Outremer (1990)





Director:    Brigitte Rouan

Starring:     Nicole Garcia (Zon ), Brigitte Rousan (Malène), Marianne Basler (Gritte), Philippe Galland (Paul), Yann Dedet (Gildas), Bruno Todeschini (Maxime), Pierre Doris (Oncle Alban), Monique Mélinand (Tante Léonie), Coralie Seyrig (Martine), Jean-Louis Tribes (Olivier), Jean-Claude de Goros (Roger Lopez, le régisseur), Georges Fricker (Antoine Pelissier), Jean-Marie Marion (Le danseur de paso), Silvana de Faria (La femme de Maxime), Zappy Max (Le pPre).  

French film about three sisters during the Algerian War



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

Three sisters are paddling in a canoe over to a ship.   

Algeria, 1946.  A pregnant young blonde lady waves goodbye to her loved one.  We see her again in the same situation waving goodbye when she is pregnant accompanied by one child, then pregnant accompanied by two children.  The woman is Zon and she says goodbye to her husband Paul. 

1949.  A small plane flies low over three older people standing on a patio on a building.  One man shouts that the plane belongs to him.  The three daughters of one of the men are flying the plane and this despite that fact they were told not to fly without a pilot.  When the plane is back on the ground the husband  of Zon, Paul, grabs his wife and takes her out of the plane.  Another man helps Malene out of the plane.  Gritte comes out and is given an engagement ring by Max, Paul's brother.    


Zon's Story 

At Gritte's engagement party Aunt Léonie tells Zon how proud her mother would have been to have known that all three of her girls have chosen good men to marry.  She then tells Zon to go be with her husband.  She runs up the steps to where the navy man are talking to her cousins.  One of the other naval officers asks the husband of Zon permission to dance with his wife.  He gives his permission.  The couple dances a paso-doble so well that everyone stops to watch them dance. 

Now Zon goes up to dance with her husband.  He tells her that if a naval officer comes in white gloves to her, she will now that her husband is dead.  He is mad at her for dancing the way she did.  He asks her if she is proud of herself, a wife and a mother!  He says she made a spectacle of herself.  Zon says that he is unfair and is always gone.  She has not danced with anyone since her wedding and he gave her permission to dance.  In addition, he is always away at sea and she is all alone. 

Zon buys herself a sexy outfit to wear.  Paul comes home and has sex with his wife. (brief nudity)  Two sisters (Zon and Malene) with a neighbor sit together on the patio and talk.  The subject of the Algerian uprising is mentioned and Malene says:  "The rebels are spoiling our fun." 

Gritte is sitting on the arm of the chair in which sits an older man, her father. Paul is back home, but says he does not deserve his new position of command.  He declares himself a failure.  Zon tells him to stop talking like that.  She needs him to be strong so she can admire him. 

1957.  Paul is going to Japan.  Zon is pregnant with her fifth child, while Paul is away.  One day an officer in white gloves comes to see Zon.  She almost faints, but holds on. 

Zon has her new baby, Brigitte. 

Christmas time.  The three sisters are together again and sing a song "Colonials".  "We're Colonials, we come from afar.  Loyal to France, wherever we are.  We left our homes and friends behind.  We live overseas, but nothing can appease a love of our flag that is so true.  A flag that is red, white and blue.  A flag no one dares to defy.  . . . "  After they finish Malene says:  "Damn uprising!"  There will be no midnight mass for Christmas.  They hope that next year the troubles will be over.   

Alone Zon prays to God to let her husband Paul be alive.  She begs Paul to come back to her.  She tells God to take all her children from her, but give back Paul to her  She says she will die due to this tragedy.  Zon has not even told her children yet that their father is dead. 

Brigitte is bigger now.  Zon tells a female friend that she cannot go on being the children's mother.  She is planning to die.  At night Zon puts on her husband's naval clothes and cries and cries on the bed.  She rolls and falls off the bed.  She stays there not moving.  She dies.


Malene's Story

The three sisters are paddling in a rowboat.  On Paul's ship they see a friend of Paul who they think is very handsome.  The name of the friend is Gildas.  Malene really likes Gildas. 

A repeated scene, where Zon has just finished saying goodbye to her husband. 

Malene is getting married to Gildas.

Malene is now running the farm.  They are making some wine and Malene checks on its progress.  Malene has two children, a girl Anne and a young child. 

At night, she can't sleep, so she gets up to check on the wine.  The Algerian foreman Mr. Lopez gets out of bed to come see what the boss lady is doing.  He tells her that there was no need for her to get up in the middle of the night to check on the wine. 

Repeated scene.  The three sisters fly pass their father and uncle and another fellow out on the patio.  After they land Malene runs to find her husband Gildas. 

Malene is asked to come and dance, but Gildas doesn't want to dance so she sits on the bench with him.  She watches as her sister Zon dances the paso-doble.    She is bit disturbed by the intimacy of the dance.  Later she sees the officer grab Zon's hand as he places it on his groin area.  Malene goes into a crouching position against the house wall. 

A pregnant Malene goes to see Lopez.  It's pay day and she hands out the money to the men.  There is some grumbling among the men and Lopez shouts at them that if they don't like it, they can get out.  Some of the men say they want to see Gildas because Malene says he's the one who decides on the wages going to the men. 

Repeated scene.  Malene and an older man watch as one of Paul's friends, Antoine Pelissier, draws Gritte and Zon as they are sitting on the beach.

Repeated scene.  At a get together Malene asks Pelissier if her sister inspires him to draw?  Gritte sits on the arm of the chair an older man is sitting in.  Gildas asks Paul what does the navy say about the bombings?  Paul says the navy says nothing, but they are ready to defend France and its interests at any time.  Gildas says:  "We won't let the damn Arabs stop us now."    The artist Antoine asks why don't they try integration with the natives.  The feeling among the "colonials" is that Antoine is an an outsider and wouldn't understand.  So Antoine goes outside to have a smoke. 

At night Gildas wants to have sex, but Malene is worried about the debts that the farm is acquiring.  Gildas is just not interested in the farm.  In the morning, two soldiers come up to greet Malene.  Barbed wire is being placed around the home.  A siren is put in place.  The army base is ten minutes from Malene's home, so they can come to the rescue if her house is attacked.  Malene thinks that is too much time.   

Malene has to harvest her crop with army guards around the fields.   One of the workers pulls Malene away from the others and tells her that she must leave before her husband gets killed.  One of the white sons plays "war" with an Algerian boy and they play-shoot each other.  At night Malene and Gildas talk about Zon's illness and how her kids play at their place now, because they are not happy being at their mother's place. 

Repeated scene.  The three sisters sit and have drinks next to a playground for kids.  Gritte shouts that she has lost her engagement ring. So people start looking for her ring.  Zon gets in a car and goes with friend Martine and Olivier.  Gritte and Malene close the barbed wire fence gate after they leave.  Gritte tells Malene that she should have gone with Zon.  The youngest sister is worried that Zon may die from a broken heart. 

At night the dogs start barking.  Gildas doesn't get up, but Malene grabs an automatic weapon and looks out the second story window.  She finds Gritte pointing a flash light out from a firing hole made in the sand bag wall.  Gritte tells her that she just couldn't sleep.  Outside the barbed wire, the man who warned Malene, sneaks with a rifle parallel to the fence.  Shots are fired and the two women run inside and bolt the door. 

One day Malene comes home and balls out her husband.  She is sick and tired of having to do all the work around the farm, while he does virtually nothing.  She says the sun is aging her beyond her years and she has calluses on her hands.  He just says to her:  "My lovely wildcat."  Malene leaves.  She goes out and hugs and kisses her horse for some solace. 

At night Malene gets up.  She sets fire to the building holding the harvest.  Gildas runs out yelling for Malene and about the harvest.  Malene stands near the fire just watching it.  The next day the kids are really upset about the burning of the harvest.  Of course, everyone suspects one of the natives set the fire and the army has the algerians sit facing a wall as they decide who to interrogate.  Lopez decides that the boy closest to him emotionally speaking was the one who set the fire and he starts beating him.  Malene shouts at Lopez to stop that, but she can't stop him.

At night she tells her husband that the boy didn't set the fire.  How does she know that?  She says she doesn't know. A shot is heard and Malene hits the floor. It was only the one shot and things return more to normal.  They talk about having to live in fear, but Malene is committed to staying.  Gildas tells her that Algeria will remain French.

The next day Malene learns that the bullet last night hit he eldest daughter's backboard for her bed.  Malene drives with her passenger Gildas to go pick up Anne, when two gunmen jump out onto the road and open fire on them.  Malene struggles to put the car in reverse, while her husband hunkers down in the car.  She backs up until she hits a building.  Malene dies from her wounds.  Her husband screams bloody murder. 


Gritte's Story 

Repeated scenes.  Max gives Gritte an engagement ring.  At the engagement party the two of them dance together.  In the morning she tells her fellow that she can't marry him.  Her fellow is Paul's brother.  She tells him that she doesn't want to marry. 

Gritte works as a nurse in the hospital.  An Algerian boy grabs her hand and begs her to come to his house because his brother is very sick.  Gritte doesn't want to go, but she does go with him.  She finds the adult brother cut up and asks who did this to him?  (possible French torture)

She walks through the village and an Algerian rebel with a rifle runs by her and into a hut.  French soldiers chasing the rebel ask Gritte where did the man go and she points to the far end of the village.  (As she thrusts her hand out to point in the direction, her engagement ring flies off her finger.)  They quickly run in that direction.  The rebel comes out, looks at Gritte and leaves. 

Once again, Max asks Gritte to marry him and this time she says yes.  He tries to have sex with her, but she seems afraid and pushes him off her.  He gets mad at this.  She goes over to him and apologizes.  The next morning as he drives away, he says:  "I'll get her yet!" 

Gritte runs into the house followed by her two pregnant sisters and a pregnant friend Martine.  They ask her if the marriage if off again?  All the kids are in her room making a mess and Gritte is very upset with them and she chases them away.  Zon and Malene ask Gritte when she will marry?  She says when her fellow comes back from Peru.  The sisters say that is two years away.  What is she going to do?  Gritte says if she could have studied medicine, she wouldn't be in this fix.  Soon the sisters are fighting each other.  Zon insults Malene's husband and a short slap fight breaks out, stopped by a shouting Gritte.  The two sisters leave.  Gritte cries on her bed.

Gritte goes into a store interrupting a surreptitious exchange between the clerk and another man.  The other man quickly leaves the shop.  Gritte only says she wants a Turkish Delight with some nuts. 

Gritte walks down the streets.  It is far too quiet.  An Algerian comes up behind her.  He pushes her to an isolated area and then places both arms around her shoulders.  He makes the move indicating that if he had a knife he could just slit her throat.  He looks into her face, but then only tousles her hair a bit.  This is the man Gritte had saved by sending the French troops in the wrong direction. 

When Gritte arrives at home, she gets slapped by her father.  She's shocked and not sure why her father slapped her.  At night she runs out to see the Algerian man.  She gives him some things from the house. 

Max has come back for Gritte.  She listens to Charles De Gaulle speak on the radio.   De Gaulle tells the Algerians that he understands what they want.  He understands why so many have fought for their cause.  "For there is no lack of courage in Algeria."  Gritte jumps up and down at this and shouts:  "We're saved!" 

Gritte starts becoming close to architect Antoine Pelissier, but when he kisses her, she does not respond.  Later she is with her Algerian fellow in an isolated place.  He sleeps on the ground with his head on her lap.

At a big family dinner and with friends they talk about the Algerian rebel leader Ali Lapointe.  Olivier says that the Arabs have no guts.  And Martine says that a whole French family including the kids got slaughtered by the Arabs.  This talk upsets Gritte.  They talk of it being a mistake for De Gaulle to have come back.  Olivier says that Arabs shot up his van while he was building a school for the Arabs!  Gritte has had enough and leaves the table in a hurry.  She soon comes back to the table apologizing for not feeling well.  She sits down and throws up in her lap.   

Repeated scene.  Gritte is signaling her Algerian fellow using a flash light.  Malene comes out and tells her to stop that. Shots are heard and Malene forces Gritte inside the house.

The next morning Gritte runs out to investigate the shootings last night.  She runs over to a group of soldiers standing in a line.  She looks between them and sees her Algerian boyfriend dead.  She goes and sits under a tree and cries.  One of Zon's boys tells Zon that Gritte is crying.  Zon gives Gritte a telegram.  She opens it and Max telegraphs that he is getting married tomorrow.  Both sisters cry.  Gritte falls to the ground saying she is going to die.  Zon lays on top of her trying to comfort her.  Her son runs away and yells that both women are now crying. 

Zon tells her new sister-in-law Angela that she has stomach cancer.  Max talks with Gritte in the kitchen.  He says it's a shame about Zon and asks if she is in pain?  He wonders how long she will last.  Then Max tells Gritte that maybe he made a mistake.  He gets close to her, but Gritte spills some hot water on him and he has to back away quickly. 

Gritte learns that her sister Zon has died.  And now Malene is killed by rebel gunmen. 

In her coat Gritte sits on her suitcase waiting for a ride.  A fellow in the back of a pick-up truck throws water on her telling her that's for her running out on the family!  Gritte cries and tells them to leave her alone.  The truck leaves. 

Paris, 1964.  Gritte is getting married.  But twice the priest asks her if she takes this man in matrimony and she remains silent. 



Very good movie.  I enjoyed it immensely.  There are three sisters and there are three stories, one for each sister.  But as each sister's story is told covering the same time period in Algeria, we learn more about the larger political situation and come to understand more of what is going on.  This is the period of the revolt of Algerians against French colonialism.  It was a long and vicious struggle and it is shown how closely the group were tied to the political events of the struggle, after the first story which was more on the surface without much of any political context.   

The early scene when the three sisters and being greeted after their plane lands really threw me off, because the names of all three couples are mentioned, but two of the names are mentioned when the person is not there.  So it misleads one.  Just remember, it's Zon (the oldest sister) with Paul, Malene (the middle sister) with Gildas (who is not right there at the plane landing) and Gritte (the youngest sister, who is also called Marguerite) with Max (who is Paul's brother). 

But, with just focusing on the French colonials, one doesn't get to see the terrible sufferings of the Algerians.  The French tortured viciously hundreds of Algerians.  When the torturing came to light, it became a big political scandal in France. 

I enjoyed all three stories and the acting was good all around. (Nicole Garcia as Zon was especially good.)

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 




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