Directed by: Gillo Pontecorvo
Written by: Gillo Pontecorvo & Franco Solinas
Starring: Jean Martin, Saadi Yacef, Brahim Haggiag, Tommaso Neri
Revolution comes with a human cost. Colonizers love possessing others and their land and will not let go of it without a fight. It’s been seen across various nations with some receiving more celebration than others. The Battle of Algiers details the brutal and deadly fight that took place in North Africa held under French occupation. Collateral damage was of no worry and the tactics used in battle were horrifying.
In hopes of freedom, the National Liberation Front (NLF) fights against their captors, led by Ali La Pointe (Brahim Hadjadi). To combat these rebels, the French utilize the services of Colonel Philippe Matthieu (Jean Martin). With each attack and loss of life, the fighting gets dirtier and the stakes continue to rise.
Learning about the production of this film led me down a rabbit hole of information regarding the politics at play. With it being an Italian-Algerian production, its release out to the world was controversial at best. The feature was banned in France because of the already-divided nation having opposing thoughts on the rights of the nation to colonize that area. It also garnered its controversial reputation for how it depicted urban guerilla warfare. It did so in such a realistic way that the Pentagon screened the movie in preparation for what would occur in Iraq back in 2003.
The Battle of Algiers demonstrated ruthlessness in the way people fight back. No longer would these efforts happen the way the colonizers expected. The National Liberation Front utilized a method of guerilla warfare that involved everyone in the community, including the women who would hide bombs and plant them in cafes. Whenever any peace ceasefires seem to be manifesting, another attack would ensue. It became an unrelenting fight that would not let up from any sort of resistance. Controversy arrived with the release of this film and how it helped different liberation groups like the Blank Panthers and others.
The narrative focused on the NLF and the French colonizers and what they each valued in this fight. On the side of the liberators, we follow Ali La Pointe’s journey from joining the movement to becoming one of the major leaders, who led assaults on the French. He was portrayed by first-time actor, Brahim Hadjadi, which was an intentional decision by director Gilo Pontecorvo in his attempt to make it look like people most of the audience would not recognize. It plays into the idea of Pontecorvo trying to make it look like a documentary, without using any actual real footage. He certainly succeeds in creating that type of aesthetic.
On the French side, we follow Colonel Philippe Matthieu as he shows the perspective of the colonizers in the whole ordeal. It shows the horrible tactics used by the French to draw out the folks they saw as rebels and attempt to squash this rebellion. Even with all of the attacks the NLF completed, it always feels like the French had the upper hand, and knowing about the history of these events will alert you of the end result of this entire struggle.
Visually, the film looks amazing, as it shows the brutality at hand in horrifying detail. From the parades down the streets by the French army and the shootings in the town square, The Battle of Algiers maintains an air of fear and pain that goes through each soldier and liberator as they walk down the street. No one is safe and anyone who happens to be an innocent bystander does not get spared as the conflict feels bigger than any individual. The fight comes from the idea of kicking out these colonizers and anyone caught in the crossfire serves as a casualty for a greater cause.
It would be foolhardy to describe The Battle of Algiers as a delightful watch, but one that should be essential to any lover of film. Its visual style paired with the violence shown on screen demonstrates a harsh look at these fighting tactics. It refuses to sugarcoat the brutality on display and how a nation of rebels seek to fight back against a nation refusing to cease its control over them. Its ripple effects are still felt today in the way it depicted its guerilla warfare style of battle and makes you wonder, which nations of power always seem to be in the same position as France in this feature.