Outside the Law, an Oscar-nominated foreign film from Rachid Bouchareb, is a gripping French-Algerian coproduction that makes Algeria's epic struggle for independence from France look like a gangster movie.
Bouchareb reunites his leads from the acclaimed Days of Glory (2006). Where that film explored the contradictions of Northern Africans fighting in the French army during World War II, this one, spanning 1954 to 1962, chronicles the Algerian resistance against the French. This time, the battleground is Paris. Controversially, the filmmaker (who also wrote the screenplay) equates the French resistance against Nazi occupation with the Algerian resistance against French colonial rule.
Under the obvious influence of Francis Ford Coppola, Bouchareb frames his shadow-ridden guerrilla heroes as the Algerian counterparts of the Corleones. Abdelkader (Sami Bouajila), like Michael Corleone, is the cold-blooded intellectual who becomes a revolutionary in the FLN (the Algerian National Liberation Front). Messaoud (Roschdy Zem), like Sonny, is the muscle. Fredo-like Saïd (Jamel Debbouze) is a pimp and promoter. For him, the best way to stick it to the French is to train an Algerian boxer who will demonstrate national superiority by besting his French opponent.
The film from the French-born filmmaker of Algerian descent likewise owes an enormous debt to Jean-Pierre Melville's Army of Shadows (1969), about French resistance fighters one-minded in their goal to subvert Nazis. Bouchareb is sometimes a little too one-minded: His movie might have been richer emotionally had he written scenes showing the characters' domestic lives and not strictly their professional spheres.
France, FLN's adversary, is too abstract as an antagonist. So Bouchareb wisely creates the character of Col. Faivre (Bernard Blancan), a onetime French-resistance fighter and now French counterterrorist officer who served with Messaoud in Indochina.
His recognition that the FLN is using French resistance tactics against former French resistance fighters is the film's hard-hitting epiphany.
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