Cannes Film Festival's 'Hors la Loi': How well does France face its past in Algeria?
At the Cannes Film Festival last month, riot police reined in protests over 'Hors la Loi,' a film that sparked clashes over the French Army's 1945 massacre in Algeria of at least 10,000.
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Algeria was the North African jewel in the French crown, home to nearly a million European colonists at mid-century. France was able to let Morocco and Tunisia go with relative ease. But Algeria, three times the size of France, was a special point of pride and honor. "Algeria is France," went the saying.Skip to next paragraph
French general Charles de Gaulle was brought back to politics in 1958 in hopes he would keep the jewel. Algerian demonstrators were shot on Paris streets as late as 1961. When France finally quit the following year, a million pieds noirs, or European colonists, left Algeria as well – creating, along with pro-French ethnic Algerians, or harki, refugees, woe and disaffection that still echoes in the clash over Bouchareb's film.
Esther Benbassa, a historian at the Sorbonne, compares French memory of colonial Algeria to a wound that hasn't healed properly.
French reluctance to take up its dark chapters is not new. Not until the early 1970s did the full extent of French cooperation with Nazis in Vichy France came to light – thanks to US historian Robert Paxton.
Bouchareb's 2006 film "Days of Glory" was praised by then-president Jacques Chirac for raising an unacknowledged debt of honor owed to ethnic North Africans who fought to liberate Europe. Best actor in Cannes in 2006 went to the ensemble male cast for depicting young men from Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria who could not be citizens or vote, but fought bravely.
Admonitions that have gone too far?
But today there's greater concern over restless suburbs of Africans and Arabs, and a feeling that admonitions about France's colonial-era behavior have gone too far.
Then there is a new French film, "La Rafle," that has entered the debate over "Outside the Law." "La Rafle" ("The Roundup") examines the snatching of 13,000 Jews in Paris for deportation, and received plaudits here for an unstinting look at French behavior under Nazi rule. Why the ill-treatment of fellow Jews is an acceptable subject, but not of Arabs and Algerians, is a question being raised in Muslim and Arab suburbs here.
In this sense, "Outside the Law" is not just a clash of memory but is about "the antipathy towards Islam," says Dr. Benbassa. " 'La Rafle' could be called 'anti-French,' but is not. We can now deal with that ... but not our colonial past. And now our colonial past is being played into our current hostility towards Islam by politicians."
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