Hors de Loi ( Outside the Law) Rachid Boucharab (Fr 2010) Jamil Debbaya, Roschdy Zem, Sami Bouailla. Viewed National Film Theatre London: 10 07 2012, Ticket : £ 5.00
Everything comes out in the wash
Boucharab’s (RB) concern is to caste Hors de Loi (HL) as a validating vehicle for the Algerian revolution, lending filmic authority to fictive revolutionary archetypes and associative characters. As such it is an exercise that in itself dramatises the inevitable fate of revolutions as the moss of history clings to them, the movement from the polemic and political to the fake melodramatics of the soap opera. HL is more melodrama than political history.
However it is the principle setting of HL that is its most noteworthy characteristic.
Although the action moves back and forth between Algeria and Paris, it is Paris that presents as the real location of the film. Not as a background but as a setting of signification. It is this setting that gives RB’s film a contemporary resonance that stands on firmer ground than its claim to either emotion or historical authenticity. HL’s main action does not take place in remote Algiers but in ‘near’ Paris. Interpenetration of peoples is the underlying theme. In HL the war in Algeria is depicted as being played out in its own right, on its own terms, in the capital of France. Algerians were not some far away people. They and their struggle, their goals and aspirations, whether consciously articulated or not, were immediate and present even if hidden away in the bidonville of Nanterre, the late shifts of Renault car factories and shady bars. In Paris, as in the rest of Europe it is the unseen peoples of Africa and Eastern Europe who do the work. Often exploited in neo colonial relationships, if they cannot make themselves heard legitimately, they are close enough to make themselves felt. It is not possible to disconnect the conditions which these people have left, from the conditions in which they live amongst us.
Other then its close to home setting HL offers nothing in itself as film. It presents as medium through which to plough a chronology that takes its main characters from rural Algeria in 1925 to Paris in 1962. It is a sort of break neck charge through significant dates in Algeria’s anti colonial history. The speed and broken nature of the film’s time line betrays the complexity of events to a narrative device. The device stitching RB’S sprawling material together comprises of the ‘follow’ mechanism: follow the three brothers. Three Algerian brothers are the core of film’s scenario and they are tracked through their relationship both with the forces of the age and their relationship with each other.
The problem with this mechanism in film is that the end product is usually pure surface: all the energy of the film is expended on stapling together the complexities of the surface relations: history and personal relationships. In this HL calls to mind Lean’s Dr Zhivago a failure in everything other than its good looks and memorable theme tune: otherwise essentially empty. A vacuous statement that was unable to point the viewer further than Jarre’s ‘Lara’s Theme’ , used with indecent frequency to hold together the whole bag of collapsing affects and events.
We watch events unfold. In this type of structure where outcome is known, there is no tension working through the scenario, working through the deeper grain of the material. Conflict, tactical and strategic and ambiguities are at the core of every political endeavour, but the tensions which they create often only become visible when a different phase of operations commences. RB has tailored his script to avoid real tensions relating to ends and means, tensions involving Islam and the FLN. The script’s set up of the three brother mechanism is exploited to indicate tensions: the opposition of ends and means that arises between two of the brothers Abdulkadir and Messaoud. But the latter’s initial distaste and personal disinclination to use the garrotte as an extrajudicial means of capital punishment is resolved all too easily; as is Said’s (the third brother) resistance to the FLN interfering with his boxing promotion.
To generate tension, having decided to eschew interpersonal fraternal conflict, RB relies on the tried and tested set piece of action. This revolves about violence and fire fights: the killing of rivals of political factions, the assassination set piece and the attempted military style operation. These events are cathartic male film rituals familiar from war gangster and sci fi genres. The extended use by RB of action sequences particularly in the Paris setting reduces HL to an action genre rather than claiming HL as a significant political interpretent.
With other possibilities RB makes of his film a series of events, rather than a process, to the detriment of HL which had the potential ini ts setting and in the forces it depicts, to be a different kind of film. adrin neatrour firstname.lastname@example.org