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Bouchareb film slammed for 'falsifying' history of French-Algerian massacre

A film picked to compete at the forthcoming Cannes Film Festival, French-Algerian director Rachid Bouchareb’s Outside of the Law (Hors la loi), has caused a storm following charges of historical inaccuracy.


A film picked to compete at the upcoming Cannes Film Festival, French-Algerian director Rachid Bouchareb’s "Outside of the Law" (Hors la loi), has caused a storm following charges of historical inaccuracy. The flaring tempers come on the heels of another Cannes-related controversy surrounding the inclusion of a film by pro-Putin Russian auteur Nikita Mikhalkov in this year’s selection.

Lionnel Luca, a French deputy from President Nicolas Sarkozy’s centre-right ruling party, has accused Bouchareb of “falsifying” history. "Outside of the Law" examines the legacy of the notorious Sétif massacre of 1945: the Algerian uprising against occupying French forces on the day after World War II ended -- as well as France’s suppression of the uprising -- resulted in mass deaths on both sides. Algerian casualties were estimated in the thousands and those of the Europeans, or “pied noirs”, were estimated in the hundreds.

“I don’t think Mr. Bouchareb is doing a good deed by saying in his film that on one side there were victims, and on the other there were bad guys”, said Luca, a representative from France’s south-eastern Alpes-Maritime region. Luca has not yet seen the film, but he voiced his disagreement with its portrayal of events after reading interviews with writer-director Bouchareb.

A screenplay full of ‘errors and anachronisms’

The film tells the story of three Algerian brothers – and survivors of the Setif massacres – who leave their birth country for France, where they become involved in the movement for Algerian independence. In an interview with Algerian newspaper “El Watan”, Bouchareb said one of the film’s ambitions was to “shed light on this bit of history that the two countries share” and to “restore a historical truth that has been tucked away”.

The film is an Algerian-French-Belgian co-production, but was selected for Cannes as a film representing Algeria, and not France. Luca told FRANCE 24 that he may be responsible for this decision to avoid labelling the film as French, despite the film’s French-born director, actors who are well-known in the French film world, and partial French financing.

After the interviews he read led him to suspect that Bouchareb’s account of the massacre might be inaccurate, Luca asked the Defence Ministry’s historical service to submit a “historical opinion” on the film’s screenplay.

“Mr. Bouchareb has the right to tell the story of what he thinks is true, but I didn’t want the film to be categorised as French,” Luca explained. “His truth is not France’s truth”.

The report from the Defence Ministry confirmed that the film’s screenplay indeed contained “errors and anachronisms so numerous and obvious that they could be seized on by any historian”.

Regarding the portrayal of the Sétif massacre, the report states: “The director wants to suggest that on May 8, 1945, Muslims in Sétif were blindly massacred by Europeans, whereas it’s the contrary that transpired….all historians agree on that….Europeans lashed out against Muslims in response to Muslims massacring Europeans”.

Neither director Bouchareb nor the Cannes selection committee was available for comment on the flap, or the decision to have the film compete as an Algerian entry.

Bouchareb vied for the Palme d’Or in 2006 with his film "Days of Glory" (Indigènes), which told the story of North African soldiers who fought for France in World War II.

Luca told FRANCE 24 that he appreciated that film for its spirit of pacifism.

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