Les Harkis

****

Reviewed by: Richard Mowe

Les Harkis
"Moroccan-born Faucon directs with understated skill, never flinching from unpalatable truths." | Photo: Courtesy of Cannes Directors' Fortnight

The injustices of France’s colonial past are coming under sharp scrutiny by contemporary filmmakers such as Phlippe Faucon.

He turns his attention to the timeframe of the Algerian war from 1954 to 1962. Many young Algerians signed up to join the French army as Harkis, placing them in direct conflict with their rebel compatriots.

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After the end of the struggle, Algeria gained is independence and France withdrew from the country without any clear idea what should happen to the local soldiers who had fought alongside them. One officer seeks to obtain repatriation for all the men in his unit, putting his own status at risk while others are prepared to take their chances and remain at home.

Moroccan-born Faucon directs with understated skill, never flinching from unpalatable truths. He is a master of the low-key approach illustrated at the start of the narrative when a basket is delivered to the front door of a house in an arid village. Inside is the severed head of an old man’s son which prompts family trauma and encapsulates the impending conflicts.

The Harkis (including Salah, played by Mohamed Mouffok) find themselves under the command of French lieutenants Pascal (Théo Cholbi) and Kravitz (Pierre Lottin) as well as under the gaze of their Algerian compatriots.

By constructing a patchwork of incidents Faucon leads events forward to 1960, when France starts talks with the FLN (Front de Libération Nationale) for a cease-fire.

Doubts keep growing among the Harkis: is France lying to them? Will it betray them? What will become of them? And what about their families?

Nobody can confirm the true human cost but it is estimated that 36,000 to 80,000 Harkis were killed in the conflict and around 90,000 were brought to live in France and forced to live in camps until 1976.

This may be a fiction film but it has a documentary feel, firmly rooted in a shameful page of history which still resonates in Franco-Algeria relations to this day. Faucon quietly and unsensationally exposes the legacy in a moving and forensic manner.

Les Harkis is one of 12 titles from the Directors’ Fortnight, which are competing for the Europa Cinemas Label. The recipient will be announced on Thursday, 26 May at 6pm at the Director’s Fortnight Beach.

Reviewed on: 19 May 2022
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At the end of the 1950s, beginning of the 1960s, the war in Algeria continued. Salah, Kaddour and other destitute young Algerians join the French army as harkis.

Director: Philippe Faucon

Writer: Philippe Faucon, Yasmina Nini-Faucon, Samir Benyala

Starring: Omar Boulakirba, Vincent Choirat, Yannick Choirat, Théo Cholbi, Pierre Lottin, Mohamed El Amine Mouffok, Amine Zorgane

Year: 2022

Runtime: 82 minutes

Country: France

Festivals:

Cannes 2022

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