The Battle of Algiers (1966)

Gillo Pontecorvo’s tour de force | 120 minutes
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What a vicious film this is! The film of its time in scores of circumstances utmost to the plot that stretches credulity, and more relevant in times we live in, than anything else around. Directed by Italian film maker Gillo Pontecorvo- The Battle of Algiers is a French/Italian language film based on the Algerian War (1954–62).

This is an absolute chef-d’oeuvre, true-to-life chronicle of the Algerian people’s struggle to overthrow the French colonial government and the film captures those war reporting, recreating the uprising on the ground to the absolute chord.

The inspiration was way back in 1962, when Gillo Pontecorvo and Franco Salinas, his screenwriter  visit Algiers with false journalist card. This is few months before July, when Algeria was liberated. Captivated by the events, they approached senior members of FLN, who helped them to approach people and even to explore some zones where the war was still raging.

Screenwriter Solinas and Pontecorvo and Solinas used all this material to write a script about a former paratrooper, Para, which was ultimately never made. Then in 1964, Pontecorvo and Saadi Yacef (FLN military commander) met each other and apparently Saadi Yacef’s book “Souvenirs de la Bataille d’Alger, ”was planned to be made into a film.

According to Pontecorvo’s biographer, Saadi’s representative Salah Baazi approached Gillo. In an interview in 2004, Saadi states that he himself went to Italy to seek out Pontecorvo, inspired by his work and aware of his political sympathies. La battaglia di Algeri viz. The Battle of Algiers was banned for five years in France, where it was later released cut in 1971. The film won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1966 and is also an Academy nomination for the best foreign category in 1968.

It’s the film of sort, propel special attention among many defence agencies around the world. The deeper information is not only about the real incidents the film depicts. This film explores certitude to the core on the subjects of counter- terrorism, counter-insurgency and the order that render the capacity to use violence or to instil fear and to coerce the government or its citizens, and draw out vital details. The film is a case study in modern warfare, with its terrorist attacks and the brutal techniques used to combat them.

This is classic colonial war of liberation with the French demonize to hold the African colony onto 100 years of Algerian occupation and the resistance been called operations of public order,  after changing the course of history. Algeria eventually gained independence from the French, but Pontecorvo relegates that to an epilogue. The serious cause of this incidence is also about The pied noirs lobby which was very powerful in Paris, and it pushed for apartheid-like white dominance and the French government were unwilling to address the moderate demands of nationalist Algerian groups. This is only to face a systematic attempt by France than to wipe out nationalists.

The auteur skilfully focuses on the years between 1954 and 1957,  were in time the guerrilla fighters regrouped and expand into the casbah, which is also called as state terrorism, the phase invented by French themselves. Admiringly, the film is about the methodic build-up the and galvanize the guerrilla movement. On the other side, colonial power resumes their mean of action and method used to annihilate it.

The film is described as near documentary style solely in black and white. What struck me most about this film Pontecorvo conceived. The feature which become known by examining the importance of the 50s and 60s in specific of global order and the intellectual current of West towards the resistance against communist Soviets, in the heights of the cold-war. Apart, the time of the global anti-imperialist response which linked the struggles in Algeria, Vietnam, Cuba and Angola as well as places in Latin America.

The swinging 60s had it many of alienated western youth identified and also associated with the insurgencies against colonialism and capitalism. The examples are Weather Underground in the US, the Red Brigade in Italy, The Red Army in West Germany. The Prague spring student movement challenged the Soviets.

The Algerian resistance (Armée de Libération Nationale), aka the FLN, is shown to take control of Algiers in what we’d consider to be terrorist style, yet you’re somehow able to identify with them and even live with their decision to bomb four market areas, including a bar and nightclub.

Then there’s the French. The anti-hero is Col. Mathieu, played by Jean Martin, who leads band of paratroopers to restore order. He is tough, no-nonsense soldier entrusted by the France. He is the central to the harbinger, as the film gyrates to the most memorable sequence heading his troop parade down the main street, to reassure the local people that the French army are ready to stamp the miscreants.

Col. Mathieu go on board with a  tough campaign of isolating secret cells, the resistance forces, students and the brutality against civilians bearing the brunt of offensives show the sign of abating, thus the prospect of further violation make the children shoot soldiers at point-blank range, women plant bombs in cafés, and French soldiers resort to torture to break the will of the insurgents. The film shows the brutality and inhumanity which exists on both sides of any conflict.

Marcello Gatti’s cinematography is another landmark cutting across the shoot through the narrow lanes of Algiers riding the handheld camera relying upon the older film stocks to establish the unwinding effects of narration and captivating the effects of documentary, so unique to the soul of the film. Besides, the use of radio broadcast, amplifying to the inscription of the copy-book pattern is mind blogging. Gillo Pontecorvo mentions that The Battle of Algiers used no footages of newsreel whatsoever.

Gillo Pontecorvo’s tour de force—a film with astonishing relevance even today

Film Crew

  • Directed by Gillo Pontecorvo
  • Screenplay by Gillo Pontecorvo & Franco Solinas
  • Cast: Jean Martin, Saadi Yacef, Tommaso Neri, Fawzia El-Kader & Michele Kerbash
  • Music by Ennio Morricone & Gillo Pontecorvo
  • Editing by Mario Morra & Mario Serandrei
  • Cinematography by Marcello Gatti
  • Distributed by Rizzoli, Rialto Pictures
  • Budget: $800,000
  • Release dates: September 8, 1966 (Algeria)
  • Run time: 120 Minutes

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The Battle of Algiers (Movie Review)

Gillo Pontecorvo’s tour de force

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