Outside the Law: Algerian Rachid (Days of Glory) Bouchareb’s Political Drama

 Algerian Oscar Entry

French Algerian director Rachid Bouchareb, who made a strong impression with his Oscar-nominated Days of Glory,” continues his exploration of the French and Muslim conflict over the past seven decades with “Outside the Law,” Algeria’s entry into the 2010 Oscar competition for best foreign language film.

Bouchareb makes traditional but powerful political melodramas that come straight from his heart.  As preparation for his latest picture, Bouchareb must have watched many violent Westerns and gangster films by Sergio Leone, Coppola (specifically “The Godfather” series), and others.  Indeed, “Outside the Law” I violent political actioner-thriller.

In the first act, set in 1925, an Arab family is thrown off their ancestral land in the wide open Algerian country, because the law allows French settlers to take possession.  The tale ends in 1962, with the celebration of Algerian independence.

The narrative in between these turning points, which is rather conventional, centers on three Algerian brothers in postwar France and their different mode of engagment in the national independence movement.

But the effort to integrate significant historical events with a family melodrama is not always effective, and so we get a film that aspires to be an epic but is not.

Upon his release from a French prison, Abdelkader (Sami Bouajila), an academic political activist, takes a leading role in a militant party that launches a campaign of terrorist attacks.

His brother Messaoud (Roschdy Zem), a French Army officer in the Indochina War, sacrifices a quiet private life to join Abdelkader in the movement. However, Saïd (Jamel Debbouze), the third brother, a  hustler eo aspires to be in boxing promoter, is dragged into politics unwillingly.

To be sure, the movie contains some disturbing scenes, such as the French massacre of peaceful protesters, and conveys some of the politics behind closed doors, such as the battles of Algerian parties in exile for battling the French and the strategies of French officials to combat the insurgency.

Most of the tale takes place in Paris, as the war for Algerian Independence was fought not only in the colonies but in the home country as well.

But, as the story goes along, the potentially provocative tale of Muslim freedom-fighters and terrorists during the lengthy and bloody Algerian independence war gets more and more generic.

The dialogue (especially in translation) is often stiff and square, perhaps out of the necessity of educating an audience that may not know much about the film’s events.

And I am not sure that the choice to unfold the events as a schematic saga of three immigrant brothers was the proper narrative strategy.  We have seen too many films about brothers torn by different political forces.


Jamel Debbouze, Roschdy Zem, Bernard Blancan, Sami Bouajila, Thibault de Montalembert, Samir Guesmi, Sabrina Seyvesou


 Studio Canal
Directed and written by Rachid Bouchareb

Running time: 139 Minutes