Outside the Law

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French Algerian director Rachid Bouchareb spoke to Simon Assaf about his new film on the Algerian war of independence, Outside the Law

The Algerian national liberation struggle plunged France and its Algerian colony into a bloody war that has scarred both countries. Rachid Bouchareb's Outside the Law is the story of Algerian immigrants to France who were drawn into the National Liberation Front (FLN), the Algerian national movement. The war, and the scale of the repression recently admitted by France, is part of a history France attempted to bury.

Bouchareb told Socialist Review, "It has been 50 years since the end of the war, when Algeria gained its independence. Yet there are many people alive today whom this war was only yesterday. So there are many sensitivities. Many of them suffered in a war that had many victims. Even in Algeria the war is a sensitive subject."

The film revolves around the fate of three brothers who are drawn into the revolution. Abdelkader (Sami Bouajila) rises to the leadership of the FLN's military campaign inside France. He is recruited into the independence movement, ostensibly to raise money, and eventually launches attacks and assassinations.

Abdelkader is tormented by the results of actions he initiates, among them ordering the execution of political opponents and those who disobey FLN instructions. The film does not shy away from the reality of these killings.

Bouchareb says, "Abdelkader is cold and ideological because he understands that there is little room for sentiment in revolutions. He knows there have to be victims, and that many ordinary people will suffer. He knows that revolution demands discipline, and that he is taking part in political violence. For him it was about the revolution's victory."

His older brother, Messaoud (Roschdy Zem), is drawn into the struggle after his experiences serving in the French army in French Indochina (now Vietnam) in the 1950s. It convinces him that national liberation struggles can succeed, but that the price will be heavy. Recruited into the FLN to help his brother, he becomes an assassin.

"Messaoud's experience in Indochina prepares him for the reality of revolution, and as we are witnessing today, these revolutions are violent. His military experience makes him the striking arm of the FLN in France. The tragedy for Messaoud is that his experience in Indochina also made him weary of war."

Said (Jamel Debbouze), the third brother, is drawn into the revolution against his will. He sets out to make his fortune in the seedy Paris underworld, but cannot escape the bloodletting. He is torn between his self-interest and commitment to his brothers.

"There were many Algerians who at the time were neutral in the war. But this did not mean they escaped its consequences. Despite the humiliations, injustice and destitution faced by Algerian migrants to France during this era, Said is driven by a desire for success and dignity. He manages to escape poverty, but not the revolution."

The film is a historical sequel to Bouchareb's 2006 film Days of Glory, a powerful story of the indigènes, colonial troops formed to liberate France from the Nazi occupation in the Second World War. The line of shifting loyalties acts as a backdrop to Outside the Law as former comrades become deadly enemies.

During the FLN campaign of bombings in France, Messaoud finds himself confronting his former officer from Indochina, now charged with suppressing the FLN in France. The officer draws on his experience in the French Resistance to track down FLN cells. The Algerians find themselves the target of the French secret service, and its "Red Hand" campaign of murder and torture. They respond with mass bombings and assassinations.

Outside the Law is framed by two massacres - at Setif, Algeria on 8 May 1945 and the mass murder of Algerian demonstrators by French police in Paris on 17 October 1961.

"The massacre at Setif marks the day when Algerians who fought for France returned home and began to demand independence. These soldiers wanted to share in France's victory, and the freedoms they helped to bring to Europe. The mass demonstration in Setif was brutally crushed.

"Setif marked the beginning of the independence movement, which nine years later became an armed struggle. The 1961 Paris massacre marked the last act of this war. Algeria gained its independence soon after."

The timing of the film, released against a backdrop of the revolutions in the Arab world, makes it poignant. "Then, like now, these revolutions are about injustice," Bouchareb said.

Outside the Law is released in the UK on 6 May