Tuesday 20 March 2018

Movies: Hors la Loi ****

(Club, IFI)

Paul Whitington

In his acclaimed 2006 war drama Indigenes (Days of Glory), Rachid Bouchareb brilliantly highlighted the plights of Algerian soldiers who fought for the French during WW2 and were very poorly rewarded. And in Hors la Loi (Outside the Law) he takes on the allied but far grander and more complex theme of the struggle for Algerian independence.

Bouchareb's sweeping saga starts in Algeria in the 20s and finishes in Paris 40 years later, and the writer/director adopts a broad and almost Coppola-esque storytelling style in an effort to make his condensed history lesson more palatable.

Overall, he succeeds, though the direction of his sympathies is never really in doubt.

In 1925, thanks to a shamefully self-serving law called the Code de l'Indigénat, a poor farmer and his family are cast off their ancestral lands to make way for French colonists. The farmer has three sons, and in all of them this traumatic event will sow the seeds of bitterness.

Said (Jamel Debbouze) grows up into something of a wide boy; Massaoud (Roschdy Zem) joins the French army and fights in Indochina, and Abdelkader (Sami Bouajila) becomes politicised, and committed to the cause of Algerian independence.

In the 50s, the three brothers are reunited in Paris. Said now works as a pimp and boxing promoter in Pigalle, but Abdelkader and Massaoud have become involved in the Front de Libération Nationale, or FLN, which has decided to bring its terror campaign to French soil.

The brothers' conflicts are explored in a manner reminiscent of The Godfather, and sometimes Bouchareb's schemas seem a little didactic, and staged. But if so, they're staged extremely well.

The Algerian War of Independence is a shameful episode that official France has always endeavoured to brush under the carpet. But the shocking, Soweto-style Algerian shantytowns that Bouchareb painstakingly recreates were in evidence around Paris until at least the late 60s.

FLN suspects were regularly beaten to death and their bodies dumped in the Seine, and Hors la Loi skillfully lifts the lid on a singularly sordid historical chapter.

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