Jean-Pierre Bacri is remembered as possibly the most talented French actor, scenarist of the past 40 years. He was certainly the most celebrated one in France, and even obtained a rare nomination to the Academy Awards for best international scenario. He died of cancer in January 2021. I write about him today after watching an extensive documentary of his life that somehow highlighted certain aspects of my personality as well. We do have some similarities Jean-Pierre and I. We were both born in Algeria at about the same time, he ten months earlier in may 1951. The documentary emphasized his strong intolerance of injustice and fierce independence, traits which have also been used to define me. We certainly differ: his professional choices, his jewish origin. I can’t affirm that I know what motivated him. I can only document that we shared similar fundamental traits and speculate that it was in a great part for the same reasons.
Reflecting on it and traveling back in time to 1961/2 when the so-called “pieds-noirs” (French colons in Algeria) had to depart Algeria, their birth and home place for many generations, I genuinely felt a strong sense of injustice at the age of about ten, probably the first strong sentiment I ever experienced outside of my family nucleus. That raw emotion has perhaps diminished over time, as I have filled my life with many pursuits, some successful and redeeming. But when my mind wanders back to that period, I relive that injustice raw and intense as if it was yesterday. The injustice had several underpinnings, including the perception of abandonment by France for whom our parents had fought while the French had promptly surrendered, the victory of the independentists who seemed to be a violent minority among the indigenous Arab population, our lack of say in our destiny decided by others unfamiliar with our situation. I am not claiming to have been right at that time. I was certainly wrong in many aspects. I just experienced injustice, period. And experiencing such deep injustice at this stage of child development, where things tend to be either black or white, has had profound consequences. The wound remains open no matter what for the rest of one’s life and the score cannot be settled. The alternative would be to fight injustice with injustice, i.e. apply the Talion principle of an eye for an eye, but that was not an option for me. So yes, I believe that pieds-noirs of my age share an acute case of injustice phobia.
Jean-Pierre was also fiercely independent. I can trace this trait to not ever wanting to be in the same losing situation as pieds-noirs were in the 1961/2 period. Losing homes, wealth, a seemingly strong economy and local government. Forced to “expatriate” to the “metropole” with a difficult “reinsertion”. Our strong accent made us somewhat laughable, job alternatives were all inferior to these left behind. The nagging feeling of being a second class citizen was intolerable for those who did not resign. It took five to ten years of educational or social success to surmount that handicap and friends who helped us at that time will hold a special place forever in our heart.
Lastly, Jean-Pierre was known to be a fatalist with regard to death. Apparently, he did not avail himself to treatments that would perhaps save him but severely impact his quality of life. “Why live a reduced life?”, he reportedly said.I believe this fatalism was also rooted in his pied-noir identity. He lost everything at the age of ten, worked hard to reconquer what he already had. This fight started so young is difficult if not impossible to abandon. Once a fighter, forever a fighter, I guess. You know from the get go that you can lose everything at all times. So, there is no sense of entitlement whatsoever. Just fight the best fight you can, and accept the score when you have no other option.
Jean-Pierre, my brother. I am not proud of what we are (were in your case). but I can see the reason why we fight injustice, seek independence and accept our fate. Many others do the same of course. I just know the reasons why the two of us do.