French Film Festival Preview: Outside The Law

We check out this Oscar nominated political drama about Algeria\'s struggle for independence from France.

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Nominated alongside the post-modern, documentary-like Dogtooth and Susanne Bier\'s humanist melodrama In a Better World for the Best Foreign-Language Feature at the 2011 Academy Awards, Rachid Bouchareb\'s Outside the Law seems like one of the weaker political dramas of recent memory, especially when compared to Juan Jose Campanella\'s haunting procedural The Secret in their Eyes and Olivier Assayas\' five-hour telemovie Carlos.

In director Rachid Bouchareb\'s political drama, three Algerian brothers grow up to find different paths in their lives in France: political activist Abdelkader (Sami Bouajila) becomes a major player in radical group The National Liberation Front, former-soldier Messaound (Roschdy Zem) becomes a family man and unwillingly ally in his brother\'s schemes, and criminal Saïd (Jamel Debbouze) becomes legit with his creation of a local bar.

Unfortunately, the screenplay is clumsily-handled. We are not encouraged to engage with these characters beyond their \'types\' - radical brother, soldier brother, political prisoner brother - and their differing methods for dealing with their conflicts. Certain scenes have very specific details (for instance, one moment where Saïd\'s water is so cold that it is frozen effectively suggests the poverty of their situation in Hiver). However, much of the dialogue is trite, with the filmmakers opting for a sub-Ed Zwick, reductive approach which directly correlates the characters with a very simplistic ideology.

The film also has a number of graceless storytelling shifts, with certain characters jumping into violent extremism (the film was written by the director and his co-writer Olivier Lorelle). In this respect, the film\'s use of time-jumps is quite troubling. Whilst a time-jump can be an effective technique if it subtly and illustratively demonstrates changes in the characters\' behaviour or actions, but the storytelling device is way overused here (the first three scenes in the film take place in three different time periods).

Although seemingly imported from another genre and film, later action sequences lend proceedings a sense of energy - handheld cameras are used effectively, however they seem imported from another genre and film. Clearly, the filmmakers are more comfortable with the more conventional, action-driven beats of the thriller genre rather than the humanist values to which they aspire.

Outside the Law will be showing at the Alliance Française French Film Festival. The festival is set to play in Sydney (March 8-27), Melbourne (March 9-27), Brisbane (March 16-April 3), Canberra (March 16-April 3), Perth (March 23-April 10), and Adelaide (March 23-April 10).

For information on specific screenings, you can check on the Festival\'s official website.

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