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THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS

Director: GILLO PONTECORVO

ITALY-ALGERIA • 1966 • SUBTITLED • BLACK AND WHITE • 120 MIN


ONE OF THE MOST CELEBRATED AND INFLUENTIAL OF POLITICAL FILMS, GILLO PONTECORVO’S 1966 CLASSIC ABOUT THE ALGERIAN WAR OF INDEPENDENCE REMAINS AS RELEVANT AS IT EVER WAS.
The Battle of Algiers is about the long campaign fought by Algerians to rid themselves of the colonial yoke of France. It 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 Pointe.
A powerful opening sequence shows the torture by the French of a member of the FLN and the subsequent capture of Ali and his remaining comrades. The narrative then goes into flashback to trace the politicisation of Ali, hitherto a small-time street criminal. The film’s style, with its documentary-like reconstruction of events and grainy black and white photography, owes much to the influence of Italian neo-realism. 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. Similarly, the film doesn’t shrink from showing the horrors of the FLN’s bombing campaign. Overall, though, Pontecorvo’s film is neither balanced nor impartial in its allegiances. Its argument is a moral one and its aim is to show the rightness of the Algerian cause. It’s impossible in a short review to do justice to this masterwork of political cinema—from its powerful score (by Ennio Morricone and Pontecorvo), to the fine, angry intelligence of its script (by Franco Solinas), to its use of actors, both professional and amateur. —Marion Doyen.

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