At the Cannes Film Festival last month, riot police reined in
protests over 'Hors la Loi,' a film that sparked clashes over the
French Army's 1945 massacre in Algeria of at least 10,000.
A new film by French-Algerian director Rachid Bouchareb has again
opened a "clash of memory" over France's difficult colonial past in
Algeria and its effect on millions who got caught in a bitter and
bloody struggle that ended with Algerian independence in 1962.
"Hors La Loi," or "Outside the Law," aired at the Cannes Film
Festival last month, bringing protests for being "a partisan,
militant ... film that compares the French to the SS and the French
police to the Gestapo," as politician Lionel Luca, who had not seen
the film, described it.
French intellectuals immediately rejoined, saying, "We can fear
the worst when political power commits to [re]writing the history
that citizens see on film screens."
IN PICTURES: Cannes Film Festival 2010
Much of the controversy centers on Mr. Bouchareb's depiction of
the Setif massacre, a slaughter by the French Army of at least
10,000 Algerians. In a tragic irony, the massacre started on May 8,
1945 - V-E Day in Europe, when allied forces were celebrating
liberty, democracy, and the triumph over totalitarianism and fascism
In Algerian memory, Setif planted the seeds for independence. It
showed that French colonial masters would never offer better terms
for Algerian self-rule, and it ushered in the insurgent National
Liberation Front, or FLN.
Never mentioned in schools
But in French memory, Setif was brushed aside, never raised in
"In my French education, I never heard of Setif, which is
extraordinary," says Claire Edey, a socialist politician in Paris.
"So much about the war no one talks about." Not until 2005 did
France officially acknowledge responsibility for Setif.
"The Algerian war is still not over in our minds and hearts,
because it hasn't been sufficiently named, shown, come to terms with
in and by collective memory," comments historian Benjamin Stora, a
preeminent authority on Algeria.
Reaction to "Outside the Law," which traces the lives of three
Algerian brothers who survive Setif, may make Mr. Stora's point.
Commentator Frederic Pons argues it is "the herald of a one-sided
and hateful reading of history - that of the FLN ... [which] has
controlled and ruined Algeria since 1962."
In American cultural terms, France's post-colonial struggle for
Algeria, and the bitterness over its loss, might be said to have the
force of a dozen Vietnams.
Jewel in the French crown
Algeria was the North African jewel in the French crown, home to
nearly a million European colonists at mid-century. …