The Battle of Algiers (1966)

Directed by Gillo Pontecorvo
Written by Gillo Pontecorvo & Franco Solinas

Urban guerrilla warfare has become a large part of the present in which we live. Not since the terrifying technological advances of both World War I and World War II have wars been fought the same way. In some respects, guerrilla tactics have been around for centuries, but with the advanced weaponry available to freedom fighters and their enemies alike, revolution has become somewhat commonplace, especially in the war-torn region known as the Middle East. Which brings us to the cruel reality if this film, which chronicles specific events within the Algerian fight for freedom against the colonial power of France.

The film focuses specifically on the Battle of Algiers, he capital city of the predominantly Arab and Muslim country of Algeria. The oppression of the French Christians was unbearable in the eyes of the FLN, the Algerian resistance group. What the filmmakers decide to focus on is from the standpoint of the Algerians and not the French, and in this way it is very much a film that is about the power of endurance and hope. The entire war of independence is not chronicled, just events in the Casbah district of Algiers between 1954 and 1957. And the style of the film is very much a chronicle. There are main players on both sides who are depicted, but really it is a movie about the movement in general and the people as a whole, and not about any one man.

The style of the film is quite jarring. Interestingly enough, the film is not produced by French or Algerian filmmakers, but rather the Italians, and it is their unique outside perspective which I think really makes this film work. Sure, it is biased in that it champions the Algerian freedom fighters, who eventually won the war for freedom, but it is hard not to be given the outcome and the general outlook on colonialism. I am pretty sure the general historical consensus is on the side of the Algerians. But with that being said, this is a brutal film full of violence and harrowing sequences which really create a tense and uncomfortable environment. And in that regard it is a monumental success.

The film is shot in such a realistic way as to make all of the violence even more impactful on the viewer. I really liked this style for a couple of reasons. The first is what I stated above, it makes the film feel so real, which is not surprising given it is an Italian film, the Italians being the ones who pioneered the neo-realism style a few decades before this. But the realistic style really gave the film a certain feel that just fit with the rest of the film. It was as if Pontecorvo was content on making the viewer be there when it all happened and let the action and the compelling nature of the narrative do all the talking. It is a simple, yet extremely effective style for the film, which, as a chronicle of events, works almost like a documentary, but has enough flair for the dramatic and marvelous acting from the cast to assure the viewer it is a fictionalized depiction.

But the fact that it is so real just goes to show how effective the art of film can be, even if it is not documentary. Because this film is based on real events which happened just a decade before its release, I can only image what it must have been like to see this film when it first came out, and especially as a European or North African, specifically French or Algerian. I can imagine that it would be a hard film to come back to, but it may not be necessary because the images and events will not be soon forgotten I don’t think. Urban guerrilla warfare is not pretty, but justice and freedom must be served in one way or another. It is difficult to accept the fact that sometimes it goes to these lengths, but the fact of the matter is we live in a crazy mixed-up world where freedom is not readily granted to everyone.


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