Cannes war films delve into the painful French colonial legacies

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The Cannes Film Festival revealed the devastating human cost of war and colonialism in Philippe Faucon’s film on the Algerian war “Les Harkis” and Omar’s film starring “The Father and the Soldier”, whose director Matteo Fadebid sat for an interview with France 24.

In November 1998, just months after France’s multi-ethnic soccer team lifted its first World Cup title, another legacy of the country’s colonial history quietly faded away in a remote village north of Dakar, in Senegal.

Abdallah Ndiaye, who died at the age of 104, was the last of Tyrellors, the Senegalese archers who fought for their colonial masters in the trenches of northern France during World War I. And he died just a day before then-French President Jacques Chirac decorated him with the Legion of Honor award in belated recognition. services.

The failure to acknowledge Ndiaye’s sacrifice during his lifetime has stuck with French director Mathieu Fadebed ever since, inspiring the long-running project that finally ended at the Cannes Film Festival.

“It felt like a symbol of France’s failure to recognize Tyrellors A day after the opening of his film for the festival, the director said: Un Certain Regard Hearty applause sidebar.

Cannes Film Festival © FRANCE24

Fadebid, who has traveled and worked in Senegal and elsewhere in Africa, said he felt a duty to dig up history Tyrellors. His film is a tribute to the young men of Senegal and the other French colonies who were kidnapped from their homes and forced to fight in a war that meant nothing to them, for the “motherland” of which most of the language is not spoken.

While the movie’s original title was, “Tyrellors‘, has a provocative force in French, and its English version highlights the director’s interest in approaching war through an intimate focus on the father-son relationship he desperately seeks to protect. “Lupin” star Omar Sy, the son of Senegalese immigrants, plays a weary village farmer who enlists in the army. To take care of his son after being forcibly conscripted by the French.

Fadebid stressed the importance of rooting his story in Senegal and keeping an intimate look at the film’s protagonists while giving the war itself a distinctly unexpected treatment.

“I needed to start my story in Africa, to give a glimpse into the lives of the heroes before the war and how the colonial experience came to shatter their world. I wanted the beauty and music of Paul to give a defining texture to the characters.

“We know the history of the war, but not the history TyrellorsFadebed said, referring to “the mission of cinema to educate and convey historical stories and memories, while also questioning the society in which we live.” “The story and narrative of the French colonial forces must be acknowledged, to allow subsequent generations to fit in with this history as well,” he added.

As Sy, the son of Senegalese immigrants, told the audience at the Cannes premiere, “We don’t have the same (historical) memory, but we share the same history.”

Abandon the Algerian harkis

“After this battle, you will no longer be aboriginal, you will be French!” An officer screams in one of the film’s rare battle scenes, moments before the Tirailleurs leap out of trenches and storm into the muddy, no-man’s land, which is quickly decimated by enemy fire. Similar empty promises were at the heart of Philippe Faucon’s “Les Harkis”, which was shown in Cannes on Thursday, as part of the two directors’ weeks parallel to the festival.

Cannes 2022: Algeria’s War of Independence in ‘Les Harkis’

ENCORE! © France 24

Veteran French director, born in France Bed Noir My mother, his recent work focused on Algerian Muslims – known as Harkis – who served as auxiliaries in the French army during the country’s horrific war of independence between 1954 and 1962.

The premiere of Cannes coincides with the 1960sy The anniversary of the end of a conflict that has left open wounds on both sides of the Mediterranean, and comes just months after President Emmanuel Macron asked for “forgiveness” on France’s behalf to abandon the Harkis.

>> Read more: Algerians and French share their stories of the Algerian war

“Join France, it won’t betray you,” says an officer early in the film as reluctant recruits line up to join Harki units – some to feed their families, others out of loyalty to France or to avenge a family member killed by independence fighters. Little do they know that the government in Paris is about to negotiate a way out of the bloody conflict, leaving them behind.

A scene from the movie Philippe Faucon "Why Herkis".
A still from the movie “Les Harkis” by Philippe Faucon. © Courtesy of the Cannes Film Festival

When the French government finally withdrew its forces, it let the majority of the Harkis fend for themselves, despite previous assurances that it would take care of them. Many trapped in Algeria were massacred as the country’s new rulers exacted their brutal revenge. Thousands more were placed in camps in France, often with their families, in humiliating and painful conditions.

Like the movie Vadepied, “Les Harkis” is not a traditional war movie. She is less interested in battle scenes than in the physical and emotional impact of war on her characters, and the painful decisions they have to make in hopes of preserving their livelihoods and that of their loved ones.

The films talk about different wars, different eras, and two countries with very different experiences of French rule. But they do share a common interest in the human cost of war and colonialism, and the need to confront the turbulent histories that continue to poison France’s politics and its relations with its former colonies.

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