CANNES, France (Reuters) - A film on the bloody fight for Algerian independence opened amid heightened police security in Cannes on Friday as demonstrators outside protested that it sullied the memory of the French army.
“Hors la Loi” (“Outside the Law”), by the team that made the award-winning “Days of Glory” in 2006 rounds off the official competition and adds an element of controversy to the world’s biggest film festival.
Five decades after Algeria was granted independence in 1962, director Rachid Bouchareb deals with an issue that is still highly sensitive in France but he said he hoped to stir debate rather than confrontation.
“I knew that the colonial past and the relationship with the colonial past between France and Algeria is still very tense but I think the reaction and all the things that have been said before anyone’s seen the film, have been excessive.”
As if to underline his point, police in riot gear lined up outside the Palais des Festivals as hundreds of flag-bearing demonstrators including military veterans and supporters of the far-right National Front marched past the Cannes town hall.
“What we want to make clear by demonstrating is that it is intolerable that public money from France can be used to sully the French army and France’s actions in Algeria,” said Jacques Peyrat, a veteran and former French senator.
Thousands died in the brutal Algerian war for independence from France, a conflict that has left deep and still-unhealed scars in both countries.
However Bouchareb said he hoped the film would help foster an open debate and “then we should move on to something else.”
“There is no reason why the generations that have come afterwards should have to inherit the past in this way.”
“Outside the Law” covers a subject that follows on from the director’s “Days of Glory,” which told the story of the North African soldiers who fought for France during World War Two.
The film focuses on three brothers, played by Jamel Debbouze, Roschdy Zem and Sami Bouajila, three of the four actors from “Days of Glory” who won a collective best actor prize at Cannes in 2006.
Bouchareb begins the story in 1925 when an Algerian family is expelled from their ancestral home after the land is granted to a European settler.
The film shows a notorious incident in 1945 when French troops opened fire on pro-independence demonstrators, sparking an outburst of violence in which thousands of Algerians and around 100 Europeans were killed.
The main body of the story takes place in France, where the family moves to settle in a squalid shanty town outside Paris and shows both French police brutality and the cold violence of the pro-independence FLN movement.
But the filmmakers denied that the film was anti-French and they said they did not believe that it would be seen that way by most French people.
“France is a great country and this film will contribute, along with others to the memory of what happened in history,” said Tarak Ben Ammar, one of the co-producers of the film.
“I don’t think there will be any problems for French people in dealing with this subject,” he said.
Additional reporting by Claire Watson, editing by Paul Casciato