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Gang film pulled from French cinemas over Paris attacks

A film about gangs set in the tough Brussels suburb where a jihadi cell planned the Paris terror attacks, has been pulled from French cinemas.

The distributors of “Black”, shot in the Molenbeek area of the Belgian capital made notorious by the November 13th gunmen, told AFP Friday they were forced into the decision because so many cinemas were refusing to show it.

It is the third film handling such sensitive subject matter to have run into trouble in France since the country was rocked by the killings in which 130 people died.

The decision came as a Paris court overturned a decision not to allow anyone under 18 see “Salafists”, a controversial expose of African radical Islam, an almost unheard of restriction on a documentary.

The distributors of “Black” had already been hit by a similar decision by the culture ministry to bar under 16s from seeing their “Romeo and Juliet” style story of forbidden love between members of two rival gangs.

A spokesman for Paname Distribution said “due to the reluctance of cinemas to show 'Black' in the current climate, we took the decision to cancel its cinematic release.”

The trailer of the film

Clashes in cinema

Youths threw stones at police outside a multiplex in Brussels when the film was first screened there in November after gangs of teenagers too young to see it caused trouble after slipping into the cinema using tickets bought for other movies.

“Black” was a hit in Belgium despite some cinemas refusing to show it after the violence and an over-16 certificate which its makers condemned as “unjust” given characters were mostly teenagers.

But now it has suffered the same fate as “Made In France”, a story of homegrown jihadis plotting to bomb Paris which eerily predicted November's bloodshed, whose distributors immediately withdrew it in the aftermath of the attacks.

A furious debate on freedom of speech in France erupted after “Salafists” was slammed with an 18 certificate last month. The director of the acclaimed Holocaust film “Shoah”, Claude Lanzmann, condemned the decision as “shameful censorship”, calling the film” a genuine masterpiece, illuminating daily life under Sharia law in a way that no book or 'expert' on Islam ever has.” 

But judges overturned the decision Thursday allowing anyone over 16 to see it in what its co-director Francois Margolin called a “major victory”.

“They said that we were apologists for terrorism, that we were playing the jihadists' game,” he told AFP.

“But the judges agreed that we were doing exactly the opposite.” 

“Black”, which won an award at the Toronto film festival, centres on a turf war between a Moroccan street gang called “1080”, the postcode for Molenbeek, and their “Black Bronx” rivals from Matonge on the other city of the Belgian capital.

As well Abdelhamid Abaaoud – who lead the attacks on Paris – the run-down suburb was also home to two key suspects still on the run, Salah Abdeslam and Mohamed Abrini.

Eleven people have been arrested and charged in Belgium in connection with the killings.

“Black”, which had been due to hit screens on March 19, will now be released online, Paname Distribution told AFP.

HISTORY

‘Lost’ manuscript of pro-Nazi French author published 78 years later

A book by one of France's most celebrated and controversial literary figures arrives in bookstores this week, 78 years after the manuscript disappeared

'Lost' manuscript of pro-Nazi French author published 78 years later

It is a rare thing when the story of a book’s publication is even more mysterious than the plot of the novel itself.

But that might be said of Guerre (War) by one of France’s most celebrated and controversial literary figures, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, which arrives in bookstores on Thursday, some 78 years after its manuscript disappeared.

Celine’s reputation has somehow survived the fact that he was one of France’s most eager collaborators with the Nazis.

Already a superstar thanks to his debut novel Journey to the End of the Night (1932), Celine became one of the most ardent anti-Semitic propagandists even before France’s occupation.

In June 1944, with the Allies advancing on Paris, the writer abandoned a pile of his manuscripts in his Montmartre apartment.

Celine feared rough treatment from authorities in liberated France, having spent the war carousing with the Gestapo, and giving up Jews and foreigners to the Nazi regime and publishing racist pamphlets about Jewish world conspiracies.

For decades, no one knew what happened to his papers, and he accused resistance fighters of burning them. But at some point in the 2000s, they ended up with retired journalist Jean-Pierre Thibaudat, who passed them – completely out of the blue – to Celine’s heirs last summer.

‘A miracle’
Despite the author’s history, reviews of the 150-page novel, published by Gallimard, have been unanimous in their praise.

“The end of a mystery, the discovery of a great text,” writes Le Point; a “miracle,” says Le Monde; “breathtaking,” gushes Journal du Dimanche.

Gallimard has yet to say whether the novel will be translated.

Like much of Celine’s work, Guerre is deeply autobiographical, recounting his experiences during World War I.

It opens with 20-year-old Brigadier Ferdinand finding himself miraculously alive after waking up on a Belgian battlefield, follows his treatment and hasty departure for England – all based on Celine’s real experiences.

His time across the Channel is the subject of another newly discovered novel, Londres (London), to be published this autumn.

If French reviewers seem reluctant to focus on Celine’s rampant World War II anti-Semitism, it is partly because his early writings (Guerre is thought to date from 1934) show little sign of it.

Journey to the End of the Night was a hit among progressives for its anti-war message, as well as a raw, slang-filled style that stuck two fingers up at bourgeois sensibilities.

Celine’s attitude to the Jews only revealed itself in 1937 with the publication of a pamphlet, Trifles for a Massacre, which set him on a new path of racial hatred and conspiracy-mongering.

He never back-tracked. After the war, he launched a campaign of Holocaust-denial and sought to muddy the waters around his own war-time exploits – allowing him to worm his way back into France without repercussions.

‘Divine surprise’
Many in the French literary scene seem keen to separate early and late Celine.

“These manuscripts come at the right time – they are a divine surprise – for Celine to become a writer again: the one who matters, from 1932 to 1936,” literary historian Philippe Roussin told AFP.

Other critics say the early Celine was just hiding his true feelings.

They highlight a quote that may explain the gap between his progressive novels and reactionary feelings: “Knowing what the reader wants, following fashions like a shopgirl, is the job of any writer who is very financially constrained,” Celine wrote to a friend.

Despite his descent into Nazism, he was one of the great chroniclers of the trauma of World War I and the malaise of the inter-war years.

An exhibition about the discovery of the manuscripts opens on Thursday at the Gallimard Gallery and includes the original, hand-written sheets of Guerre.

They end with a line that is typical of Celine: “I caught the war in my head. It is locked in my head.”

In the final years before his death in 1961, Celine endlessly bemoaned the loss of his manuscripts.

The exhibition has a quote from him on the wall: “They burned them, almost three manuscripts, the pest-purging vigilantes!”

This was one occasion – not the only one – where he was proved wrong.

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