Smugglers' Songs (Les Chants de Mandrin)

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 November, 2011, 12:00am


Smugglers' Songs (Les Chants de Mandrin)

With his fourth film, Rabah Ameur-Zaimeche seems to have departed from his fixation with portraying Algerian-French lives on screen.

Unlike his previous three outings - all of which examine the ennui, dislocation and cultural confusion felt by young 21st-century Parisians of Maghrebi ancestry - his latest film is set in rural southern France in the 18th century. It revolves around a band of outlaws who defy the authorities by selling contraband (and thus cheaper) goods to villagers in here-today, gone-tomorrow illegal markets.

But more than just a period film about the French equivalent of the Merry Men - with Louis Mandrin, the band's recently executed leader, their Robin Hood - Smugglers' Songs, which is screened here this week as part of the French Cinepanorama festival, speaks as much about the recent past and the present.

When one of the gang, after they beat off an approaching battalion of soldiers in a shootout, proclaims that they are celebrating a triumph 'over the rogues which govern the country', he's also talking about future battles between guerilla-style dissenters and the state machines trying to suppress them. The Algerian independence fighters of the 1960s and the Occupy activists battling against modern-day governments and financial institutions could well be the successors of the Mandrin gang.

Eschewing barn-storming battle scenes, Smugglers' Songs is as realistic and contemporary-looking as Ameur-Zaimeche's previous work. The smugglers' attempts to outwit the authorities are laid vividly bare here, as they travel around the countryside peddling goods, printing and selling Mandrin's revolutionary songs (as 'a framework for the republic', according to one of the outlaws), and trying to get both the common people and local (and lesser) nobles to side with them. The film portrays them as being able to establish a parallel social structure independent of and in opposition to the status quo - a model which chimes nicely with the calls today for reforming our lives.

Smugglers' Songs, Nov 29, 9.50pm, AMC Pacific Place; Dec 5, 8pm, Broadway Cinematheque