After a family is evicted from their land in Algeria, they are forced to split up and the three brothers go their separate ways. Messaoud signs up to the French army and goes to war in the Far East, Saïd moves to Paris to become a nightclub owner and boxing promoter and Abdelkader joins the Algerian independence movement in France. Many years pass and the family are eventually reunited in Paris, but it is clear that politics, terrorism, criminality, society and culture have all had a direct impact on the brothers’ lives.
In many ways Outside the Law feels like a Scorsese or Coppola style crime film with its focus on family dynamics but it also places the small scale story of the three brothers into a historical context which brings wider international issues into the film, specifically the Algerian fight for independence. Indeed it combines actual historical events, most notably the 1945 Sétif massacre which is shocking in its depiction, with the fictional tale of the brothers. Bouchareb uses multiple character perspectives in order to give his film both a microcosmic focus for the interweaving stories of each of the characters but also a broader scale of opinion and outcome – of religion, nationalism and politics.
Like Bouchareb’s previous film Days of Glory (Indigènes – 2006), the film is set over a long time period and the narrative is constructed in such a way as to depict a number of clearly defined events. Although it’s not a sequel, Outside the Law effectively picks up where Days of Glory left off and, like its predecessor, the story takes place over several years, covering a major proportion of the central characters’ lives. This has the effect of showing the brothers’ stories as chapters in an epic family drama. The film engages in politics directly within the narrative and does not withdraw from its discussion within the context of real world history, but although the struggle for freedom forms a fundamental part of the plot, the film is not just about politics. Indeed its approach to French and Algerian culture, like Days of Glory, tries to achieve a balance of perspectives on events. Indeed this is one of the strong points of the film. Unlike, say, The Battle of Algiers (La battaglia di Algeri – 1966) which, 45 years on, is still a thoroughly engrossing and important film made at a time much closer to the events depicted here (and is set in Algeria rather than France) and with a clearly defined interpretation of French occupational issues, Outside the Law makes broad attempts at showing an Algerian society in France that has both strengths and weakness. Abdelkader is the freedom fighter, truly dedicated to the cause and his role is that of enforcer. This contrasts with Saïd, who is far less interested in politics (although he still has a strong sense of justice and wants to avenge the loss of his family’s land) but would rather devote his energies to pursuing his own interests. However he cannot free himself from his roots and still feels compelled to commit himself to his family and their cause. Messaoud has a wife and child but he too must dedicate himself to the cause. These conflicts are what make the film so interesting and believable.
Outside the Law combines a family drama with a wider political story that makes for engaging viewing. Epic in scope, it forces the viewer to observe and question actual historical events from very different perspectives.
Outside the Law is released on DVD/Blu-ray on 29th August.