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Outlaw, a historical film?


After “Indigènes”, Rachid Bouchareb returns with an even more controversial film, “ Outlaw ". While there had been debate about its precedent, the film itself, but also the team's statements during the promotion, it seems that for "Outlaw" the unease is even deeper. It was therefore necessary to wait for its release to judge from evidence: Is "Hors-la-loi" a historical film, in every sense of the word?

A family in history

Before discussing how Rachid Bouchareb deals with the events of the Algerian War, we must summarize the plot of the film. It is the story of a family, which begins in 1925, with the expropriation of its land by French settlers, continues with the Sétif massacre in 1945, then with the departure of the three brothers for France and the 'Indochina, before a reunion in the middle of the Algerian war; three brothers with different characters and choices, one who became an executive of the FLN, the other boss of Pigalle, the last, a disillusioned veteran of the Indochina war. For a courageous mother and for their country, they will have to make choices and sacrifices.

The film is therefore above all centered on these siblings, the History (the big one) being only a backdrop. From there, can we speak of historical film? Or, is the story of the fate of these siblings just a pretext to make a "work of history"?

A too modest cinematographic ambition

"Outlaw" being a cinema film, at least in its intention, we must therefore quickly talk about cinema before tackling what interests us most, namely its relationship to History.

With his previous film, “Indigènes”, Rachid Bouchareb had served us a sort of “We must save Private Ryan” à la française, and it must be said that the comparison was not to his advantage, in particular in terms of staging, and not just fights. The characters were relatively cartoonish, the interpretation a little awkward, and the narrative progression quite heavy. For “Outlaw”, Bouchareb aims even higher! He makes no secret that his main credentials are Melville from "Army of Shadows" and Leone from "Once Upon a Time in America". Beyond a certain presumption in trying to rise so high in the spheres of cinema, it is the result that leaves one wondering: the academicism of the staging, the archetypal characters and without nuances, a reconstruction of the time which is more reminiscent of a mixture of cardboard and digital (we sometimes think of "La Rafle"), ... nothing works! Everything is both too much and wrong, simplistic and wobbly. The interpretation is in tune: we can save Roshdy Zem (as in “Indigènes”) and Chafia Boudraa (the mother), but for the rest, we are almost embarrassed for them, in particular Sami Bouajila (who manages to do even more in excess as for the previous film) and Jamel Debbouze, as little credible as a little godfather than as a soldier. And all that lasts more than two hours, which is really very long… The desired fresco finally looks more like a telefilm which would hide its limits behind the sincerity (very supported) of its interpreters and director, and a budget which must be seen with the screen (to show that this is an important movie).

The double talk and "a dubious heroisation"

The controversy surrounding the film was launched, we tend to forget, by an interview with Rachid Bouchareb in the Algerian newspaper El Watan. In June 2009: he presents the film as a production “Algerian-Franco-Belgian supported by His Excellency the President of the Republic, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, and Ms. Khalida Toumi, Minister of Culture. ". However, 70% of the film is produced with French funds (part of which by the CNC). He himself is presented in the article as an Algerian director; however, he is Franco-Algerian. The director talks about a film that "Will undoubtedly restore a historical truth confined in the coffers" ; even though he says this is not a documentary, he once again insists on his role for him, as a filmmaker, "To reestablish the historical truth that should not in any way be obscured". He drives the point home: “We will unpack everything through this film! ". As you can see, it was pretty clear. Faced with the controversy in Cannes, Bouchareb "forgot" his interview with El Watan, and declared in France that he had made "a fictional film with [his] personal sensitivity". Which is a definition of cinema. Since then, however, he has continued to add more in the double-discourse, alternating according to the questions and the audiences between the affirmation of a need to address these subjects, the reality of what he presents in his film, and a personal vision and a desire for calm debate when one pointed out the “simplifications” (even the errors, to be polite) of his work. The double talk also concerns the relationship between France and Algeria, and the nationality of the film ... and of the director. Bouchareb affirms in certain interviews, as for "Indigènes", that it is a film about the French and the Algerians, for a common history; certainly, but why in this case to have wanted that “Indigènes” is an “Algerian film” (in particular with the Oscars) and to present “Outlaw” in Algeria like an Algerian film, with projection in preview in front of the officials? , and praise for the support of " His Excellency the President of the Republic, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, and Ms. Khalida Toumi, Minister of Culture ” ? The funding is again predominantly French, like the film crew, so it's a French, or Franco-Algerian, film. And one might think that the message would be much less ambiguous if Bouchareb considered it as such, rather than having it both ways.

We must then remember the “Indigenous” period. If the film itself was not particularly shocking by its historical errors (except to present the colonial troops mainly made up of North Africans and black Africans, "forgetting" the Pieds-Noirs or putting them only in ranks), the The promotional campaign had seen the team string together historical untruths (such as that asserting that African troops had never marched on the Fields, nor their decorated soldiers). For "Outlaw" it is even worse, since it is the treatment of history in the film itself that is more than questionable! It is not a question here of identifying all the factual errors, but of denouncing the chosen angle and the flaws in contextualization. One of the best examples is the Sétif massacre, quickly dispatched without knowing much of the context (a little broader than the demonstration), and where the massacres of Europeans are at least treated in a way. strange; moreover, it goes in the same direction as the version which suggests that these massacres took place on a single day, which is far from being the case (and which changes a lot of things, without justifying the violence of French repression)! "Outlaw" subsequently treats history the same: partisan, simplistic, truncated, not to mention shortcuts and anachronisms. Bouchareb does not hesitate to compare the FLN to the French resistance fighters, and thus France to Nazi Germany. Certainly, he tries to show that serving the cause makes dirty, we commit horrible murders (including against nationalist rivals), sacrifices, we have blood on our hands, but we hardly feel that change anything. The important thing is still the cause, and this seems to be the case for the characters as well as for Bouchareb himself. Even Benjamin Stora, who defended the film (admittedly before seeing it), is embarrassed by what he calls "dubious heroisation", and the choice of mythological, sensationalism and "discreet distortion of the truth. historical ”. He also criticizes the film for its shaky treatment of the war between FLN and MNA, and above all for the choice to show a monolithic France, where Bouchareb "forgets" the French who supported the Algerian separatists, presenting them only through a young blonde woman who helps the cause out of love for one of the characters!

When we then put Bouchareb in front of these untruths, he dismissed the reflection with the back of his hand (we then wonder where is the debate he claims to open), and we hear a Jamel Debbouze quietly assert that everyone has their own point of view on History. Further confusion with Memory ... The worst part being that at the end of the film, we realize that we don't know more about the Algerian war. It can even be said that someone who does not know anything about it will know little more about the context and the stakes of this war, in the broad sense, on leaving.

A question of responsibility, history and cinema

Reviews for the film's release were mixed. Most especially insisted on its weakness in cinematic terms, but felt that the controversy was not necessary. This is not our opinion. Obviously, at the slightest criticism one is suspected of being a supporter of the OAS, as before for "Indigènes" one was necessarily nostalgic for the Empire when one expressed reservations. It doesn't matter. We are surprised that certain critics do not see Manichaeism in this film, or that they are not embarrassed by it, because the important thing is the intention and the point of view of the director they say, and that his intentions are obviously positive (why?). They underestimate the power of cinema.

We say Rachid Bouchareb is sincere, he probably is. He says he wants to open the debate to close the scars, and there we say to ourselves that there is a problem. Because "Outlaw", despite some attempts not to make us believe it (for example the disgust of the characters to be killed) is indeed a film which adopts the point of view of the FLN, and one can even say of the Algerian government current. This explains the good reception and the funding of the Algerian authorities, obviously. When you know how the FLN has treated its opponents (and we don't even talk about the harkis), and how it has then ruled Algeria until today, you can be embarrassed without being "French Algeria".

This then arises the responsibility of the artist who asserts, even by tacking, that he wants to make a work of history. Above all, we should not confuse History and Memory, but also History, Memory and Propaganda. Because there is an audience. When you are highly publicized, defended by stars, and you pass a message like this, you have responsibilities. Cinema is art, we cannot ask it to make History, only to the extent of participating in Memory and opening the debate. If Bouchareb had only wanted to make a personal film, set in the Algerian war, without claiming to "reestablish historical truth", it would have been much less embarrassing. He is not, he is taking history hostage, in the service of a cause. Some spectators say they heard reflections from young people in the hall who were cold in the back. And audiences today tend to take for the truth what they see in the cinema, especially when it is presented in that way.

A propaganda film

With "Outlaw", Rachid Bouchareb has therefore not only made a bad film, but also a dubious propaganda film, which leaves a bitter taste in his mouth. And not that of repentance as he seems to have wanted. We would therefore recommend a film to the viewer: "L’Ennemi intime", by Florent Emilio-Siri, for the same context but with a much less partisan treatment. Film which unfortunately did not receive so much media attention ...

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