Algeria independence movie sparks controversy in France

22nd September 2010, Comments 0 comments

An explosive thriller about Algeria's independence struggle hit French screens Wednesday amid controversy over its alleged anti-French bias and accusations it distorts colonial history.

"'Outside The Law', the film that disturbs," was Le Parisien newspaper's front-page headline about the movie that opens with the 1945 massacre of mostly unarmed Algerian civilians by French soldiers in the town of Setif.

When the movie was shown at Cannes in May, riot police were deployed outside the film festival hall to hold back demonstrators angered that French public funding had gone to a movie they considered falsified history.

And at a pre-release screening Monday in Marseille, far-right National Front members and former French residents of colonial Algeria brandished banners denouncing "French financing for an anti-French film."

The protests were a new reminder that the lengthy battle for Algerian independence -- the north African country finally won freedom in 1962 -- is still a highly sensitive subject for many in France.

The movie by French-Algerian film-maker Rachid Bouchareb takes place between 1945 and 1962 and focuses on three Algerian brothers living in France after surviving the Setif massacre.

They join Algeria's armed independence movement and take part in a violent campaign targeting French police but also fellow Algerians in a rival movement, justifying their deadly tactics as a "revolution".

Lawmaker Lionnel Luca of President Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP party said after seeing the movie earlier this year that it "compared the French to the SS and the French police to the Gestapo."

Bouchareb told AFP this week that most of the protests were coming from people who hadn't even seen the film, which he described as "above all a movie about injustice."

He previously said he decided to set the film mostly in France because the French aspect of the Algerian independence struggle was little discussed and that he wanted to provoke a debate on it.

His film is one of few cinematic treatments of the conflict. Stories about the activities on French soil of independence fighters, including the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN), are especially rare.

"It is for sociologists or other experts to say why in France people find it difficult to journey into the past," Bouchareb told a news conference at Cannes after his film was screened at the festival there.

The award-winning 1966 Italian film "Battle of Algiers," about a key period in Algeria's push for independence, was banned in France for many years.

Bouchareb's films often focus on controversial subjects. His last, "London River", looked at the aftermath of the 2005 transport bombings in London.

His Oscar-nominated film "Days of Glory" told the story of north Africans who suffered discrimination despite serving courageously in the French army in World War II.

It prompted then-president Jacques Chirac to order that such former soldiers get the same pensions as their French counterparts.

© 2010 AFP

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