Cannes Review: Rachid Bouchareb's Powerful 'Outside the Law'
by Alex Billington
May 22, 2010
Unless you're from France or Algeria, you probably don't know much about the backstory behind this. But at Cannes this year, Rachid Bouchareb's Outside the Law, or Hors la Loi in French, was potentially the most controversial films that played here. There were even French Gendarmerie troops in full riot gear protecting the Palais on the day it premiered because of potential riots. The reason for the controversy comes a bit from supposed inaccuracies in the film and simply from the subject matter it deals with. The story is about three Algerian brothers who, following the Sétif massacre in 1945 after WWII, become freedom fighters in France.
In brief, Algeria was ruled by France throughout WWII, but the Algerian people wanted independence. On the day of Germany's surrender, a protest in the city of Sétif was attacked by the French Gendarmerie and many Algerians were killed. These three brothers survived and, after being reunited years later, moved to France and decided to start fighting for their independence by killing certain people opposed to their cause and eventually police officers as well. Algeria did gain independence in 1962, but Outside the Law focuses specifically on the story of these brothers' and their attempts to fight for their cause as long as they could.
Outside the Law feels like a very powerful, Untouchables-like epic, spanning numerous years and showing the full story from the massacre up until 1962 when they gained independence. Certain parts of the massive story felt cut short, mostly due to time and progression, even though I wanted to see more. But what we are still shown was fantastic. Writer/director Rachid Bouchareb couldn't have found a more unique, endearing, and fascinating story to tell about these brothers, because each has a very unique background and each plays a vital role. One of them, Saïd (played outstandingly by Jamel Debbouze), doesn't even want to be a part of the resistance and tries to make a living as a boxing manager, but obviously must become involved anyway.
Overall, Outside the Law isn't the kind of jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring film that's on par with Untouchables or The Godfather, but it is a solid, impressively made, and powerful look at a very personal story about one Algerian family fighting for their independence. I enjoyed every last minute of it and would've even liked to see more, but I'm still completely satisfied with the the film that Rachid Bouchareb put together, even if it's historically inaccurate in places. The performances in particular were incredible and as a piece of French-Algerian cinema, it's a great film, worth checking out if you want to learn more about this incredible story.