October 17, 1961 (Nuit Noire)

October 17, 1961 (Nuit Noire)

October 17, 1961 (Nuit Noire) (France, director Alain Tasma): Another gut-wrenching portrayal of some of the shameful events perpetrated during the Algerian war, this film is an important document of the legacy of French colonialism.

On the night of October 17, 1961, more than 20,000 Algerians gathered in Paris for a peaceful demonstration against French rule of their homeland. It wasn’t entirely spontaneous. In fact, the FLN (the main group advocating for Algerian independence) required all Algerian men to participate. It was to be a show of solidarity to bolster the ongoing negotiations between the FLN and the French government. Instead, it turned into a massacre. The police were already living in a climate of fear and repressed anger due to the ongoing campaign of random assassinations of police officers. And the police leadership were eager for a crackdown to avoid further humiliation. As the demonstrators gathered in various districts, police immediately moved in to arrest thousands, and after some confusing reports of being fired upon, themselves fired upon and then charged the crowds. There is no official report on the number of dead, but it was somewhere between 50 and 200. More than 40 years later, there has never been an official acknowledgement of the events of that night.

Noted television director Alain Tasma spent two years gathering evidence and reconstructing the events leading up to the massacre, and he presents a straightforward account that manages to capture the rising tension keenly. The film is a sort of parallel to the events portrayed in the classic film The Battle of Algiers, and Tasma owes a lot to the techniques and pacing of that forty-year-old masterpiece. With the exception of that film, most “issue” films rarely rise above their sense of moral outrage, and October 17, 1961 (more evocatively entitled “Nuit Noire” in its native France) is not a masterpiece. But it does capture the feeling of a time not so long ago, a feeling which is eerily present again in the rising Islamophobia of many Western democracies.


This entry was posted in Film Festivals, TIFF and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.