Monday, March 28, 2011

Outside the Law (orig. Hors la Loi)

MPAA (unrated) CNS/USCCB () Roger Ebert (3 stars) Fr Dennis (3 ½ stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -
Roger Ebert’s review -

Outside of the Law (orig. Hors La Loi), written and directed by Rachid Bouchareb is a French and Arabic language film with English subtitles about the Algerian struggle for independence, that ought to be required viewing by _anyone_ who has a strong opinion (of _any_ kind) on the current American war on terror. It’s well acted and brutally honest. NO ONE in this film comes off looking particularly good.

The movie is about three Algerian-born brothers, whose family was thrown off their ancestral farm in 1925 by a Frenchman waving a deed. (The Algerian family didn’t even know what a deed was just that they had been working the same land for generations). In 1945 as World War II comes to a close, their father is shot by a stray bullet fired by French colonists/authorities trying to supress a pro-Algerian civil rights march in the town in which they lived.

The three brothers, now adults and with only their mother to take care of, take different paths.

Messaoud (played by Roschdy Zem) the oldest of the three brothers is arrested following the march in which his father was killed for being one of the march’s organizers. While in prison, he is radicalized and joins the Algerian independence movement (FLN).

The middle brother Abdelkader (played by Sami Bouijila) joins (or is forced to join) the French Foreign Legion and does a tour in French-Indochina (Vietnam) where he is captured by the victorious Vietnamese. During his captivity, he and the other non-French colonial troops are propagandized by the message: "Why are you here fighting us when you have your own countries to liberate?"

The youngest brother Said (played by Jamel Debbouze), generally despises politics and is left to take care of their mother. He eventually emigrates with her to Paris, where he can’t find work and eventually gets involved in organized crime.

When the oldest brother, Messaoud, is released from prison, he is given the task of organizing Paris’ Algerian ghetto on behalf of the FLN. At about the same time as he is released, Abdelkader returns from Indochina and decides to throw his lot in with Messaoud to fight for Algeria’s independence.

The fight and the tactics are brutal. Messaoud is told by the FLN that _every_ Algerian must pay a "tax" to the FLN to support the struggle. Messaoud and Abdelkader are forced to enforce this "discipline" in the Algerian ghetto. As a result, their tactics make Said’s mere operation of a prostitution/boxing racket look tame. Among other things, Messaoud and Abdelkader have to punish a poor Algerian who has a wife and three children because he used his money to buy his family a refrigerator rather than pay the FLN’s tax.  They knock on his door, drag the wife out of the house, summarily condemn him to death on behalf of the FLN and then carry out the sentence by strangling him to death.

As the fight becomes more desperate, the French increasingly resort to terrorist tactics themselves. Colonel Faivre (played by Bernard Blancan) a former hero of the French resistance, who now heads an anti-terrorist command in Paris, receives permission to organize a unit which becomes called "the Red hand" which would nominally operate as "a criminal organization" and yet have immunity from the French Ministry of Justice to do whatever they saw fit to terrorize the Algerian community in Paris back into submission. Hence they assassinate suspected leaders of the FLN, blow-up shops and homes of FLN sympathizers, etc. As a result, the FLN’s command in Paris largely flees to Germany (Frankfurt) and Switzerland (Geneva).

By the end of the movie, the three brothers are all reconciled as a result of the madness. Said gets a tip that the French authorities were going to intercept an arms shipment into France organized by Messaoud from Frankfurt and Abdelkader still working from inside France and tries to save the two brothers. Messaoud, in turn is able to save Said’s life from an assassination attempt by the FLN because Said wanted to put-up an Algerian-born boxer to fight for the French national boxing championship while the FLN insisted total boycott anything French.  Said, ever apolitical simply didn't understand the boycott -- "Wouldn't it be _great_ if an Algerian won the French boxing title?" (apparently _not_ in the view of the FLN...)

In the end, only one of the three brothers is left standing, but Algeria does win its independence...

Outside of the Law is a brutal movie, I’d definitely recommend it to anyone with ANY strong opinion IN ANY DIRECTION regarding our current war on terror. The FLN were not nice people. And in fighting them, the French "took off their gloves" in ways that _even today_ would seem unimaginable in the United States and it _still_ wasn’t enough.

The movie does ask the question: How far OUTSIDE THE LAW is either side willing to go to "win?" And it was clear in the Algerian conflict, that BOTH sides were willing to go very, very far.

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