A stand-alone follow-up to writer / director Rachid Bouchareb’s Cannes Film Festival François Chalais award-winning world war two film Days Of Glory, Outside The Law provides a lengthy interpretation of the impact of French rule in Algeria and the resulting war that spanned 1954 to 1962, covering five decades and two generations of family members. Drawing upon a rich history of features dealing with the topic (including Gillo Pontecorvo’s stand-out effort The Battle Of Algiers), it explores the actions of three sons (a crook, a political prisoner and a military veteran) driven to improve upon their father’s and family’s impoverished station in life, and to address their nation’s oppression and exploitation at the hands of the French in the process.
As an effective early scene reminds the audience, on the day that the western world celebrated allied victory in the second world war, Algerian freedom protesters were massacred in the infamous Sétif massacre. This is a telling juxtaposition that provides the spark for the siblings’ deeds and permeates throughout Bouchareb’s Oscar nominated feature (for best foreign language film, with Susanne Bier’s In A Better World the eventual victor), even if the film’s presentation of this horrendous chapter in history is sadly lacking.
With actors Jamel Debbouze (Angel-A), Sami Bouajila (Bitter Victory) and Roschdy Zem (Department 36) returning to their roles from the preceding feature, the stage is set for a riveting examination of the formative years of Algerian politics in the twentieth century. Alas, instead of capitalising upon the continuity of his protagonists within such explosive circumstances, Bouchareb instead wallows in manipulation and repetition, highlighting the cause over the characters at all costs. As a result, empathy is mostly absent across the film’s 138-minute running time, with the well-performing leads trying hard but finding it difficult to evoke an emotional connection.
Their efforts are not aided by the controversial nature of the re-telling of history, with political reactions varied in their view of the feature’s authenticity and even uninformed viewers likely to spot the partiality. Owing a debt to the gangster genre (with Michael Mann’s Public Enemies providing an interesting stylistic parallel) more than the oeuvre of war films, Outside The Law is technically competent, although it ultimately comes across as slow and drawn out rather than immediate and energetic. With a third feature in the thematically connected trilogy the concept of current discussion, this may not be the end of Bouchareb’s ponderings of the state of his homeland, however here’s hoping the next installment re-ignites the topic’s inherent spark
Re-uniting with his cast and characters from the applauded Days Of Glory, writer / director Rachid Bouchareb has crafted an admittedly biased account of the Algerian war. Interesting in content whilst languishing in execution, Outside The Law is effective in the historical sense, yet nowhere near as compelling as the events demand.
Outside the Law is screening as part of the Alliance Française French Film Festival 2011.