In early 2004, there was an article in the paper about the renewed popularity of this French film treatment of the revolution against colonial rule in Algeria. Released in the U.S. in 1968, it was said to have parallels to the current war in Iraq. A print legend states that NOT ONE FOOT of newsreel or documentary film has been used in this dramatic re-creation of the Algerian revolution. It opens in the capital city of Algiers with the torture and confession of an Arab prisoner, who reveals the hiding place of the revolutionary leader. The army descends on an apartment in the Casbah and threatens to blow the building up if he does not surrender. His group includes a woman and a child, but he will not capitulate. The film flashes back to the relatively serene capital city of Algiers in 1957. The FLN (based in Egypt) is exhorting the people to rise in revolt against the French. There is a scene in a French prison that recalls the abuses of Hanoi in the period of French occupation of Indochine. Young Ali is recruited to work for the Organization. The bulk of the action is centered on the years 1956-7. Operatives are enlisted and bombs are planted in public places around the city. More French troops arrive to maintain order. The target is the Arab/Moslem quarter of the city, the Casbah, which has been sealed off with checkpoints. The U.N. is frequently mentioned but seems very far away. Ali, now deeply involved in the violence, is counseled that terrorism is useful in the beginning but that the will of the people must be marshaled. A massive strike is organized. The people cry “Long Live Algeria!” The women ululate. The French mount systematic crackdowns. There are more bombs, and many killings. A long scene depicts a press conference conducted by a French military officer where he discusses the mission of the French in Algeria and the necessity of harsh measures in response to the bombings of public places. This is followed by scenes of torture in French prisons. Many of the active revolutionaries appear to be French nationals. As the revolution is methodically quelled, their hopes reside with Ali, still sequestered in the Casbah. But the informer has led the army to his hideout and he and the others are blown up. It is December 1957. There is an epilog set in December 1960 when for unexplained reasons the people again rise up, this time in the more politically informed style of the dawning 60s. They are intent on self-determination and cry out, “We want our freedom! Long Live Algeria!” Independence was won in 1962 and the Algerian nation was created. Though the language is French, this film was made by an Italian company. It was nominated for an Academy Award in 1966, and had more nominations two years later when it was released in Los Angeles.
Cache (Hidden) (2005) –French
A moderately affluent couple living in Paris has been receiving threatening packages from an unknown source. The primary contents of the packages are video surveillance tapes of their apartment from the outside and crude drawings featuring a child with a red spurt of blood coming from its mouth. The couple has an adolescent child named Pierrot. The action revolves around the efforts of the husband to find answers to the mystery. Childhood memories are evoked of a time in the early 60s when there was an uprising in Paris involving the occupation of Algeria. The husband lived on a farm as a boy and his parents had a servant family from Algeria. The Algerian parents went off to Paris to join in the demonstration and never returned. It is a buried fact of French history that there was a massacre at this time, with 200 Algerian corpses floating in the Seine. Following the clues of the videocassettes, the husband finds the son of the Algerians, named Majid, now a broken man living in poverty, in a run-down apartment house. They argue but the Algerian man seems mystified by what is going on. At one point, Pierrot fails to come home for the night and his parents are distraught. When he does return, having spent the night with a friend, he is sullen and resentful. It appears he suspects his mother is having an affair. Tensions have been growing between the husband and wife. The Algerian man calls the husband back to his apartment and slits his own throat. The son of the Algerian man confronts the husband at the TV studio where he works. He aggressively brushes the young man off.
The final scene is a long shot (in both senses) on the steps of a public school. Only later I learned that the two sons, Pierrot and the son of Majid, meet and move off together in this shot. The director says he is just as happy if people do not see this moment. It leads to speculation on whether the two young men were involved in creating the mystery, but the answer cannot be known. Further thought on the matter, however, makes this conclusion seem inevitable.
The interview with director Michael Haneke puts an emphasis on complexity and ambiguity. He wanted to leave questions unanswered; not tie things up neatly like an American film would do. He goes to the other extreme and risks the smugness of the artist who declares his work means whatever you want it to mean. He says that most people who go to the cinema/theater want to forget what they have seen because it is all resolved. He wants his audience to keep speculating on what might have been going on. He says that a key theme of the film is guilt; what we do with it as individuals and as societies. Haneke had been deeply affected when he learned of the massacre of the Algerians. It called the conventions of Civilization into question. In keeping with the cinematic orthodoxy of the present, he framed this issue in the language of ordinary lives.