Re-released in a new print, Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo’s classic portrayal of the Algerian liberation struggle has become a model of political film-making and remains unmatched both in its emotional power and the honesty with which it lays out the positions of the opposing parties. The film focuses on the revolt of the urban populace of the Casbah in Algiers and in particular on one (fictitious) leader of the liberation movement (the FLN), Ali la Point. Care is taken to present a balanced account of the French position by establishing the figure of an intelligent French army officer, Colonel Mathieu, in opposition to Ali.
The film’s structure and style owe much to Italian neo-realism, but, contrary to appearances, there is no use of actual newsreel footage. Similarly, although many liberal critics have praised the film for its ‘balance’, The Battle of Algiers is in fact neither balanced nor impartial in its allegiances. Pontecorvo has pointed out that the balance is only structural: the film’s argument is a moral one. His aim was to show the rightness of the Algerian cause and the moral bankruptcy of the colonial regime.
Impressively mounted on real locations (the Algerian authorities also provided masses of extras and military hardware), this intelligent, angry and very powerful epic has a marvellous score by the great Ennio Morricone, with Pontecorvo himself writing the devastatingly effective music that accompanies the controversial torture sequences. Irish director Thaddeus O’Sullivan, whose film Nothing Personal is dedicated to Pontecorvo, has said, ‘As a study in terrorism, The Battle of Algiers has no match.’ See it and be astonished.