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21 May, 2010 15:22

Colonial controversy at Cannes

Colonial controversy at Cannes

Security measures have been stepped up on the French Riviera as film buffs attended the world premiere of “Outside the Law”, a political thriller about Algerian battle for independence from France.

The drama from the “Days of Glory” director, Rachid Bouchareb, has provoked controversy and stirred harsh debate about France’s colonial past.

Some have already described “Outside the Law” as anti-French, others even as racist.

Over a thousand people from the National Front party and the right-wing circle protested against the film, which many described as anti-French, “biased and unbalanced”.

The French-Algerian contender for the Palm d’Or told the press-conference at Cannes, his film is “a journey into colonial past.”

“There are still many questions about it. My film is designed to open debate. It wasn’t set to create a clash. Why is it that it becomes so difficult to make this voyage into history in France, 50 years after? People are often reticent. I think all countries have problems with their past…”

But of course, in order to understand the roots of war, it’s important to be familiar with the historical context described by the filmmaker.

“Outside the Law” aims at showing the French-Algerian bloody past through the eyes of three brothers, played by Jamel Debbouze, Roschdy Zem and Sami Bouajila, each of whom makes an attempt at fighting for freedom.

Violence becomes the only way for both Algerian rebels and French nationalists to make themselves “heard and understood”.

However, as often happens in reality, and in film, history is quickly forgotten and eventually twisted by both parties.

Bouchareb’s film starts with a bloody scene of the massacre of Algerian citizens by French soldiers, which indeed took place back in 1945. Many say, however, that the film does not make an accurate account of historical events and should be double-checked to avoid distortions.

According to Bouchareb though, his film is not a complete lesson in the colonial history.

“Some historians told me that in Apocalypse Now, Coppola didn’t tell the whole story about war in Vietnam… As for us, we’re still discovering things [from the colonial past] and there’s much to be said. That’s why we made the film.”

It’s not the first time Bouchareb’s film has been dubbed as “anti-French”. The filmmaker says, the violent reaction toward Outside the Law misses the whole point, coming from those who simply have not watched his film.

Happy is the country which has no history. Should Bouchareb’s stance on the French-Algerian past be accepted at its face value at the biggest film festival in the world, at Cannes, the purpose of his cinematic “journey into the past” could indeed prove effective.

Valeria Paikova, RT, Cannes