Even in ordinary circumstances, the failure of France’s “Of Gods and Men” to make the Oscar shortlist for best-foreign language film announced Wednesday would have been controversial, especially in Francereports James Richter.
The film received rapturous reviews there, was a box office success and has won numerous awards, including that of best foreign-language film of 2010 as voted by the National Board of Review in the United States. “Grand prize winner at the last Cannes festival, Xavier Beauvois’s and ‘Of Gods and Men’ doesn’t even qualify for the preliminary list,” was the incredulous reaction of the magazine Paris Match on its Web site.
But that snub was accompanied by another Academy decision that, from a certain French point of view, seems to be even more outrageous and certain to continue a long-running polemic: the inclusion of “Outside the Law,” the submission of Algeria, a former colony of France that became independent only after a long and bloody struggle. The film deals directly with that subject, portraying French colonists and soldiers as greedy, murderous thugs, and it has been attacked by members of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s political party as “anti-French” and suggests that the Algerian cause was as noble as the French resistance to Nazi rule during World War II.
…To make matters even worse, “Outside the Law” is in many respects a French, rather than Algerian, film. The director, Rachid Bouchareb, who co-wrote the screenplay, is a French citizen of Algerian descent, born outside Paris and trained at French state television. And as the conservative daily Le Figaro noted, the bulk of the budget of “Outside the Law” was supplied by French taxpayers through government entities, including “bizarrely, the National Agency for Social Cohesion and Equality of Opportunity.” No wonder then, that Yahoo’s French-language Web site Wednesday described “Outside the Law” as “a French film competing under a banner that is…Algerian!”