen clearly during the current Arab Spring. 

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