Friday, February 18, 2011

Outside the Law (Hors-la-loi)

"Outside the Law" has perhaps one of the worst first scenes in cinema history, so its cause isn't helped from the get go. It involves an Algerian family being evicted by French colonist from the land they've owned for so long. I'm pretty sure Rachid Bouchareb wanted the scene to be devastating, or something, but his direction is so awful that it doesn't work in the slightest. He doesn't get the actors to seem like they relate to each other, or to have any sort of affect. The mishandling of this moment throws off the rest of the movie, completely blowing its chance at getting a grip on the audience and thus relegating us to being bystanders. It's even worse when you consider that an episode like this should work on its own.

It only gets drearier when it devolves into a bunch of what are basically vignettes following the three brothers (Jamel Debbouze, Roschdy Zem, and Sami Bouajila, all of whom get their histrionic freak on, despite having potential for understatement and evocation) of the family on their separate paths, and then more bland as we see the brothers become less and less respectable human beings and interesting characters. I don't have a particular weakness for guys-in-treachcoats-and-hats movies, but this movie must one of the most hopeless, as it cannot come up with at least one decent staging as it descends, minute by boring minute, into becoming a time-waster. As my friend points out, you won't learn anything about the French-Algerian Conflict here.

Watching Bela Tarr's "Satantango," as I did last night, makes one appreciate good, careful craft. Watching Boucherab at work here shows just about how choppy you can get. He's pretty much the anti-Tarr, cutting off scenes way before they should close, impressively shuffling lenses and colors, but to no avail. One wonders if "Days of Glory," this film's apparent predecessor (which got a lot more pats on the back), worked some great wonders that are absent here (now I know why the section on the war in this one was so scarce).

"Outside the Law" is monotonous and out of touch with the audience. It is almost entirely unsatisfying. It's like someone made a musical and removed all of the musical numbers, stringing the sudsy in-between bits together and calling it a day. We get separated from the characters, and thus are left to look at them simply as murderers, a mistake that every good crime film is able to avoid. If this manages to win the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, it'll be one of the Academy's biggest lapses. It is the movie of the year which makes the biggest step at divorcing the Cannes Film Festival from quality. The only way that it can be seen as a success is that it inflicts the same sort of repression on you that it portrays. You will want to leave early, so save yourself the trouble. D

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