In terms of tears shed, no film has moved me more this year than Rachid Bouchareb’s London River, his intimate drama about two characters searching for their missing children after the 7/7 bombings. Much larger-scaled, Bouchareb’s new feature Outside the Law (Hors La Loi) (2010) doesn’t match the emotional impact of London River, but it’s a significant and absorbing work nonetheless. Super-controversial in France, where its Cannes premiere was greeted by government protests, the picture charts the involvement of three Algerian brothers in the FLN, the movement that helped to secure Algerian independence from France in 1962. The film opens in 1925, with the appropriation of the family’s land by the colonisers, and covers pivotal events such as the 1945 Sétif massacre, in which the brother’s father is killed. But its main action takes place in the 1950s, by which time the brothers have located to France with their mother, and are responding in different ways to the FLN’s drive “to fight France on her own territory.”
Epic in scope and execution, a combination of historical epic, action film and family melodrama, Outside the Law sometimes suggests The Battle for Algiers (1966) crossed with Rocco and his Brothers (1960) and directed by Michael Mann. It’s also a companion piece of sorts to Bouchareb’s Indigenes (Days of Glory) (2006), about the contribution of North African troops to the Allied cause in WW2, down to its recasting of three actors from that film, Sami Bouajila, Jamel Debbouze and Roschdy Zem, who once again do superb work here. As in Indigenes, the viewer may find themselves wishing for more experimentation and idiosyncrasy in Bouchareb’s Hollywood-influenced approach to the material: there are some clunky and manipulative moments, while the endless titles announcing temporal leaps get to be a little much. But this is a chapter of French-Algerian history that needs to be told to contemporary audiences, and Bouchareb tells it with passion, clarity and conviction in this compelling film.