France-Algeria war film sparks Cannes protests

21st May 2010, Comments 0 comments

Riot police guarded the Cannes waterfront Friday during a demonstration against the film festival screening of an explosive thriller about the Algerian war of independence.

Police with batons and shields lined up outside the festival hall where French-Algerian film-maker Rachid Bouchareb's "Outside The Law" was screened, while hundreds of people demonstrated at the nearby town hall.

Right-wing politicians have accused Bouchareb of distorting history in his emotionally-charged account of Algerian militants' fight against French colonisation of their homeland.

The movie, part-financed by France, tells the story of Algerian brothers who are driven from their home as children by colonialists and grow up to fight in mainland France for the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN).

It opens with a massacre of Algerian civilians by French soldiers in the town of Setif in 1945 -- a historical event which critics say is misrepresented.

The brothers flee and end up in France, where two of them launch a campaign of violence targeting French police but also fellow Algerians, justifying their violent tactics as a "revolution".

Ahead of the festival, right-wing politicians criticised the film's treatment of France's role in Algeria during the colonial period and the war that led to independence in 1962.

Lawmaker Lionnel Luca of the governing UMP party said after seeing it on Friday that is was "a partisan, militant, pro-FLN film" which "compared the French to the (Nazi) SS and the French police to the Gestapo."

Two of the brothers in the film, Messaoud and Abdelkader, launch attacks against police from their base in an immigrant shanty town in northern Paris -- a precursor of the current-day suburbs which exploded in violence in 2005.

Their campaign prompts French authorities to retaliate by forming an underground armed group to launch bomb attacks and kill FLN members.

Police said 1,200 people joined the Cannes protest which involved the far-right National Front party, but no incidents were reported. Demonstrators dispersed peacefully after several dozen of them approached the police line.

Army veterans and groups representing former colonists and "harkis", Algerians who fought for France, joined the protest, with demonstrators waving French flags and singing the French national anthem.

"It is a falsification of history," said Frederic Bruno, a 62-year-old pensioner who travelled from Nice to join the rally. In Setif, "the army kept order" after Algerians killed French people, he said.

French historians estimate that some 15,000 Algerians were killed in Setif when forces fired on a pro-independence rally, but their Algerian counterparts put the figure as high as 45,000. More than 100 Europeans also died.

Bouchareb insisted after the screening: "The film isn't a battlefield. The film is not there to provoke confrontation. It is there to launch a calm debate."

The film is one of few cinematic treatments of the Algerian conflict. Stories about independence fighters in mainland French 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.

Four of the actors in "Outside The Law", including the big-name French-Moroccan comedian Jamel Debbouze, won a joint prize at Cannes in 2006 for their performances in Bouchareb's film "Days Of Glory".

That film was about north Africans who suffer discrimination despite serving under French command in World War II. It prompted then-president Jacques Chirac to order that such soldiers get the same pensions as French ones.

One of the producers of "Outside The Law", Tunisian Tarak Ben Ammar, said: "France co-financed the film. There are lots of people who don't have a problem with the past. The public will judge."

© 2010 AFP

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