Review: October 17, 1961

Make no mistake, there’s an epic scope to October 17, 1961.

October 17, 1961

Even if it sometimes feels like Traffic on the Seine, Alain Tasma’s October 17, 1961 remains a gripping, very well-executed video docudrama of the infamous night when the racial tensions between the Parisian police and the Algerian underclass—already tenuous because of Charles de Gaulle’s bitterly divisive involvement in the Algerian War of Independence—came to a head. The film is infinitely preferable to Michael Haneke’s Caché (which deals with the self-same conflagration by ideologically muddled implication), even if it feels decidedly smaller. Make no mistake, there’s an epic scope to October 17, 1961, evident via its expansive tapestry of appropriately broad brush-stroke characters, but the production can’t quite escape its televisual origins. One gets the sense that Tasma is more in love with the event itself than in cinema’s power to relate it—on the passion-laden level of the movie stylist, Haneke easily one-ups this former assistant to Truffaut and Godard. Nonetheless, there is a bracing matter-of-factness to the way Tasma portrays narrative incident. No one situation or character is amplified to such an extent that it betrays a scale-tipping bias, thus there is no tonal difference when, for example, the French police murder an Algerian in viciously cold blood or when a member of the Front de Libération Nationale kills a fellow Algerian for refusing to march in a peaceful protest. Incident piles on incident and the overwhelming sense for all involved—race and creed be damned—is that of an inextricable quagmire, a practically preordained historical clusterfuck that resonates forward and backward through time, as much a reenactment of tragedies past as it is a prognosticator of misfortunes to come.

 Cast: Clotilde Courau, Thierry Fortineau, Jean-Michel Portal, Ouassini Embarek, Atmen Kelif, Florence Thomassin, Vahina Giocante, Jalil Naciri, Serge Riaboukine, Aurélien Recoing, Abdelhafid Metalsi, Marie Denarnaud, Jean-Michel Fete, Philippe Bas  Director: Alain Tasma  Screenwriter: Patrick Rotman, François-Olivier Rousseau, Alain Tasma  Running Time: 106 min  Rating: NR  Year: 2005  Buy: Video

Keith Uhlich

Keith Uhlich is a writer living in Brooklyn. His work has been published in The Hollywood Reporter, BBC, and Reverse Shot, among other publications. He is a member of the New York Film Critics Circle.

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