Outside the Law

English Title: Outside the Law

Original Title: Hors-la-loi

Country of Origin: France/Algeria/Belgium/Tunisia/Italy

Studio: Studio Canal and Cohen Media Group

Director: Rachid Bouchareb

Producer(s): Jean Bréhat

Screenplay: Rachid Bouchareb

Cinematographer: Christophe Beaucarne

Art Director: Yan Arlaud

Editor: Yannick Kergoat

Runtime: 138 minutes

Genre: Historical Drama

Language: French and Arabic, with Englis

Starring/Cast: Ahmed Benaissa , Bernard Blancan, Sami Bouajila, Thibault de Montalembert, Jamel Debbouze, Samir Guesmi, Roschdy Zem

Year: 2010

Volume: African / Nigerian

Algeria, 1925. A family receives a court order to leave their homeland within three days. Their land now belongs to colonialist France. The three sons – Abdelkader (Sami Bouajila), Messaoud (Roschdy Zem) and Saïd (Jamel Debbouze) – and their parents move to the city of Sétif. Year after year, tensions between the Algerian people and the French colonialists intensify. When VE Day (Victory in Europe Day) is celebrated in Paris on 8 May1945, the Algerian people organize a demonstration for their independence. This day, the father is killed by the colonialists, who violently repress the demonstration. Ten years later, in 1955, Saïd convinces his mother to leave Algeria, where the situation is still highly tense, for France, the land of the enemy, with the objective of reuniting the family. Meanwhile, Messaoud is enlisted in the French army in Indochina, and Abdelkhader is in jail as a political prisoner.  Saïd arrives in France persuaded that he can become a businessman… Thus freedom, in a variety of ways, becomes a dream for the three brothers.

Outside the Law is a historic drama about the struggle for Algerian Independence, through the story of one Algerian family, from 1925 onwards, with a particular focus on events between 1955 and 1962. As the family is being torn from their land, because of the French Code de l’Indigénat, the mother packs a handful of dirt, as a promise and an eternal souvenir. France imposed this code on all its colonies to establish social and racial boundaries from 1881 – this type of code was also employed by other European colonial powers, under the concept of ‘Indirect rule’ – which allowed the colonists to impose forced labour, to receive arbitrary monetary taxes, to requisition food and property, etc. This code was abolished in 1946, except in Algeria… where the code was enforced until 1962, when Algeria gained independence.  

This is a story of revenge, the revenge of a family and of the Algerian people. As the central theme of the story, Independence is the ultimate objective. Nevertheless, this movie is subtle enough to combine an historical point of view with the saga of a family: three brothers, three ways of fighting for independence – and three points of view on the notion of liberty.

The movie is full of irony and historical parallels, making it complex and interesting: the war in Indochina – a country which also fought for Independence – where Messaoud was involved; 8 May 1945, ‘Liberation Day’ for France as a cynical moment for the Algerian people; the jail where Abdelkader receives his inspiration for the revolution he will eventually lead; Saïd starting his business by hiring Algerian prostitutes in France, the country that dispossessed his family and country.

This film is clearly about politics and the FLN (Front de Libération Nationale/ ‘National Liberation Front’) – a socialist political party that was founded in Algeria on 1 November1954. The FLN often had little choice but to fight as a terrorist organization. Without exposing the ‘dark side’ of the Algerian resistance, Rachid Bouchareb shows how the movement for independence was not necessarily a homogenous one, with families forced to make cruel and brave decisions that often tore them apart.  He also portrays how the French themselves were divided along lines of loyalty.

With Outside the Law, Rachid Bouchareb has created a powerful and politically controversial film. FLN massacres remain a touchy issue today as French sources estimated that 70,000 Muslim civilians were killed or abducted and presumed killed by the FLN during the Algerian War. Bouchareb does not cover up this part of the story, giving the film a well-rounded intellectual credibility even though the French press reproached him for his bias towards the FLN.

Last but not least, the actors, with a special mention to the three main actors, Jamel Debbouze, Roschdy Zem and Sami Bouajila, are excellent.  These three actors had contributed to the enormous success of Indigènes (Days of Glory) in 2006, a film about the colonial troops that fought for France against the Nazi power. Outside the Law is hard hitting but realistic, sometimes violent but also poignant – certainly a work of art.

Author of this review: Angéline Dubois