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French film breaks silence of Algerian war atrocities

A NEW film described as France’s Platoon tackles the savagery of the Algerian war, broaching a topic that until recently remained taboo and helping France face the demons of its colonial past.

L’Ennemi Intim

(Intimate Enemy) from director Florent-Emilio Siri is the first big-budget Hollywood-style film that combines action scenes and psychological drama about France’s “dirty war” in Algeria from 1954 to 1962.

The film tells the story of idealistic young lieutenant Terrien, played by Benoit Magimel, who takes command of a desolate French army outpost high in the mountains of Kabylia.

As Terrien wages a brutal campaign to wipe out National Liberation Front (FLN) rebels — resorting to torture and napalm bombs — he loses his own personal battle to retain his humanity.

“This is the first French war movie that shows the war in its raw form,” said Patrick Rotman, a well-known documentary filmmaker, who wrote the script for the film based on interviews with dozens of Algerian war veterans.

“For a long time, the Algerian war was a taboo subject among the general public. Everyone had their view, their recollection of the war that they held up against each other.”

“It was all very painful and very difficult, but I think we are coming out of this period. We can finally talk about this war and show it on screen, show the violence on all sides — the violence of the FLN, the French army torture and the use of napalm,” Rotman said.

Some two million French men served in Algeria but it was only in 1999 that the French parliament adopted a law recognising the war that ended with Algeria’s independence from France in 1962.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon last month announced the creation of a new Algerian war memorial foundation that he said would “help bring peace to hearts and spirits.”

But relations between France and Algeria remain brittle after a friendship treaty was scrapped over France’s refusal to meet Algerian demands for an apology for the “crimes” of colonisation.

While the American film industry has produced hundreds of films on the Vietnam war including Oliver Stone’s Platoon and Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, French cinema has turned out about a dozen films on the Algerian war.

The Battle of Algiers, a 1966 film by Italian Gillo Pontecorvo was banned in France until 1971 while many other movies were too narrow in scope to draw a mass audience.

“We have only recently begun to unlock the silence, including from war veterans themselves,” said Wladyslas Marek, the president of the National Federation of War Veterans from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.

“The war for many of them remains a black hole,” said Marek, who hailed the film as the first major screen adaptation based on “true life experiences” from the war.

The film also taps into broader anxiety about modern-day wars being waged in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The historical context is very different,” said Rotman. “But the film deals with young men thrown into a war whose purpose is lost on them. In that sense, it can be compared to Iraq or Afghanistan.”

L’Ennemi Intime was released in over 300 movie theatres last week and has since ranked fourth at the box office. — AFP.

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