Set in France during the struggle for Algerian independence, Messaoud's mother is terminally ill and his father, needing to work long hours in the factory, can't look after him, so decides ... See full summary »
Set in France during the struggle for Algerian independence, Messaoud's mother is terminally ill and his father, needing to work long hours in the factory, can't look after him, so decides to put him and his older brother Abdel in foster care. Sent to the countryside, Abdel has to work on a farm, but Messaoud is taken in by a childless woman, who conceals his Arab origins from her fiercely Gaullist ex-army husband. Re-named Michel/Michou, and with his hair comically dyed blond, the young boy quickly steals the hearts of both foster-parents, and eventually is instrumental in saving their troubled marriage. Written by
Forget the politics, enjoy the human relations and comic situations
As regards this film I am in a bit of a quandary as to whether it will be successful beyond the frontiers of France. I have just seen it today, having previously seen appetizing trailers from it during preceding visits to the cinema. When all is said and done, the film more than does justice to these trailers. I do not agree with the politics of the film but do admit that on a human level and in many other domains the film sports an impressive battery of strong points. Foreign spectators need to be advised that some knowledge of French history during the 1960's is necessary to fully appreciate and comprehend what is going on and why certain things happen. Basically, Algeria was a colony of France from about 1830 onwards. During the late 1950's and beginning of the 1960's there were uprisings of a vociferous minority of the indigenous population seeking independence from France and rule by the Arabs ( who themselves had colonized the same country some six hundred years previously and taken it from the Berbers and Kabyles who were in fact the original inhabitants ). These uprisings culminated in what is known in plain English as the War of Algeria but in euphemistic French as "Les Evenements d'Algérie". Because of this situation, algerians residing in metropolitan France ( Algeria was at that time a department of France like any other ) were the butt of jokes and insults on the part of metropolitan French whereas the "Français d'Algerie" were also the butt of hatred, jokes and attacks buy the local algerians. Once the war was under way there was torture and attacks both by the Arabs and by the French Army. Add to this that the main revolt movement, the FLN or Front de Libération Nationale was being aided and abetted by leftist and socialist movements in metropolitan France. De Gaulle was called to defuse the situation, and promised everything to everybody, but finally agreed to Independence for the country, without taking into consideration the million and a half people of European extraction living there, this led to a mass exodus in the early sixties with all these people rejoining metropolitan France, and having to put up with insults and attacks from the indigenous French. Because of this, there was the impression that de Gaulle had betrayed his people and a movement called O.A.S. (Organisation de l'Armée Secrète) was born. These people hated de Gaulle and hated the Arabs at the same time. Some of these people, or their sympathizers at least are to be seen in the film, and this explains some of the violent scenes and exchanges. The independence of Algeria was signed on March 19th 1962 ( 45 years ago today itself ! ) So much so for the politics. It is not interesting but necessary to know a little about it to understand the film. In 1960, an algerian immigrant living near to Paris, in a suburb called Aubervilliers, deposits his sons with the local social services so as to be able to return to his country for family reasons. The child is proposed to a family from the centre of France ( Berry Region - around Chateauroux and Bourges ) to take the child into their care. For reasons which I explained earlier, the child's arab origins are disguised and his hair is painted blond. He has to go to catholic church, and change his Christian name from Messaoud to Michel. His family name is changed from it original arab one to "Daubert" ( A play on words from D'Auber(villiers) = Michel from Aubervilliers. Although the foster mother is aware of his origins, the foster father is not, though he gradually realises this intuitively by the end of the film. So Michel lives with his foster parents on a farm on a village in the Berry region and goes to school there. The foster parents also have a Mongol boy who gives them a helping hand with the animals etc etc. The strong points of the film are the perfect reconstitution of 1960's France, the music, the excellent picture quality and the lively scenario. The foster Parents are Nathalie Baye and Gérard Depardieu who are of course excellent actors and Depardieu's performance is one of his best. Depardieu is in his element here because in real life he was born and brought up as a boy in Châteauroux in this same region of France. There are some unpleasant scenes of violence in the film and also some adultery, both of these shocked me but the humour and lively scenario more than make up for this. The boy actor is excellent and the spectator sympathises immediately with his plight and follows with excitement the unfolding events in his new life. The film appears to me to be loaded politically in favour of the Algerians and I find this reprehensible, as I think that the politics of the time could have been dispensed with - the Algerians were no less guilty than the French of violent acts and torture. There are also references to the Algerian custom of slitting a sheep's throat which is something very disgusting for the French but we then see Depardieu slitting a live pigs belly and all its entrails falling out and this shocks the little boy ............. So whilst I do not condone the political manipulation of this film ( and something common to all films of Thomas Gilou ), the story itself is highly entertaining and though the screening time is close to two hours, there is not a minute's boredom. Noteworthy as well is the inclusion of a number of songs from the 1960's sung by the great comedian Bourvil. This is one film that I shall definitely be watching out for on DVD and I do hope that is has some international success if only because of the SPLENDID performance of every one of its actors !
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