On the warpath in Outside the Law
by Fabien Lemercier
Preceded by a controversy exploited by politicians and fuelled by the complicated relations between France and its former colony Algeria, Rachid Bouchareb’s Outside the Law [+see also:
film profile] was unveiled today in competition at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival.
An epic cinematic fresco set between 1925 and 1961, the film, centred on three brothers in the middle of the escalating violence that marked Algeria’s struggle for independence, is very dramatic (gunfire, bombs, murders, chases, clandestine activities). But it is also a work of memory (remembering the massacres of Sétif in 1945 and October 17, 1961 in Paris, as well as the Indochina War) which avoids lapsing into idealisation of the ruthless strategies employed by the Algerian FLN (National Liberation Front) and their French enemies La Main Rouge (The Red Hand).
"The revolution is a bulldozer that destroys everything in its path". Abdelkader (Sami Bouajila) is the youngest of the brothers whose family of Algerian peasants were evicted from their land in 1925 and relocated to Sétif. Involved in the fight for independence, this militant ready to make any sacrifice ("progress is a war") climbs to the highest ranks of the FLN in France.
He is helped in his rise to the top by someone doing the “dirty work”: his elder brother Messaoud (Roschdy Zem), a former paratrooper who has learned lessons from the French defeat in Indochina. The third brother, Saïd (Djamel Debbouze), prefers to make his way in life as a prostitutes’ pimp, a Pigalle cabaret boss and boxing manager ("in this country, you either have money, or you have nothing").
Struggling to maintain family solidarity (embodied by their mother) caught up in the ideological turmoil and gunfire, the three brothers live constantly as if on the edge of an abyss, that of the raging history of decolonisation.
Filmed in a classic style with strong performances from its star trio, Outside the Law delivers, besides pure action, an informative story about the art of the FLN’s war ("repression always serves the cause of people who want liberation"; "strike again and again, strike until the enemy is on the edge") and the escalation in the means used (including on the police side with Bernard Blancan as a hunter of "terrorists"). Propaganda and recruitment among the Renault factory workers and in the shanty towns around Paris, elimination of rival movement MNA, collection of revolutionary tax, targeted murders of policemen, money-filled suitcase carriers and delivery of increasingly powerful weapons: this plot interspersed with TV and radio archive footage looks at the ambiguities of armed conflict.
Certainly less moving and accomplished than the director’s previous work Days of Glory [+see also:
interview: Jean Bréhat
interview: Rachid Bouchareb
film profile], Outside the Law (co-produced by France, Algeria, Belgium and Tunisia), is nonetheless a great adventure that is out of the ordinary and sure to attract a wide audience.
(Translated from French)
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