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A One-Second Frame Worth a Million: A 2010 Perspective on the Algerian War Essay (Movie Review)

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Updated: May 1st, 2019

Representing history is the least gratifying task. No matter what media is used, there will always be numerous inconsistencies, exaggerations and subjective evaluations. While Outside the Law does not exactly fall under the category of documentaries, it still tackles a very complex issue; more to the point, the movie offers a rather unusual perspective to view this event from.

However, with the help of careful choice of artistic means of expression and well thought-out mise-en-scenes, together with the introduction of very strong cause-and-effect links and mimesis into the movie, particularly the scenes of the lead character talking to his mother and the skirmish at the end of the movie, Outside the Law manages to get its point across, proving that the Algerian Independence Movement was more than a political movement – it was a battle for the right to be accepted in the society.

Tackling a very complex historical event, the movie director had to use one more tool, which challenges the audience’s perception of the conflict between Algeria and France. By introducing the cause-and-effect element, or “a chain of events linked by cause and effect and occurring in time and space” (Bordwell and Thompson 73) into the movie, Bouchareb was risking making his message too on the nose.

Nevertheless, the use of the given tool was warranted by the fact that Bouchareb managed to make people see the situation from the perspective of the Algerians.

The scene where paratroopers are dropped from the plane into the Algerian setting might seem short, unclear and irrelevant to the rest of the movie, yet the striking contrast between the silent moment of watching paratroopers in the air followed by a snapshot of an ordinary Algerian day, with the narrator reading calmly, “Setif. Autumn 1954” (Outside the Law 00:15:55) sets the premises for the further scene of outrageous violence to break out.

Perhaps, one of the heavies scenes in the movie and, ironically enough, the first intense scene that comes at the very beginning of the film, the lead character losing his father to an accident during the revolt, is a perfect example of mimesis working for the benefit of the picture.

While the given scene cannot be technically characterized as mimesis, seeing how the latter is defined as an imitation of real life events, it still represents the brutal reality of the Algerian War and the effects that it had on civilians. At some point, the scene turns so unbearably violent that it might seem to the viewer that the director actually disapproves of the Independence Movement that took over Algeria.

However, pieces fall into their places once the audience recognizes the infamous Sétif and Guelma massacre in the tragic events portrayed in the movie. The fact that there are not many dialogues in the given scene and the characters appear very randomly and disappear just as quickly, might be considered an overused cliché if not for the ending of the scene.

As soon as the troops are relocated and the streets suddenly turn completely deserted, the focus shifts to one of the characters watching his father die. Despite the fact that this is only the beginning of the movie and the audience does not know much about either of these characters yet, it is impossible not to empathize with the sorrow of the son whose father dies in his arms.

The given scene is the mimesis of the tragic deaths that occurred in the course of the Algerian war and the means to show that the fight for independence was long and painstaking, to the point where, finally being freed, Algerians could not help asking themselves whether the results were really worth the hell that they had gone through.

Another scene that works equally well, despite the fact that it is done in a completely different manner and with the help of another set of expression tools, is the scene where three leads are talking after the boxing match in the same room where the match took place, though unpleasantly empty this time.

Signifying the return from a docudrama to a gangster movie, the given scene can be interpreted in three ways, i.e., as the showdown between the three characters, a pause in an overall events-packed movie, and an allegory for the Algerian Independence Movement mentioned previously.

Indeed, the tension between the characters, as well as the fact that they obviously take different sides and are at the breaking point of going at each other’s throats signifies that the scene is a reference to the events that take place on a much grander scale.

Defined by Bordwell and Thompson as mise en scène, the given device presupposes that the visual elements of the movie tell a story in a much more graphic way than the actual narration. Indeed, when taking a closer look at the way in which the given scene is set, one will notice the dim lights, the tilting camera, and the triadic composition of the scene, which stresses the significance of the interaction between the characters.

In addition, the given mise en scène is shot with the extensive use of close-ups, which, normally, would irritate the audience, but works well in the given scene, since it balances the impression of a huge empty room off rather well.

To make this scene even more meaningful, the movie director clearly makes an allusion between the French and the Algerians being on daggers when portraying the tension between the three characters in the empty room: “Imagine it – an Algerian champion of France!

It will be the perfect day for us all!” (Outside the Law 01:19:40). While the given scene might seem somewhat corny in terms of its naïve attempts at calling for peace between Algeria and France, it still works within its own realm. One might nitpick that he simplicity of the solution provided in the given scene is somewhat abusive to the complexity of the conflict and the numerous dilemmas, both political and cultural, that it entailed.

However, as far as the art of cinematography goes, the given scene serves its purpose well, blending reality of the Algerian War and the artificial world of boxing games: “Leave sport out of it, all right? You both know nothing!” (Outside the Law 01:19:53).

The pacing and mood of the scenes mentioned above allows the actors reenact the events of the Algerian War quite successfully; however, it is not the historical accuracy that the director manages to get across in these scenes. Beyond the plot, the audience can see distinctly raw emotions and feelings that overwhelmed people at the time of the Algerian War.

A memorable eye-opener and a means to make people reconsider their opinion about the role of the French and the Algerians in the famous – or infamous, for that matter – battle, Outside the Law definitely makes a statement about the Algerian Independence Movement.

Works Cited

Bordwell, David and Kirstin Thompson. Film Art: An Introduction (10th Ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill. 2010. Web.

Outside the Law. Dir. Rachid Bouchareb. Perf. Jamel Debbouze, Roschdy Zem and Sami Bouajila. SyudioCanal, 2010. DVD.

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"A One-Second Frame Worth a Million: A 2010 Perspective on the Algerian War." IvyPanda, 1 May 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/a-one-second-frame-worth-a-million-a-2010-perspective-on-the-algerian-war-movie-review/.

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IvyPanda. "A One-Second Frame Worth a Million: A 2010 Perspective on the Algerian War." May 1, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/a-one-second-frame-worth-a-million-a-2010-perspective-on-the-algerian-war-movie-review/.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "A One-Second Frame Worth a Million: A 2010 Perspective on the Algerian War." May 1, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/a-one-second-frame-worth-a-million-a-2010-perspective-on-the-algerian-war-movie-review/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'A One-Second Frame Worth a Million: A 2010 Perspective on the Algerian War'. 1 May.

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