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CANNES 2022 Directors’ Fortnight

Philippe Faucon • Director of Harkis

"We don’t have goodies on one side and baddies on the other"

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- CANNES 2022: The French filmmaker hits home once again with a film about local soldiers fighting for the French during the Algerian War

Philippe Faucon • Director of Harkis

Selected for the Directors’ Fortnight for the third time at the 75th Cannes Film Festival after Fatima [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Philippe Faucon
film profile
]
in 2015 and Amin [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Philippe Faucon
film profile
]
in 2018, French filmmaker Philippe Faucon has now presented Harkis [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Philippe Faucon
film profile
]
, which sees him applying his perfect yet understated mastery of the 7th art to the cruel period in time when local soldiers were hired by the French during the Algerian War.

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Cineuropa: You’d already partly tackled the subject of harkis in The Betrayal [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
.  What made you want to return to it and place full focus on this topic?
Philippe Faucon: This subject is a bit of an obsession for me, because I have links to it on account of my family history. I was born during the Algerian War to parents who lived through it. My mother was born in Algeria, she lived there until she was 24 and she was really attached to the country. As a child and a teenager, she went to school with Algerians who, in some cases, found themselves hired by the French, becoming harkis, whereas others went to the opposing, pro-independence side. These are things that I heard about as a child, and I got the feeling that something very complicated had unfolded. I notably heard talk of massacres. I broached this subject in The Betrayal, but I was left feeling that I could have explored it in greater depth and in another way, and that’s what gave rise to Harkis. I wanted to go back over the period of the Algerian War, taking the losers and those who were wrong into account, especially because it’s an area which has been consigned to oblivion, pushed to one side, and not examined so much in film.

Why did you choose a collective, harki 534, rather than one or two main characters?
Because it’s not a straightforward story. Different Algerians decided to become harkis for different reasons. Each of the characters embodies one of these reasons. For some of them, it was about eating, because they didn’t have any other option. Because of the war, they’re no longer able to live off the land and they have families to feed. It’s one of the main reasons why harkis agreed to fight with the French, because a harki could feed a number of people with what he earned back then, in those times of scarce resources in Algeria. It was also a question of family tradition - because some of their fathers had fought in French wars - although people also fought for mercenary reasons, out of opportunism, and even out of a need to fit in, as is the case for Staff Sergeant Amin who’s the only character in the film who’s there out of conviction: he believes the official speeches delivered during the rise of the 5th Republic, promising that Algerians will henceforth enjoy the same rights as the French, and he’s wary of the FLN option which he sees as pure adventure.

How did you decide upon the chronology of the story?
The film takes place in the final three years of the war. It starts in 1959 because, in September, General De Gaulle spoke for the first time about self-determination, so there was a change in language, a choice which, for those paying attention, might lead to Algerian independence. But at the same time, it’s a moment when France called upon Algerians in significant number, recruiting them en masse and arming them against other Algerians because the French authorities want to begin negotiations with the FLN from a position of strength. A serious and rather awkward contradiction ensued: trying to put an end to the war whilst engaging yet more Algerians to fight other Algerians.

The film is careful to avoid oversimplification.
I didn’t want to make a film with simplistic points of view because things are complex; the characters themselves are motivated by potentially contradictory and complicated factors. We don’t have goodies on one side and baddies on the other. The Algerian War was a time of extreme violence, but on both sides. This violence is depicted in the film, but not as entertainment; it tells us things about the characters who are either on the receiving end of this violence or carrying it out. We see harkis having a go at prisoners, for example, but maybe what they’re actually doing is taking aim at a lost idea of themselves.

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(Translated from French)

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