Harkis is pretty much the sort of foursquare historical drama one would typically associate with Rachid Bouchareb (who was back in Cannes in 2022 with his own historical drama, Our Brothers). Serviceably directed by Philippe Faucon, Harkis chronicles the final months of the Algerian War, as experienced by the so-called harkis, those Algerians who signed up to fight on behalf of France and against the FLN. These men had many different reasons for doing so. Some, such as Saleh (Mohamad Mouffok), simply couldn’t find other paying work during the war, and thought that enlisting was his family’s best hope for survival. Others, like the Captain (Yannick Choriat), appear to have true faith in the French cause. Others just didn’t like the FLN for personal reasons. (Anyone who’s seen The Battle of Algiers, a frankly pro-FLN cine-tract, will recall that the group’s brand of Islamic revolution could be rather unforgiving toward those Algerians with more secular inclinations.)
But even as the harkis fought under French command, De Gaulle was working with the FLN representatives on a ceasefire and withdrawal. As Harkis makes painfully clear, these men were sold a bill of goods by the French nation, tempted by guarantees of full citizenship and resettlement in their adopted motherland in exchange for their service. Any student of history knows that casting one’s lot with the occupying colonial power seldom yields the desired consequences, but as Harkis demonstrates, these men were most often making the least-worst available choice.
In the end, France did not want them — “assimilation would be too hard,” one officer opines — and they were left behind in a society that viewed them and their families as murderous traitors. While there is nothing cinematically remarkable about Harkis, it makes its point with admirable economy (it’s a slim 85 minutes) and speaks frankly about a group of Algerians who were uniquely screwed by the false promises of colonial history, asked to betray their fellow Muslims in the name of some higher ideal that, as far as the Gaullists were concerned, evaporated as soon as these soldiers had outlived their usefulness.
Published as part of Cannes Film Festival 2022 — Dispatch 7.