"The Battle of Algiers" made in 1966 by Gillo Pontecorvo is a semi documentary fiction film- ŕ la cinéma vérité - of the fight of the Algerian people for independence from the French from 1954 to 1962 . This format includes written text of the history of the battle, with key dates that flash on the screen. The film won the Leon d'Oro -Golden Lion in Venice.
After 130 years of rule, the Algerian insurrection begins with random acts of rebellion, which are later organized by resistance groups. As the incidents increase the French use force, interrogating would be suspects and torturing them. The film is not without a propaganda edge, pitting the French against the Algerians. In several scenes Algerians are tortured by the French police or innocently stand on the street while the French call them names and bring them to the attention of the police who in turn arrest them and torture them. The story follows the evolution of Ali La Pointe (Brahim Hadjadj) who turns from street thug to one of the leaders of the resistance. One of the resistance strategies is to have Algerian women color their hair and pose as French woman. They are able to pass through check points and are not frisked for weapons. In their handbags are bombs, which they leave in discos and bars. As the Algerian resistance becomes more violent with bombings of civilian establishments the French apply more military pressure, and in turn French civilians bomb Algerian neighborhoods. At this point the French militia is called in and march through the street led by Col. Mathieu (Jean Martin). When questioned about what he thinks about French philosopher's Jean Paul Sartre condemnation of the French colonialism he says he isn't interested. Both Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir were instrumental in influencing the French to pull out of Algeria. In time the entire Algerian people unite behind the cause. The core activist group becomes widely popular and many members die for the cause spearheading a national movement. "The Battle of Algiers" is interesting today not only from an historical viewpoint but for the parallels with insurrections in Afghanistan and Iraq and the occupation of US and allied forces in an unpopular war with casualties on all sides.
© 2008 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 12/10/08
The Battle of Algiers