'Outside the Law' Screened Under Tight Security: Cannes

Jamel Debbouze, Roschdy Zem and Sami Bouajila Outside the Law Rachid Bouchareb
Jamel Debbouze, Roschdy Zem, Sami Bouajila, the stars of Rachid Bouchareb's Days of Glory, join forces once again in Bouchareb's Outside the Law

First, Cannes Film Festival organizers pissed off Silvio Berlusconi's right-wing government by showing Sabina Guzzanti's documentary Draquila: Italy Trembles, which delves into the corruption and decay found in Berlusconi's Italy.

Today came Rachid Bouchareb's Outside the Law, which seriously pissed off members of Nicolas Sarkozy right-wing government in France itself. According to Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times, two members of Sarkozy's party denounced Outside the Law, a crime drama revolving around Algeria's war for independence from France. “I am not happy,” said one legislator, “when a film denigrates France and the French military.”

The “denigration” found in Outside the Law includes the depiction of French occupying forces shooting at Algerian pro-independence demonstrators in 1945, which eventually led to the massacre of thousands of people in that North African nation. Note: That's not fiction made up by Bouchareb. That's history. And ironically, this all took place right after World War II – that widely revered “war for freedom.”

(Algeria was for France what India was for England: the living, breathing symbol of their imperial supremacy. And we're still feeling the effects of that today, and not only along the Mediterranean.)

Security, Turan adds, was tight at the Outside the Law premiere, “with bottles of water confiscated and each viewer subjected to an unusually thorough pat-down.” Hundreds of protesters – the south of France is filled with Pieds-Noirs, those who had to leave behind their lives in Algeria following that country's independence in 1962 and who still haven't forgiven Algerians for that.

“When you touch on France's colonial past, the reaction is very violent, like a bomb,” Bouchareb later explained. “Still, I was surprised when pressure was exerted against the film. These people had the old dream, that maybe it can be like [Gillo Pontecorvo's Oscar-nominated 1966 political drama] Battle of Algiers [which was banned in France for five years], maybe they can stop the movie in France. But now a new generation has power, society has changed, they want to turn the page.”

Well, not everyone wants to turn the page, that's quite obvious. Anyhow, the French far-right wasn't the only one badmouthing Outside the Law. Turan calls the film “potent,” but some have complained Bouchareb's approach was too conventional and derivative.

In Screen Daily, Mike Goodridge took a middle ground, writing that “… if Bouchareb opts for a too-simplistic good guys (Algerians) and bad guys (French) approach, he has to be applauded for tackling a sensitive subject which is still avoided in France - that of 132 years of French rule in Algeria and the bloody battle for independence that ended in 1962 with French defeat.”

And last but not least, Cannes also pissed off the radical Muslim government of Iran by leaving an empty jury chair for jailed filmmaker Jafar Panahi.

More on Outside the Law in The Guardian.

Photo: Cannes Film Festival

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