“Les Harkis” by Philippe Faucon

“Philip Faucon’s previous films were often portraits, and this one, on the contrary, as its title suggests, is a collective film that captures a formidable subject for the cinema, among the big plots “breaks the mouth” : the memory of a recent trauma, in this case the thousands of Algerians who enlisted in the French army during the War of Independence – a community mistreated by all, victims of a shame that often burns today.

Balancing skill

Philippe Faucon pulls off this with the agility and grace of a tightrope walker, keeping throughout this short film a very small and very dangerous space, very much like this, formidable, dedicated training fable.

At the beginning of the film, we meet men who join the French army with different motives: revenge for the first – one morning we left the severed head of his older brother in a basket outside his door, very much defined Fellaghas modus operandi. Others because they need money, not being able to support a family. Each of them leaves their relatives and finds themselves in a raid led by a French lieutenant, Lieutenant Pascal. The film follows them sitting in the dust in the Algerian hills, operating in the villages, sometimes torturing, setting traps for information, but above all, discussing a war that may be ending and the confidence that everything can still be explained by the statements of General de Gaulle – there are rumors that negotiations are underway with the forces of liberation. The film is aimed at this impending catastrophe, a catastrophe of forced exile and disgrace, a catastrophe seen from the vantage point of a handful of ill-informed people in power, on whose backs the Great History is written.

Simplicity as ethics

Some may be confused by this first part of the film, which distributes the roles like a section of a school textbook and which tries to depict typical harki poses in fictional characters. Philippe Faucon already demonstrated this educational desire in a series created a few years ago for Arte about the struggle of homosexuals in France, of pride, which turned out to be a boring object, similar to the documentation of national education. This tendency is recognized in Harkisbut this is not a simplification, and not a simplification, it is simplicity, a difference in size, especially since simplicity is an aesthetic that Faucon did admirably in the cinema, and from this point of view Harkis is part of the political trajectory of his portraits, which had enormous power despite their humble form. The sequence is very short, the dialogues are sparing, but very precise, riddled with misunderstandings, shame, things left unsaid by everyone, and above all, the extreme complexity of the reasons for this interaction with the objective enemy. Something is wrong in the essence of the dialogues, as in the way they are pronounced, the choice of Arabic or French, the difference in tones adopted depending on the interlocutor, the obvious absurdity of non-functioning hierarchies in real life. This simplicity of spoken word and performance is undoubtedly necessary to paradoxically reveal the complexity of this harki reality, which originates both in social structure and collective psychology. This simplicity is also the simplicity of the scenery, a bit of a village, a mountain, a cave: something like anti-spectacular aesthetics allows us to think about this reality on the antipodes of a historical fresco. In the eyes of Philippe Faucon, Algeria is almost a mental object, which the film tries to make us understand through the production. However, he is not cold, and the categorical impression that may arise at the beginning is only one of his layers. The characters, played perfectly by mostly unknown actors, are alive outside the type they represent, which requires a controlled sense of pathos. There are sensitive, very short scenes, saying goodbye to the family by the fire, a little boy whose father has returned to hide at home, at which small neighbors throw stones: it lasts only a few seconds, the stones are small, but there is a whole violence in them.

  • HarkisPhilippe Faucon, with Theo Cholby, Mohamed El-Amin Mouffoc, Pierre Lottin (in cinemas October 12, 2020)

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