To Be Twenty in the Aures

Poster To Be Twenty in the Aures

In 1961, a group of Breton pacifists is drafted to fight in Algeria. Little by little, thanks to Lieutenant Perrin's training, these young men will learn to kill and begin to enjoy it.

René Vautier, a prominent militant filmmaker, always used cinema as a weapon of denunciation and indignation against colonisation and social injustice. Censored by the authorities at the time, but winning Critic's Week Grand Prize at the 1972 Cannes film festival, To be Twenty in the Aures is a milestone in the representation of the Algerian War by its frontal approach of horror. Improvisations by inexperienced actors replaying scenes written from conscripts' testimonies add a striking portrait of youth to this political work. 

Avoir vingt ans dans les Aurès.

1972
Color - 100mn - French
France.
War, Drama.
Direction: René Vautier.
Production: Yves Benier.
Screenplay: René Vautier.
Editing: Nedjma Scialom.
Photography: Pierre Clément, Daniel Turban.
Music by: Yves Branellec, Bernard Ramel, Pierre Tisserand.
With: Alexandre Arcady, Hamid Djellouli, Philippe Léotard, Jacques Canselier.
Pierre Bordage

I have a peculiar relationship with this film. The first time I saw it was...in Algeria, in a Sidi Bel Abbes movie theater, in 1974. Algerian audiences are used to noisily expressing their emotions, hoots and whistles punctuated each brutality, each act of violence, each of the French commando's exactions, a unit composed of ex war objectors, set loose in the Aurès. I said to myself that if they discovered I was French, they would attack me coming out of the theater, but the opposite happened. The Algerians welcomed me with open arms, with no rancor, able to differentiate between the horrors of war and a young French 19 year old visiting a college friend. Second coincidence: in 1974 in Nantes, just before I left for Algeria, I met a student originating from the Aurès, a Chaoui woman from Oued Taga, whom I married ten years later. So I became very interested in the country's history. Contrary to the US, where films on Vietnam, numerous at the end of the conflict, cut deeply and sometimes brutally into the war's still fresh wounds, France has had difficulties reflecting it's last colonial war, for a long time called "the events". Which is why René Vautier's film, the only one to question the Algerian War, is so important. On top of the opprobrium it received from politicians or former commanding officers, it was for a long time censored on TV, as if France refused to recognize itself in this mirror held up by ex-objectors turned into torturing brutes. I'm glad to be able to see this film again in its restored version, as it remains a model for free independent militant cinema.

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