'Intimate' look at war

Algerian conflict fair game for film

As Hollywood continues to pour salt over the fresh wounds of the Iraq War with a wave of movies, the Algerian War is making its way out of the shadows and into the spotlight on France's big screens.

On Oct. 3, SND released Florent Emilio Siri's "Intimate Enemies," starring popular Gallic actors Benoit Magimel and Albert Dupontel as a pair of French soldiers fighting the enemy and each other during the 1954-62 conflict.

With a history of only failed attempts at boxoffice gold and public awareness for Algerian War-based films, will the latest drama make a name for the longtime taboo topic of the "war without a name"?

"In France, we have about five to 10 films about the Algerian War, but these were generally more psychological or political films — films that didn't really attract large audiences. Plus, most of them were made in the '70s and '80s, so they were more censored," "Enemies" producer Francois Kraus says.

French filmmakers have taken close to half a century to bring to the big screen the horrors of Algeria's fight for independence from French colonialism.

Rene Vautier's "Avoir 20 Ans dans les Aures" addressed the horrors of the war in 1972, followed by Pierre Schoendoerffer's "L'Honneur d'Un Capitaine" in 1982 and, more recently, Philippe Faucon's "La Trahison" in 2005. Last November, Laurent Herbiet's "The Colonel" dealt with the use of torture against Algerians during their fight against colonialism. "Cartouches Gauloises," Mehdi Charef's fictionalized autobiographical account of the war through the eyes of young boys, hit French theaters in August.

"Enemies," however, may be the country's first true "war movie." Shot like an American western, the graphic fight scenes are unprecedented on French screens.

"It's the first blockbuster that deals with the Algerian War and that follows the codes of a true war film, that is, soldiers who go off to fight and are exposed little by little to the horrors and barbarism of war. It's the first film that talks about this part of history in an open, objective way," Kraus says.

The fictional drama is based on the nonfiction book with the same title and a documentary by Patrick Rotman, who also co-wrote the script. Rotman's original 2002 documentary aired on France 3 on Sept. 16, opening dialogue in the country before Siri's drama hit theaters.

"I've always thought that the Algerian War still has a resonance today, because we all have people in our entourage who fought in the war. And since it's a war that was extremely traumatic and traumatizing, it inevitably had a major influence and repercussions on France's heritage," "Enemies" star Magimel said in an interview.

He added: "I think that Algeria is the American Vietnam. There's still room to make 20 more films about this subject. It's a vast, passionate, terrifying and extremely taboo subject."