The Battle of Algiers

The Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966)
Frankly, my dear readers I don’t give a damn about politics and I don’t naturally go to the films that matter about this subject. It was more a mandatory exercise than an actual act of lovemaking towards this renowned film. Even if it was crafted during the great years of the French New Wave and that it influenced Steven Soderbergh on his Che, I had to try three times to actually watch the entire thing. Enough about me and let's discuss the film now.

The chronicle that is the reconstitution of the events that leaded to the independence of Algeria is a solid example of a scientifically and historically documented work of fiction. Almost shot like a documentary and loaning the narratives of the genre, The Battle of Algiers witnesses the revolution of a country that had enough for over 130 years of French wardship. The objective point of view of the narration delivers a strong untainted message that this was a war, or should I say a guerrilla, that marked the world of the 1960’s in its politics and Cinema. The movements of protests of May 68 in France and in many places in the world were influenced by the techniques shown in The Battle of Algiers. A nation that has been occupied for more than a century that could get his freedom was more than inspiring to the young revolutionaries. Many cinephiles of the time recall that these people used to bring paper and pen to the presentations of The Battle of Algiers taking notes on how to start a revolution. The realism of the actions displayed and the natural acting of those non professional actors was a big factor that made this film so unique and powerful.

On a historical value, Pontecorvo directed a very rich depiction of events that occurred less than a decade before the film was shot. It has two historical ways to analyze this complexity. First, the subject is still hot and the memory of the witness and participants of these events is still fresh and uncompromised by the time and the nostalgia or the retreat. It is almost as if Pontecorvo got in the street and shot images while the events actually occurred. A lot like Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center made shortly after the sad events of September 9/11. In the case of The Battle of Algiers, it was clear that the side of the revolutionaries was the side of the heroes and that the Independence of Algeria was the ultimate ending to the film.

Nevertheless, this case of documenting a fresh event like this doesn’t let the test of time and the step back we normally would take to analyze and fully understand the effects of the events displayed. In both cases of The Battle of Algiers and World Trade Center, what counts is the demonstration of how the events occurred in a certain gaze. A great case of Historical study and step back would be the dual films of Clint Eastwood; Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima displaying the two opponents, the two sides, and how they were involved in History.
Meanwhile, The Battle of Algiers has a strong historical value even if it’s a fictional film displaying events in an Algerian “partisanery”. Take the time to discover the wonderful Blu-Ray treatment of the film by Criterion Collection, it is worth the look.


  1. The most memorable for me were those astonishing street scenes, they really do look like archival footage, and bring to mind the many protests that have been happening lately around the world. and as you say this film was a huge influence on Soderbergh, not only in CHE but also even more so in TRAFFIC documenting all the different sides of the conflict.

  2. You are right BT! I forgot how TRAFFIC's narrative is structured "à la" BATTLE OF ALGIERS. Thanx for your comment this is much appreciated!

  3. I had a very similar reaction. I'm mostly apolitical and the realism bored me at times. But as you say, it's had tremendous influence. Every political thriller made since then owes a debt to it. And putting terrorism on display like that was a bold move.

  4. Exactly John! Big influence but I feel like it's a little overrated. But it's only my impression of the whole thing after a first viewing...

  5. Good to see you review this film.

    Algiers is definitely a personal favorite. A lot of people think it's "objective" which is poppycock: it is admirably balance in showing that terrorism, even in a good cause, has hideous consequences. The style, music and power of the emotional scenes (especially the torture montage) are overwhelmingly powerful. I don't think politics is essential to enjoying the movie.

    Honestly I found myself most attracted to Jean Martin's character than the FLN heroes. I did some research on the Algerian War and the French OAS for a class last year and I'd say his portrayal of that type is pretty spot-on. Ironically Martin played an OAS leader in Day of the Jackal a few years later.

    Oddly, Hollywood released Lost Command the same year. A loose adaptation of Jean Larteguy's The Centurions, it turns the Algerian War into a cartoon shoot-'em-up. Not unwatchable, but a strange counterpoint to Pontecorvo's film.

  6. Thanx for this Info Groggy Dundee! Maybe I'll have a look on Lost Command just to compare and see how Hollywood uses every other event to create entertainment out of it... I didn't know much about the Algerian War before I saw Pontecorvo's so should read a little bit more about it and rewatch it sometime soon.


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