Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 06, 2023 10:19 pm 
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In 2016 Philippe Faucon won the César for Best French Film for Fatima. Not so flashy as Jacques Audiard's Palme d'Or winning Dheepan, it typically is a low-keyed exploration of the life of a Moroccan Arab immigrant woman struggling with a family in France. Faucon was born in Ouija, in northeastern Morocco. Though of French descent, he has often chosen in his seven feature films to present quiet studies of the North Africans. Les Harkis focuses on an abandoned, overlooked group, the Algerian Arabs who fought with the French in the long colonial war De Gaulle eventually ceded to the FLN, the National Liberation Front. Another term to know: Fallaghas. They are the somewhat disorganized fighters for Algerian liberation.

When the Algerian war ended March 19, 1962 and French military and civilians left Algeria, the Fallagas were the heros and the Harkis were the traitors, the enemy. Yet they had fought loyally in bilingual units led by French officers, wearing French uniforms and carrying French weapons, as we see here. They had been constantly told by the French that they would be taken care of; it was a lie. Their unit commander, Lt. Pascal (Théo Cholbi, who has a small role in The Night of the 12th, shines here) isn't at all happy when he's given orders to leave them behind.

The French want the weapons back, and withdraw their officers. Lt. Pascal stays on, trying to help his young Algerian soldiers escape via Oran. French policy became to allow as few Harkis as possible to come to France, only those in "dire danger." In fact they were all in dire danger and ultimately tens of thousands of them were killed; the estimate is 35,000-80,000. Those allowed to come to France were badly treated, put in camps and kept there till the mid-seventies. America perpetrated similar injustices with the South Vietnamese in Vietnam, the Kurds in Syria, with their Afghan allies in Afghanistan: this is a film for us.

In The Harkis, in his typically low-keyed way, Faucon gives us glimpses of the last years up to the end of the Algerian war and what happened when it ended. He does not dramatize or take sizes. We see torture and murder, even a severed head early on on a straw bag. It's all so low-key you barely notice it. But you notice what a bad idea it is the French have that the Harkis should go back to their families and villages. They are not safe there. Even their families can't protect them.

We follow troups on maneuvers but in this low-keyed, low-budget film, we see little action. The aim is to show the integration of the officers and the men. Language is important: it's important to learn that the French officers don't speak or read Arabic, and tht many of the soldiers speak only a little French. All orders have to be translated into Arabic.

Faucon's 2005 Betrayal/La trahison also related to painful and dangerous divided loyalties during the Algerian conflict. Everyone knows Gino Pontecorvo's 1966 Battle of Algiers, which is a kind of revolutionary handbook-cum-action film. Faucon's Harkis is neither. He is interested not in politics or strategy but in atmosphere, experiences, what it felt like, what it meant to the individual, and the legacy it left behind. He works on a "little piece of ivory," whose meaning grows when you think about your experience of watching this film. Jean-Noël Orengo ofTransfuge, one of the admiring critics cited on AlloCiné, thought Les Harkis "may be Faucon's masterpiece." It's rare that a film about a violent conflict achieves such subtlety and nuance.

An lovely score by Amine Bouhafa soars especially in the closing credits, underlining the film's brave, contemplative mood.

Also with Pierre Lottin, Yannick Choirat, Omar Boulakirba, Mohamed Mouffok and Mehdi Mellouk.

Harkis/Les Harkis, 80 mins., debuted at Cannes Directors Fortnight May 19, 2022, also showing at Busan, Rio, Marrakech and other festivals. At French theatrical release it received an AlloCiné press rating of 3.9 (79%) Screened for this review as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema (Mar. 2-12, 2023).
Friday, March 3 at 2:00pm
Thursday, March 9 at 9:30pm

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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