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Monday, April 24, 2006

SFIFF '06~!: October 17, 1961 [festival note]

France, 2005
Starring Jalil Naciri, Jean-Michel Portal
Written by Patrick Rotman, Fran├žois-Olivier Rousseau, Alain Tasma
Directed by Alain Tasma

Even if you're committed to anti-colonialism, and I hope you are, you might find this fictionalisation of the Parisian police massacre of Algerian protesters on the title date heavy-handed, and worse, unconvincing. The writers' claims of multivocality are bullshit; I'm not saying there weren't a lot of hateful cops, but caricaturing them this grossly serves nobody. Viewers may have some disreputable fun using the cheap ironies they set up to predict who'll be next to bite the bullet (he says he'll pay the bill tomorrow = ooh, he's a dead man). That the filmmakers brought this incident, previously unknown to me, into wider discussion is admirable; that they're attempting to replace a whitewashed history with their own unedifying fiction is less so.

For a fairer description of this incident see Marxists.org.

EDIT: In response to the comment by F's roommate's friend: "Thanks to the possibilities that fiction brings," notes the screenwriter Patrick Rotman, "we have been able to dive into the past and to construct a narrative of many voices in which each character, be they an Algerian or a police officer, defends their own truth. Now it is up to the viewer to construct their own."

Would I have forgiven this claim, which is even technically true but completely misrepresents the movie's partiality, if they had made something worthy of The Battle of Algiers? Of course.


  • At 12:29 AM, Blogger Hookas Not Bazookas said…


    I didn't like the movie that much either. In fact I thought it was pretty much crap. But I am a bit overwhelmed by some of your comments here.

    In what sense did the writers claim multivocality? And, more to the point, what is the responsibility of the filmmakers? Is it fair to hold them responsible for creating something edifying? And if, as you say, the history of these events has been whitewashed, isn't even a heavy-handed approach still worthwhile? Some might even argue that it takes heavy-handedness to overcome 45 years of whitewashing.

    The caricaturization of the cops wasn't any more (or less) extreme than the parallel 2-dimensionalization of the French Algerians, the press, and everyone else. In fact, the movie didn't have any non-formulaic characters. Perhaps this ommission lessens the potential impact (as an audience, we don't really come to care about anyone, and we only side with some abstract group of "Algerians" -- the reading of the names at the end is about as effective as someone speaking gibberish since we've been asked for two hours not to think of people as individuals), but that is because it is bad art, not because it is unedifying politics.

    At best, this movie would have been watchable had it been on television. Walking into the PFA, I thought I was going to be treated to something cinema-worthy, and clearly this was not. The colors lacked any imagination and the writing was formulaic. There were no interesting characters, and even the music was predictable. The dialogue was downright boring and left practically no opening for the actors to impress. All of this is more disappointing because the subject matter was promising -- for instance the humiliation scenes between cops and Algerians could have been made much more artfully and/or convincingly, not to mention the protest scenes (there have been countless movies that do a better job of depicting Paris street protests) and the ensuing violence (all the filmmakers could muster was the shock on the face of a supposedly jaded medical worker). However, the only distress all of this caused me was that of having paid to see a bad movie.

    Your comments about the cheap ironies as well as your general gist about the lousiness of the movie are right on point. However, your seeming desire to have the film be edifying and serve somebody is perhaps holding it up to an unfair standard. In the end, whatever the purpose of the filmmakers, it was hurt by their inability to make a better movie, not by their lack of subtlety when pummeling you in the face with their point of view (even pummeling can be artful sometimes).

    -Caleb (film critic for Hookas Not Bazookas)

  • At 12:56 PM, Blogger Hookas Not Bazookas said…

    Thanks for the comment and the screnwriter citation. I am still somewhat torn about how to view information about films coming from directors, screenwriters, etc. (including Q&A sessions, interviws, and so forth). On the one hand I want the work to stand on its own and not think of it as having an author. On the other hand, I'm not necessarily an ideological person or anything. As far as what Rotman does say, though, my feeling is that, according to that criterion, the movie was a complete failure. In any case, though, the comparisons made to The Battle of Algiers on the PFA literature are just an insult to a very good movie.



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