Sog.: based on the novel of the same name (1959) by Jean Pelegri. Scen.: Jean Pélégri, Sylvain Dhomme, James Blue. F.: Julius Rascheff. M.: Suzanne Gaveau, Marie-Claude Bariset. Mus.: Maurice Jarre. Int.: Pierre Prothon (Jean), Jean Pélégri (il padre di Jean), Mathilde Gau (la madre di Jean), Huguette Poggi (la cugina Louise), Said Achaibou (Saïd), Boralfa (Boralfa, amico di Jean). Prod.: Georges Derocles per SAPSA – Société Algérienne de Production des Studios Africa. DCP.
Les Oliviers de la justice is the only French film to have been shot during the Algerian War. It won the first ever Prix de la Semaine de la Critique at the Cannes Festival in 1962. Unlike the other films of this period, it surprises on several counts: for having been made in the midst of the conflict, for the writer whose book inspired the film, and for its young American director and his intention in making the film. It was made by an Algeria-based company, Société Algérienne de Production des Studios Africa (SAPSA), run by Georges Derocles. An atypical person, Derocles also produced short films for Eric Rohmer and Albert Lamorisse. The film was shot in 1961 with support from CNC in very challenging and almost clandestine circumstances. The cast were non-professional actors and the entire crew was Algerian. The man who wrote the book of the same title was Jean Pélégri, a pied-noir of humble Spanish origin. He went on to become a professor of the arts in France, a well-known author of novels published by Gallimard, and an occasional actor in Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket. For this film, which tells the story of his own family, he co-wrote the script, was lead production assistant and played the part of the father. His vision for Algeria was universal, and he was highly regarded by and close to many Algerian intellectuals. To approach such a sensitive subject, Derocles chose, on the advice of Jacques Dormeyer, an American director, James Blue, who graduated from the prestigious IDHEC in 1958, at the same time as Costa-Gavras. James Blue gave the film the tone and style of a documentary, the genre in which he would go on to become a prominent figure (his 1969 film A Few Notes on Our Food Problem was nominated for the Best Documentary Oscar). A highly socially engaged man, he left his mark on a generation of American documentary makers through his work and various university programmes, despite his premature death at 50 years of age. The film, seductive in its style, focuses on the character of the father, who was one of the first settlers to grow vines on the Mitidja Plain. Portrayed as a benefactor, he proudly states, “It was the Arabs who taught me what fairness is,” and he places himself above the fighting that is tearing Algeria apart. The position defended by his son, “The country must be for everyone, or else there’s no country,” while arguable, is sincerely expressed. For its authenticity, and even its ambiguities, the film is a valuable testimony to the complexity of the Algerian situation in that period.
Courtesy of Thierry Derocles
Restored in 4K in 2020 by L’Atelier d’Images and Thierry Derocles in collaboration with The James and Richard Blue Foundation with the support of The Film Foundation, James Ivory and CNC – Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée, at L’Image Retrouvée (Paris) from a fine grain print preserved at Les Archives Françaises du Film. Special thanks to Marina Girard-Muttelet (Crossing) e John Ptak