This cinematic masterpiece of political drama is so convincing that director Pontecorvo announces at the beginning that no newsreel or documentary footage has been used in the making of the film. The Battle of Algiers tells the story of the early years of Algeria’s National Liberation Fronts fight for independence from the French in the 1950s.
We see the struggle for power through the perspectives of two protagonists Ali (Brahim Hadjadi), a criminal who becomes a leader of the violent insurrection, and Col. Matthieu (Jean Martin – the only professional actor in the cast), a champion of the French army’s fierce countermeasures. The narrative presents the reality of war with each side perpetrating indiscriminate brutality whether its bombing of civilians, torture or the use of scapegoats. It shows us that both sides have rational arguments to demonstrate they are on the side of morality.
The Battle of Algiers achieves something powerful, the director wants us to feel as if were there and he succeeds. Gillo Pontecorvo combines elements of Italian Neo-Realism and French New Wave cinema to give the impression the film is capturing events as they happen. He uses available light and newsreel film stock, he shoots on location with non-professional actors and the result is a hugely affecting film as well as a masterclass in filmmaking.
The film was re-released in 2004 a year after the Pentagon screened it for senior members of the military engaged in Iraq, to show how it is possible to win a battle against terrorism and lose the war of ideas. With current popular uprisings in a number of Arab countries a comparison may be simplistic but ruling powers might take note that although France won the battle of Algiers they lost the war in 1962.
It is of its time in many ways, yet somehow more extreme, and more contemporary, than anything else around. 5 stars, Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian.
The inspiration and blueprint for docudrama and ideological cinema worldwide Prairie Miller, WBA/Web Radio.
Brilliantly directed set-pieces and remarkable thronging crowd scenes make the film a masterpiece the ominous familiarity of its subject makes it a must-see. James Christopher, The Times.