Outside the Law, also known by its French title Hors-la-loi, is a 2010 film directed by Academy Award nominated Rachid Bouchareb, and starring Jamel Debbouze, Roschdy Zem and Sami Bouajila in roles that would define their already decorated careers. It is a French-Algerian co-production that sparked considerable controversy upon its release. Yet, its undeniable importance was recognized when it was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 83rd Academy Awards.
The film marked by some as controversial for what they claim to be anti-French bias and historical inaccuracies meant to highlight the oppressiveness of French colonial rule rather than the violence of the Algerian independence movement. Both the violence and the oppression are fact, and while their scale is historically debated usually involving political agendas the film is not anti-French or Algerian propaganda. It does not preach, as its critics would like, a heavy-handed self-righteous moral imposition. It instead depicts earnestly desperate characters in desperate situations during trying times. The rights and wrongs — and there is plenty of both — are not the subject matter of the film therefore they are left for the audience to decide. The core of the film is what happens when justice becomes separate from the law. People who want a condemnation of one side will not get it, in fact they miss the point. That once the law is oppressive and restrictive, as colonial rule was regardless of the imposing power, then the people must resort to means outside the law in order to find justice. The truth the film explores so brilliantly is that once we are outside the law we are as likely to find bloodshed and violence as we are justice. This is the chaotic and central dilemma of the film. Each of the brothers ponders independently the line between justice and violence, life and independence?
The film rings true even to contemporary American society. Late in 2014 we saw escalated racial and community tensions in Missouri and New York in the US following the shooting of Michael Brown and the choking of Eric Garner. Once people believe, rightly or wrongly, that the law does not exist to protect the community what ensues is a great tragedy with a tangible human cost. The truth of the matter is when justice is scarce, human dignity becomes more expensive and human life becomes cheaper. The film is a powerful study of revolution, the people behind it, the acts they commit, and the injustices they endure. For a society to heal there needs to be more than a condemnation or a vindication, there needs to be an examination of who we are and who we want to be. And while Outside the Law deals with a war long over it still scratches old wounds in France and holds truth for every country.