Movie Review: The Battle Of Algiers

by Daniel Russ on January 20, 2012

Movie frame from The battle of Algiers

Jean Martin as Colonel Mathieu In The Battle of Algiers


I watched the movie The Battle of Algiers, a 1966 film about the 8 year insurgency by the citizens of Algeria against the French occupational force. It was directed by Gillo Pontecorvino. It is a powerful, moving movie, about two hours and twenty minutes long. The acting is superb. The casting is superb, and the action sequences were great considering nothing really compares to today’s modern day war films like band of Brothers, Pacific and Saving Private Ryan. The cinematography is spectacular as well. In fact, Empire magazine gives it the 120th place for the top 500 films of all times.


The insurgency itself lasted from 1954 until 1962 when the French decided to withdraw and Algeria became an independent nation unfettered by the rule of European powers.


The film definitely takes both points of view. It shows the French commanders defining the leadership, the cells and the it shows the deaths of French citizens at the hands of insurgent Algerian women who dress like westerners and plant bombs. One is planted at Air France. One is planted at a bar and the other is planted at a Caribbean restaurant. French locals in the French quarter greet elite French paratroops with pomp and parades and applause when they come to Algiers and march through the city accompanied by a marching band.


The film shows the insurgents point of view by taking us through the frightening and humiliating check points where French soldiers act like TSA agents, challenging identifications, going through personal items and detaining people. It also shows the French’s ham-handed attempts to bring the Algerians to their side by making self congratulatory announcements on a loudspeaker at checkpoints while they hand out free food.


Oddly, this was one of the exact same scene in Pan’s Labyrinthe when the Spanish troops loyal to Franco yell out pro Franco epithets and hand out daily bread.


The French soldiers and officers are brutal and disrespectful to locals. The locals steam. Of course, like the United States unfortunate regimen of waterboarding and humiliating Arabs, the French detain and torture locals all in an attempt to force confessions. It seems like we went through the exact same trajectory in Iraq, only we stayed longer. The only time the French are answerable happened when a few journalists challenged the military commander to justify the treatment of Algerians in custody.


The film is said to have been used as a model for urban occupation resistance. That is probably true. But then, so could Red Dawn or Mission Impossible. The movie was banned in Israel for a long time, and in fact it wasn’t until 2004 that the Pentagon allowed it to screened. The point here is that again, history repeats itself and we learn nothing.


The movie does not end at the end of the resistance. In fact, it is a slice of the resistance from 1954 to 1957.  So the ending is simply type on the screen. The movie is in Arabic and French and subtitled appropriately.


See the movie.





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