WHEN DIRECTOR Rachid Bouchareb's latest film, Outside the Law, premiered at Cannes in May, it was met with organized protests from French citizens. They were outraged at the film's depiction of France's atrocities toward Algerians during that country's struggle for independence in the 1950s and 1960s. To be sure, Outside the Law—which follows three Algerian brothers' roles in putting together a resistance movement against the French imperialists—depicts France as a very nasty enemy. But whether Outside the Law is playing hard and loose with historical fact, or (more likely) ramping up the conflict for dramatic effect, one thing is clear: It's a phenomenally powerful movie.
Driven as children from their home in rural Algeria by a French colonist, the three brothers are caught in the uprising and massacre in the Algerian city of Sétif at the close of World War II. As a result, they're scattered to various places: Messaoud (Roschdy Zem) to French Indochina as a soldier, Abdelkader (Sami Bouajila) to an Algerian prison, and Saïd (Jamel Debbouze) to an impoverished shantytown outside of Paris. Outside the Law capably finds the right tone and pace of an intimate family drama juxtaposed against the large-scale story of a nation's birth—and the result is a memorable, marvelous film.