A noble pursuit hobbled by the almighty chip on director Rachid Bouchareb's shoulder.
Rachid Bouchareb’s films are spasms of injustice. Days of Glory raged at the French treatment of Algerian soldiers during the Second World War, while London River, set in Finsbury Park in the days following July 11, seemed indignant at a perceived British ignorance of Islamism while ignoring the questions asked of the religion by its terrorist factions.
As with Outside the Law – a historical epic of the struggle for Algerian independence – Bouchareb has always tried to weave character studies into archival headlines. It’s a noble pursuit hobbled by the almighty chip on his shoulder, a chip that appears to weigh heavier with each film.
Bouchareb, French of Algerian descent, trades in righteous anti-colonialism; a pro-nationalist, anti-Western sentiment that, while earning brownie points from the pious left, makes for dreary, self-righteous, politically exploitative and immensely irritating cinema. It’s tempting to tell him to get over it, but that might be an imperialist thing to do.
The prologue of this film sees an Algerian family forcibly removed from their home – 'the land of my fathers' – by silos of the French colonists. We are then launched 20 years forward. As France celebrates the surrender of Nazi Germany, peaceful Algerian nationalist marchers in Sétif, including the brothers we see in the first scene, are brutally attacked by French soldiers.
These are the flat statements of someone so convinced of their cause they can only shout about it, and no one likes to be shouted at.
From this event, the brothers are splintered, only to reconvene in early adulthood in a shantytown on the edge of Paris. From there, each signs up to the National Liberation Front, sacrificing their family lives and living 'outside the law', as they descend further and further into violence in the name of their struggle.
Some of the melodrama touches, but as threads come and go, usually concerning sexual intrigue from thinly sketched female characters, Bouchareb chooses to skim over the most significant aspects of the story. We aren’t invited to watch the ringleader Abdelkader become radicalized in jail, nor are we given privy to his older brother Messaoud move from gentle family man to a granite-faced murderer who dresses like Paul Muni.
It just happens, from one scene to the next. For a 138 minute long film, the hard questions are again ignored.
Bouchareb’s back with more of the same.
A tiring, didactic manipulation of history.
We await his excusal of Colonel Gaddafi.