Ostensibly the film is about accepting or refusing guilt; the protagonist's guilt, it is inferred, is mirrored by the refusal of guilt by the French people regarding Algeria, in particular the police massacre of large numbers of pro FLN supporters in 1961.
The film made me reflect on the nature of national guilt, a strange phenomenon that does indeed tend to be refused or accepted. The German's, for example, seem to completely embrace the guilt of the holocaust, but as the losing side in the war they had that guilt thrust upon them. The British rarely think about the incendiary bombing of Dresden (a war crime by anybody's standards) and the American's are always quick to justify Hiroshima. And perhaps this is just, what makes a nation accountable for the actions of individuals that are now dead or dying?
The American Government has made reparations to black families who can trace their lineage back to slavery, that is right back to their ancestor's abduction from Africa. In many ways I support this (though I think its overly selective) but I have two questions:
1. can money pay to wash away guilt? especially when the consequences of the thing that make you feel guilty are still active?
2. To what extent are the American Government responsible for the actions of their long dead predecessors?
The first question is a matter for future debate but the second raises some important points. Does this not introduce a process of eternal reduction and regression through history?
Can we, the nation of Britain, not demand reparations from Italy for the Roman conquest 2,000 years ago? The slave traders are just as dead as the Romans. Of course England would have to pay Wales and Brittany for the Saxon invasion, then Denmark for the Norse et cetera ad infinitum. Is this not ridiculous, when do we say STOP! that was too long ago, I was only born in 1986, I am not responsible for the Bloody Sunday Massacre or the conquest of India.
Of course the counter argument is: well somebody has to take responsibility. The American Government has a spiritual responsibility, the individuals are not taking responsibilty, the institution is... but when a Government accepts guilt it is very hard to separate that from the national responsibility of admission of guilt, and again, how far are we to go back to find the guilty? I suppose we could feel guilty if the standard of living we enjoy now comes directly from a crime of the past, for example, but even so what is to be done? Is the victim to blame the child of the culprit for the rest of his days>
Ultimately this brings me on to something Nick Clegg was criticised by the Daily Mail for saying a couple of years ago. Britain needs to stop harking back to WW2 as if it was yesterday: one great act 60years ago does not justify a nations actions for the rest of its existence. There is still a touch of xenophobia towards Germany that tends to come out in f0otball matches; their guilt cannot last forever! just as Britain must let go of its nostalgia it must also let go of its historical finger pointing. After all, one day the Germans may gather enough confidence to respond by pointing out one of the many horrific skeletons in this country's closet.