Friday, January 07, 2011

One entry for the Oscars' best foreign film category features Algerian martyrs and another French martyrs

The French colonial experience in Algeria, marked by warfare, terrorism and torture, is a wound that never quite seems to close. Anger and guilt about Algeria infuse some of the anxiety today about the heavily immigrant and Muslim banlieues, or suburbs, about the French concern with national identity, radical Islam and veiled women.

Thus Steven Erlanger starts his New York Times article, which is heavy on the blanket condemnation of colonialism.
Lately, France has been moved and angered by two films about Algeria and the French confrontation with its colonial past. The films could not be more different: one, made by Rachid Bouchareb, a Frenchman of Algerian descent, is a raging historical fiction about the Algerian fight for independence; the other, made by Xavier Beauvois, is suffused with religious belief and saintliness.

One film features Algerian martyrs and the other French martyrs. Both are remarkably unbalanced, and both use the “other” as puppets in a historical drama. One glorifies criminality and terrorism in the name of Algerian freedom and justice, while the other, set in the mid-1990s, looks on horrified as religion mixed with Algerian politics seeks to justify murder and terrorism.

Yet both films have been chosen by their respective countries, France and Algeria, to represent them for the foreign-language Academy Award, which will be presented on Feb. 27.

…For [Benjamin Stora, one of France’s best historians of Algeria and French colonialism], the films make various arguments about politics, sacrifice and faith. But in both films, he said, “Algeria is absent.”

Algeria is not France’s Vietnam, he said, but something more ingrained. “It is much more complicated to exorcise it here, and then on top of that we have the pieds noirs and the harkis,” he said. “France is now getting slightly more involved in this part of its history,” with more documentaries on television. “But the French can’t, for now, see their tragedy on the big screen.”

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