© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
October 17, 1961
Jalil Naciri as Maurice in
October 17, 1961,
Alain Tasma, France, 2005;
106 min.
                                                                                  Many would argue that
                                                                                  Americans suffer from a
                                                                                  collective amnesia when it
                                                                                  comes to historical     
                                                                                  events. Well, apparently
                                                                                  we aren't the only nation
                                                                                  to suffer from the
affliction. The French have avoided mention of the events that occurred on
October 17, 1961. That evening, a peaceful protest march by Algerian
immigrants living in Paris turned ugly when French police opened fire on the
unarmed crowd. To this day, no one knows how many were killed.
(Estimates range from 50 to more than 1000.)

 While it has its flaws, Alain Tasma's
October 17, 1961 shines a light
on the events. Originally made for French television and aired under the title
Nuit noire, 17 octobre 1961, the film follows several characters over the
course of the month or so leading up to that eventful evening as well as
several days following. Since there are a large number of characters on the
canvas, most are developed in brush strokes and it is up to the actors to
flesh out the figures. Some are more successful than others, but these are
minor flaws in a film that packs an emotional wallop. Indeed, given last
year's riots in Muslim neighborhoods, the movie is as timely as ever.

 The film doesn't shy away from showing the heinous acts on both sides,
from the random murders of policemen by the FLN (the National Liberation
Front) and the police response of selecting Arabs to "disappear." Although
most of the characters depicted in the movie are fictional (one of the major
exceptions is the Parisian police chief Papon (Thierry Fortineau), who later
was convicted of war crimes for his acts during WWII),
October 17, 1961
stands as an extraordinary document on the events of that autumn

 Among its large cast, standouts include Jean-Michel Portal as a cop
stressed by the events, Vahina Giocante as a teacher who attempts to aid
one of her students and is rebuffed by the police, Ouassini Embarek as the
student, Clotilde Courau as a journalist, and Jalil Nacri as one of the FLN

 This is an important film that deserves to be seen by a wide audience.           

Rating:                B+