“You, the colonized Africans, you must follow the example of the Vietnamese people. Your brothers, your wives and your children have a right to justice and freedom! Fighters, do not be the colonists’ slaves any longer. Witness the Vietnamese victory, and break free of your chains!”
‘Outside the Law’, directed by Rachid Bouchareb in 2010, is a French movie set between the Sétif massacre at the end of the Second World War and Algerian independence. It focuses on three Algerian brothers: Saïd, played by Jamel Debbouze, Messaoud, played by Roschdy Zem, and Abdelkader, played by Sami Bouajila. Abdelkader rises to a senior position in the Algerian independence movement whilst Messaoud is fighting in the army and Saïd is making money in Paris. The story follows the trio as they all become embroiled in the struggle for independence and in the increasingly violent actions of the movement and the French authorities. As with ‘The Battle of Algiers’, a film that covers similar ground, Bouchareb’s movie is told from the perspective of the Algerians and is critical of the French. Unlike ‘The Battle of Algiers’, ‘Outside the Law’ is less neorealistic and more self-consciously epic. The movie that sprang to mind when I watched it was ‘The Godfather’. It has the same fuzzy morality and a similar narrative construction. The distinction between the brothers: one hardened and committed, one fresh out of the military and the last turning to business and money, almost perfectly maps onto Mario Puzo’s story. The drives of the characters are the same as well – a commitment to a cause tempered by family loyalty. It’s a tightly directed movie with a strong sense of period detail. The authentic design and production does what the documentary-like look of ‘The Battle of Algiers’ achieves and embeds you in the story, albeit in a more mediated way. By the end of the film, you were left wondering what happened after the movie finished, and that is perhaps the best sign that the director had done what he set out to do.
Would I recommend it? Yes – obviously in a double bill with ‘The Battle of Algiers’, but I’d also suggest ‘The Godfather’ as well.