Algeria Cannes film sparks colonial row in France

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A film about France's colonial past in Algeria sparked a row ahead of its Cannes film festival screening, with calls for it to be banned for rewriting history and politicians joining the row on Tuesday.

Critics have branded "Outside Of The Law" by Rachid Bouchareb, a filmmaker who was born in France to Algerian parents, as an attempt to rewrite the painful history that links France with its former colony in north Africa.

The film tells the story of two brothers who join the struggle for Algerian independence after surviving the massacre of Setif, an Algerian town where French forces clashed violently with nationalist rioters in May 1945.

A member of parliament for the governing UMP party, Lionnel Luca, condemned it as a "negationist" rewriting of history, notably on the question of whether the deadly violence was started by Europeans or Muslims.

He admitted not having seen the film and said he based his view on a government summary of the script.

Bouchareb was quoted by the Algerian newspaper El Watan as saying that the film sought to "shed light on this part of history common to both countries".

Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand reacted to the row on Tuesday.

"Debate about the tragedy of the Algerian war is healthy. It helps us to reconstruct an essential thread of our recent past," he said.

"I note that most of the people talking about the film have not seen it," he added. "I will see it myself very soon to form an opinion."

A senior local official, Claude Serra, told AFP on Tuesday that a memorial ceremony was planned in Cannes in honour of people who died in the Algerian war, to coincide with the film's screening on May 21 during the festival.

Groups representing "harkis", Algerians who fought on the French side, as well as other former combatants and white colonialists, have also criticised the film.

Far-right groups have said they will protest outside the festival hall where the film is to be screened.

A UMP deputy for Cannes, Andre Mayet, called on Monday for the town to ban the screening. "I am not happy when a film denigrates France and the French military," he told AFP.

The head of the festival, Thierry Fremaux, said the row was merely "a debate of ideas". "No one will let the festival be troubled unduly by excessive controversy," he said.

"It often happens that people use the festival" to stir up controversy, he added. "It is almost a tradition."

© 2010 AFP

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