It’s a very good movie. Had to take my first statement out of the way as I believe that this is a difficult to objectively review film and will try not to ramble. Think that the best way to start is with a little general information about Rachid Bouchareb trilogy that started with great Indigènes (Days of Glory), continues with this film and will end in a third installment.
The trilogy will be Bouchareb’s personal vision of the History that links France and Algeria; so the first installment, Indigènes, is about World War II and in the beginning Bouchareb wanted film to end with Sétif massacre of May 8, 1945 but changed his mind and decided that film had to end in France, as film did.
Second installment, Hors-la-loi, has a prologue set in 1925 in which the French Code de l’Indigenat is applied to a poor Algerian family, has to leave his ancestral land and move to Sétif. Film starts in 1945 with the Sétif massacre where many members of the prologue family die leaving alive only the mother and three of her sons: Saïd (Jamel Debbouze), Messaoud (Roschdy Zem), and Abdelkader (Sami Bouajila) and the links that France and Algeria have are dramatized by telling the life of these three very different brothers. So, basically film tells about the urban guerrilla activities of the Front de Libération Nationale or FLN (National Liberation Front), the reactions of French secret service Red Hand organization, and ends in 1962 with the recognition of Algeria’s independence.
BUT what I explain in the above paragraph is the background as what REALLY film tells is the story of the three brothers, the emotional story of a family. So story is a strong family drama that will move you no matter if is set against real turbulent times. For me film was an intense emotional ride that kept my total attention until the very end.
Third installment, Bouchareb wishes to tell about 50 years of immigration (after 1962) and says that hopes to make film in four to five years.
Now you know more about story than what I usually tell, but this film is not a History class even when if you’re not familiar with the History told you will learn the basics in film; still, France/Algeria confrontations are not much different than other confrontations that happened between conquers and conquered around the world.
Film as film has extraordinary performances by three lead actors and outstanding visuals that recall epic movies of another era (Bouchareb was inspired by the likes of Leone, Coppola, Kazan, etc); especially many outdoors scenes that were filmed in Tunisia at Tarak Ben Ammar studios famous for films like The English Patient, Star Wars and Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, which absolutely helps to get the feeling of movies of another era. I imagine that this helped movie (a lot) to get an Oscar nomination, but wonder if very controversial story will give film a chance to win the Oscar.
I strongly recommend this film as must be seen for those that appreciate good movies with strong/emotional drama stories set during real events. This is a French majority production but accordingly to what I read, due to the much publicized controversy decided to submit it as an Algerian film. As we know film was in competition for the Golden Lion at 2010 Cannes.
Watch trailer @MOC