The eventful final weeks of French colonial rule in Algeria are portrayed with a sensitive mix of youthful resilience and workaday horror in “Summer of ’62.” Autobiographical fictionalization by scripter-helmer Mehdi Charef, who was 11 the summer of Algerian independence, recounts his friendships with French boys and a range of kindly French adults who considered Algeria their rightful home, often at peril to their lives. Winningly cast and lensed, if overly episodic, pic exudes eyewitness authority in presenting upheaval, violence and insurrection from a child’s p.o.v. Aug. 8 release in Gaul should attract international favor.
Widescreen pic, set in a medium-sized Algerian town, opens as sleeping Ali (Hamada) kissed with obvious love by his father. Ali’s mother Aicha (Zahia Said) then hands her husband his rifle and sends him off to fight clandestinely for the nation’s independence.
A handsome, well-liked lad who’s smart and discreet, Ali delivers newspapers to the local French army barracks and the brothel where Arab women service French soldiers, and where his crush Zina (Assia Brahmi) works.Ali also enjoys a special complicity with the French stationmaster (Bonnafet Tarboureich) at the local train station and elderly Jewish neighbors Rachel (Betty Krestinsky) and Norbert (Jean Nehr), who swear they’ll never decamp, although their fellow French residents are fleeing at an ever-increasing pace.
Ali shares a hand-built clubhouse under the railway bridge with his best friend, Nico (Thomas Millet), who hails from white French stock. They’ve played together all their lives and don’t fully grasp why the grown-ups from different factions can’t just get along. Nico taunts Ali about being on the side of the “terrorists” who are slaughtering white colonists, while Ali has seen countless examples of unjustified killing by the French. But the boys’ friendship is stronger than knee-jerk alliances.
Conveyed with aggregate finesse, pic is a series of incidents and interactions that illustrate the encroaching end of an era. The escalating tension is well-portrayed: Random searches by French soldiers proliferate, intertwined with rebel bombings and vengeful attacks. Ali negotiates a few close calls, going about his business with the unconscious recklessness of youth.
As Ali’s French playmates are summoned to trains and boats by their parents, Nico swears his family will never admit defeat and hightail it to France. Suspense involves whether he’ll be allowed to keep that vow.
The wrenching fate of the harkis — Algerians who served in the military under French officers — is etched with memorable strokes. The universal power of art in times of duress, and this time specifically, is conveyed by Ali’s love of visiting the projection booth at the local cinema, where he’s seen Bunuel’s “Los olvidados” so many times he has the dialogue memorized.
Thesps are fine across the board, with young Hamada ably carrying entire pic on his trim shoulders. Admirably subtle score is a major plus.
Original title is a pun on the famed French cigarettes that also refers to French bullets.