This highly political film about the Algerian struggle for independence from France took "Best Film" honors at the 1966 Venice Film Festival. The bulk of the film is shot in flashback, presented as the memories of Ali (Brahim Haggiag), a leading member of the Algerian Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN), when finally captured by the French in 1957. Three years earlier, Ali was a petty thief who joined the secretive organization in order to help rid the Casbah of vice associated with the colonial government. The film traces the rebels' struggle and the increasingly extreme measures taken by the French government to quell what soon becomes a nationwide revolt. After the flashback, Ali and the last of the FLN leaders are killed, and the film takes on a more general focus, leading to the declaration of Algerian independence in 1962. Director Gillo Pontecorvo's careful re-creation of a complicated guerrilla struggle presents a rather partisan view of some complex social and political issues, which got the film banned in France for many years. That should not come as a surprise, for La Battaglia di Algeri was subsidized by the Algerian government and -- with the exception of Jean Martin and Tommaso Neri as French officers -- the cast was entirely Algerian as well. At least three versions exist, running 135, 125, and 120 minutes.
An interesting study in so called resistance fighting and the tactics used by both sides. "Colonel Mathieu" (from the real Colonel Marcel Bigeard) was surprisingly frank in his talks about the resistance but that is expected when:
The Algerian revolution has been called by many the bloodiest revolution in history. Although the revolutionary forces in Algiers were defeated by the French Army, the long war throughout the country led to the French withdrawal from Algeria. As leftists, the theme of showing the inevitable demise of colonialism as an instrument of Western imperialism was central to Pontecorvo and Solinas's treatment of The Battle of Algiers.
The film was inspired by the account of one of the military commanders of the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN), Saadi Yacef, in his memoir Souvenirs de la Bataille d'Alger. The book, written by Yacef while a prisoner of the French, was meant as propaganda to boost morale among FLN militants. After independence, Yacef was released and became a part of the new government. The Algerian government gave its backing to have a film of his memoirs made and Yacef and exiled FLN member Salash Baazi approached the Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo and screenwriter Franco Solinas with the project. However, Solinas's own first draft, entitled Parà, told the story from the perspective of a disenchanted French paratrooper, whom he and Pontecorvo hoped to be played by Paul Newman. Baazi rejected this idea, as it relegated the suffering of the Algerians to a backdrop, and Yacef wrote his own screenplay, which the Italians then rejected as overly biased toward the Algerian side. While sympathetic with the cause of Algerian nationalism, the Italians insisted on dealing with the events from a neutral point of view. The final screenplay has an Algerian protagonist, but attempts to depict the suffering and the cruelty on both the French and Algerian sides. Solinas began the script by jotting down "flashes of ideas" on a blackboard, which became the basis for scenes; this may explain the "episodic" feel of the movie.
Although the film is based on real events, it makes use of composite characters and changes the names of certain figures. For instance, the character "Colonel Mathieu" is a composite of several French soldiers in the Algers counterinsurgency, in particular Jacques Massu. Accused of making the character seem too elegant and noble, Solinas denied that this was his intention: he simply made Matthieu "elegant and cultured, because Western civilization is neither inelegant nor uncultured."The Battle of Algiers
Luckily we get to see what a real resistance is in the mass demonstrations and the voluminous choir of voices. Not the gun shooting of police in the back or bombings of discos and other gathering places. It started out almost as Shari‘a Law when the resistance was carrying out murders and torture of pimps and winos. A side part was an arranged marriage by the FLN. But a brief history showed the leadership of FLN governed moderately.
After more than a century of rule by France, Algerians fought through much of the 1950s to achieve independence in 1962. Algeria's primary political party, the National Liberation Front (FLN), has dominated politics ever since. Many Algerians in the subsequent generation were not satisfied, however, and moved to counter the FLN's centrality in Algerian politics. The surprising first round success of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) in the December 1991 balloting spurred the Algerian army to intervene and postpone the second round of elections to prevent what the secular elite feared would be an extremist-led government from assuming power. The army began a crack down on the FIS that spurred FIS supporters to begin attacking government targets. The government later allowed elections featuring pro-government and moderate religious-based parties, but did not appease the activists who progressively widened their attacks. The fighting escalated into an insurgency, which saw intense fighting between 1992-98 and which resulted in over 100,000 deaths - many attributed to indiscriminate massacres of villagers by extremists. The government gained the upper hand by the late-1990s and FIS's armed wing, the Islamic Salvation Army, disbanded in January 2000. However, small numbers of armed militants persist in confronting government forces and conducting ambushes and occasional attacks on villages. The army placed Abdelaziz BOUTEFLIKA in the presidency in 1999 in a fraudulent election but claimed neutrality in his 2004 landslide reelection victory. Longstanding problems continue to face BOUTEFLIKA in his second term, including the ethnic minority Berbers' ongoing autonomy campaign, large-scale unemployment, a shortage of housing, unreliable electrical and water supplies, government inefficiencies and corruption, and the continuing - although significantly degraded - activities of extremist militants. Algeria must also diversify its petroleum-based economy, which has yielded a large cash reserve but which has not been used to redress Algeria's many social and infrastructure problems.
The three posts:
RDRutherford Movie Reviews: The Battle of Algiers (3 disc set)
RDRutherford Movie Reviews: The Dictatorship of Truth|Battle of Algiers Disk Two
RDRutherford Movie Reviews: The Battle of Algiers (1966) Disc 3