Review: Les Harkis – Cineuropa

– CANNES 2022: Philippe Faucon’s humble mastery of cinematic liveliness scrutinizes the cruel page in the history of local soldiers engaged on the French side during the Algerian war

There are two baskets in the opening scenes of Philippe Fauconthe new movie of The Harkisunveiled in Directors’ Fortnight at the 75th Cannes film festival. The first, found by an old man on his doorstep in a small Algerian village, hides the severed head of his son. The second, brought by a son to his father digging the ground of an olive grove, contains bread and milk. It is precisely to this double face of death and life, and at the crossroads of great History taking men hostage to its convulsions, that the French filmmaker has decided once again to bring his crystalline gaze and his deliberately simple and concise air, dry and luminous style.

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We are on June 22, 1959 and the war in Algeria has been going on for four years. Senior officers and the prefect of the region enthrone with great fanfare the Harka 534, a battalion of Algerian soldiers (including the brother of the deceased from the start, but also the father who dug and worked the plot of land laid by its owner colonial and who did not find work) enlisted in the French troops described by their leaders as “the army of pacification” in the fight against the “terrorists fellaghas” ​​(the separatists). Shooting instruction, gegene torture sessions, use of electrodes (“he speaks or he dies”), patrols, combing and excavation of villages to flush out enemies in immense dusty, rocky and desert landscapes: our harkis ( including Salah played by Mohammad Mouffok) to wage war under the command of the French lieutenants Pascal (Theo Cholbi) and Kravitz (Pierre Lottin) and under the gaze of their Algerian compatriots (“you make them shut up!”). But in 1960, France began talks with the FLN (National Liberation Front) for a ceasefire, and until 1962, doubt grew among the harkis: was France lying to them? Will he betray them? What will become of them? What about their families? What is their place, their identity? Who are their brothers? Question of life or death…

By taking a step back from events that took place some sixty years ago (but which still affect the karma of Franco-Algerian relations) while taking an interest in men through a succession of paintings (discussion around of a campfire or in an office, steps, farewells, etc.) which cross the chronology between 1959 and 1962, Philippe Faucon succeeds in perfectly illustrating all the complexity of a page of history where lies and honor, confidence and realpolitik, are tearing consciences apart. A cry, a stab, a census, a convoy, a helicopter, clandestine movements, bad feelings: in a few almost pointillist cinematographic strokes of the scalpel (the result of his great mastery of simplicity), the filmmaker creates a work of compact and fascinating fiction, voluntarily anti-spectacular and formally very successful, which is a worthy setting for a page of history which led to the death of 35,000 to 80,000 Harkis and their families, and the evacuation of 90,000 of them to camps in France where they were forced to live until 1976.

Produced by Istiqlal Movies co-produced by The Films of the River, Arte France Cinema, Northwest Movies and Pelleas Films, The Harkis is sold by Pyramid International.

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(Translated from French)