France and the Algerian Wound: A Controversial Cinematic Restoration

France and the Algerian Wound: A Controversial Cinematic Restoration
France and the Algerian Wound: A Controversial Cinematic Restoration
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“Our Brothers” by Rachid Bouchareb: A blend of documentary and fiction in telling a true story (press file)

One of the remarkable things about the French cinematic productions, which will be shown in major international festivals in 2022, is that several films dealt with the issue of the thorny relationship between France and the French Arabs, of Algerian origin, in particular. Among them are 3 films that focused on historical, political and humanitarian issues related to the French colonial period, the heated circumstances of which still raise disturbances and quarrels between the two countries. It is not known whether these films were produced and shown by chance, or were carried out according to a prior study, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the end of the French occupation of Algeria.

Within the framework of this occasion, French President Emmanuel Macron asked, on behalf of France, explicitly, to apologize for describing the Algerian regime as pursuing a “memory rent” policy regarding the Algerian war, stressing France’s recognition of the French born in Algeria during colonialism, and who moved to France; And the two massacres that took place after the signing of the “Evian” agreements on March 18, 1962, which ended the Algerian war. The most important thing is that the president asked forgiveness from the activists, at a party held to honor them at the Elysee Palace. The Senate also approved a law requesting an apology from the Harkis and their descendants, and offering compensation, in recognition of the damage France caused to them and their families, whose number was estimated at 90,000 people, while Algerian figures indicate approximately 130-160,000.

Harkis and their historical reality

France abandoned the Harkis since the time of Charles de Gaulle, and avoided talking about them. When it welcomed them into its territory, it treated them as refugees. They did not receive decent treatment from the French, not even from the French Arabs. They were placed in temporary camps, in which living conditions are not available. In their own country, the Algerian resistance fighters rejected them, and talking about them became taboo. The late Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika described them as agents, and refused their return to Algeria in 2000, despite his criticism of their shelter conditions. As for those who refuse to accuse them of treason, they say that their joining the French army was not treason, but rather a reaction resulting from disagreements with the “Liberation Front” about means of resistance, in addition to fear of the oppression of the colonizers, or the lack of means of living and a decent life.

Based on this background, Philippe Faucon (1958) investigated “Les Harkis”, starting from the relationship of a French officer with his group of Harkis, and what happened in the end. The film, Faucon’s second, deals with the Harkis, after “Treason” (2005), which worked on the deep division between the French and the Algerians regarding 4 Harkis, whom the Algerians consider traitors, while the French suspect them of being double agents. The director is credited for his audacity in addressing this thorny topic, which is still considered taboo by Algerians associated with that difficult period in their history.

For Focon, returning to this subject is not an end in itself, or out of excitement, digging into the past, or violating taboos. The director was born in the Algerian war, in the city of Oujda, on the Moroccan-Algerian border. His father, a conscript in the French army, lived through that difficult historical period, which greatly affected his life. And the most affected by the issue of kinetics. Therefore, he repeatedly emphasized that he still believes that France has failed to fulfill its duties towards the Harkis, and their wives and children.

“The Harkiyons” – shown at the 75th session (May 17-28, 2022) of the “Cannes Film Festival”, in the “Directors’ Half Month” – its plot takes place in the early sixties of the last century, when the danger looms over the fate of Algeria, after France entered into negotiations with “ The National Liberation Front”, then the signing of a cease-fire agreement, signs of an exit from Algeria, and then the dark fate besetting the Harkis, and other Algerian youth, in a mountain village, who were prompted by circumstances (living hardship, ignorance, and the need) to join the French army, or to cooperate. With him, and fighting their brothers who are fighting colonialism for independence.All of this is through the character of Salah (Mohammed Amin Muwafaq), who was driven by poverty to take up arms on the side of the colonizer, and he never regretted that.But the approaching end of colonialism transformed his daily life, and the lives of his colleagues as well. From the people of his town, who are recruited by the French forces, to great anxiety and tension, because of their fear for their dark future.

The Harkis, which are very close to TV movies, are inspired by plot, performance, drama and photography, the story of Wafaa, General Francois Millet, who took up the cause of defending the Harkis, and expelled his men and their families from Algeria, by his own means, in contravention of official directives at the time. He succeeded in sending 350 Harkis to France, while thousands were pursued and killed. There, he devoted his efforts to searching for French villages to receive them, and to settle them there as farmers, and he continued his efforts for several years, to help integrate them into society. The personality of the general is evident in the personality of the young lieutenant Pascal (Theo Chulby), who is torn between loyalty to his movement men, whom he fears of an unknown fate, his obedience to French orders, and betrayal of promises made with the utmost villainy.

Bouchareb: Between Fiction and Documentary

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In “Our Brothers” by Rachid Bouchareb (1959), the director brings to life a very important true story about Malek Ouskin, an Algerian student who was killed by the police in Paris. A story whose facts deserve to be recalled again, dusted off, and unearthed in detail. The script, written by the novelist Kawthar Adimi with Bouchareb, attempted to approach the thorny issue, by recounting the facts of what happened on the nights of December 5 and 6, 1986, against the backdrop of violent repressive police intervention, in huge student demonstrations against new university reforms that swept France at the time.

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On the other hand, the film recounts, in a parallel, simple and touching dramatic thread, the circumstances of the death of Abdel, the relatively unknown young Algerian, as a result of the violence of a drunken police officer, in a suburb of Paris, far from the events of the capital. The difference in events and circumstances appears in a dramatic presentation that deals with the two Algerian families in two different ways, despite the similarity of the situation, circumstances and fate. There is one person who links the two stories together: Inspector Daniel Matei (Raphael Personnaz), obedient and executing the orders of his superiors, who hides the news of Abdel’s death from his mechanic father Wasini (Samir Al Qasimi) and his brother Khader (Laith Salameh), claiming that only one person is injured in the hospital. , and cannot be accessed due to events. While the priority of the police, then, is to “settle” the case of Malik Oskin (Adam Amara), who was murdered in the Latin Quarter, while returning home from a concert.

Immediately, Malik Oskin’s case became a national symbol, taking on great significance. However, for his brother Muhammad (Reda Kateb) and his sister Sarah (Lina Khoudry), the matter led to pain, anger and a desire for justice, and at the same time, it sparked shock, anxiety and amazement, to discover that Malik had taken, secretly, the step of converting to Catholicism, for a better integration into Society.

In “Our Brothers”, Rachid Bouchareb merged the documentary and the fictional with remarkable effectiveness. These attempts were manifested in merging archive footage (TV and radio) with narrative, to get as close to the events as possible, and achieve the maximum possible credibility, which left a strong cinematic imprint on the memory, and the most prominent political, historical and social incident. Very important. However, in the end, the film could have been executed a little better, portraying the sadness, tension, and emotional impact of events with greater credibility, without dramatic and rhythmic imbalances, and noticeable performance weaknesses.

In this film (outside the official competition of the 75th Cannes Festival), Bouchareb simply tried, through professional drama, without opportunism and emotional blackmail, to embody the psychological damage and the devastating emotional impact of events, and not be satisfied with narrating historical and fictional facts only, by getting close to the people of the two dead. Of course, exposing the involvement of the police, commenting on the dangerous internal investigation conducted by the French Police Complaints Authority, and revealing the systematic, high-level attempts to cover up the death of Malik Oskin. It also deliberately obscured the surrounding circumstances, and how (and this is frightening) that the cover-up attempt would have succeeded, had it not been for the testimony of witnesses, and the determination and insistence of one of the two families to prosecute the responsible officers.

“Animate” the night of the “Seine”

The events of the night of October 17, 1961 (another bloody night in the history of the Algerian-French relationship), were monitored by an animated film, entitled “Tears of the Seine”, by 8 young French directors, male and female, in their first work, shown in the 44th session (January 28). January – February 5, 2022) for the “Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival” (France), and well-deserved winner in the “Best Special Effects” category: Yannis Belaid, Elliot Bonnar, Alice Letayour, Nicolas Mayor, Etienne Moulin, Adrien Pino, Philippe Sangre and Lisa Visante.

In contrast to these influences, and its pivotal role in the film, “Tears of the Seine” is extremely brief and condensed, and its duration is 9 minutes. It depicts an Algerian workers’ demonstration against the compulsory curfew imposed by the French government at the time, represented by the Paris police, specifically its chief, Maurice Papon. At that time, the police forces attacked a peaceful demonstration, consisting of 60-65 thousand Algerian demonstrators, committing a very heinous massacre, which the French government later recognized, and repeatedly apologized for. To thousands of detainees, the death toll ranged between 40 and 200, and about 7,000 wounded, and 800 of them were thrown into the Seine River and sewage. Or simply: disappear without a trace, until this moment.

The film focuses on those who were thrown into the filthy water channels and the river, or were fired at directly, on purpose, in front of eyewitnesses, bearing in mind that there are pictures that exposed the ugliness of what happened. This was confirmed by finding dead bodies. All of this is recounted by the directors intelligently, by focusing on the personality of the young Algerian Nabil, who wanders around the places of the demonstrations, and is tracked by a crazy and very lively camera, and does not calm down, transmitting the bloody events that night, with panoramic, skill and intensity, and with loud colors, dominated by bright red, and a massive background. Of lively, enthusiastic and overlapping voices.

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