One of the most influential films in the history of political cinema, Gillo Pontecorvo?s The Battle of Algiers focuses on the harrowing events of 1957, a key year in Algeria?s struggle for independence from France. Shot in... more » the streets of Algiers in documentary style, the film vividly recreates the tumultuous Algerian uprising against the occupying French in the 1950s. As violence escalates on both sides, the French torture prisoners for information and the Algerians resort to terrorism in their quest for independence. Children shoot soldiers at point-blank range, women plant bombs in cafés. The French win the battle, but ultimately lose the war as the Algerian people demonstrate that they will no longer be suppressed. The Criterion Collection is proud present Gillo Pontecorvo?s tour de force?a film with astonishing relevance today.« less
"The word 'torture' does not appear in our orders."
anomie | 06/13/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
""The Battle of Algiers" is the story of a revolution. The film--based on real events--begins in 1954 with Ali-La-Pointe--an illiterate, unemployed ex-boxer. He winds up in prison, and it's there that he begins to identify with the F.N.L.--the National Liberation Front. The F.N.L.'s goal is an independent Algeria--free from French occupation--ruled "with a framework of Islamic principles." Once out of prison, Ali joins the F.N.L and begins 'cleansing' the Casbah (the Muslim section of Algiers) of undesirable Algerians who dabble in prostitution, narcotics and alcohol. The film shifts focus from Ali to the uprising against French Occupation. The situation subtly escalates--French police who sit peacefully drinking coffee in street cafes are murdered, and anti-Arab feelings mount. With a momentum of its own, the situation is blown beyond all control--terrorism is rampant--cafes, air terminals, and racetracks are all targets. Naturally, the French respond, but terrorism still increases, and French officials bump up against such bureaucratic necessities as search warrants and paperwork. Soon the French are behind sandbags and barbed wire, and the Muslim population of the Casbah are subject to checkpoints manned by French soldiers. At this point, seasoned warrior French Lieutenant Colonel Mathieu arrives. While the French residents of Algiers welcome his arrival, Mathieu's march though the streets ultimately seems sinister. He's a career soldier, highly principled in his own way--and he's there to win. Mathieu doesn't mess about. He takes control of the situation and tells his officers "to succumb to humane considerations only leads to hopeless chaos." Strategy dramatically changes as Mathieu methodically rounds up and tortures Algerians. It's a shotgun approach--evidently if you round up enough people and torture them, information will eventually pry loose. And it is by this method that Mathieu begins to break down the cell structure of the terrorist group. Using torture undermines the morality of the French position, but Mathieu tells the troubled French press that the matter is simple--the F.N.L wants the French out, but if France chooses to keep Algeria "you must accept the consequences." "The Battle of Algiers" is a masterpiece of filmmaking. It's black and white, directed by Italian director, Gillo Pontecorvo with English subtitles. The film has a somewhat grainy look to it that underscores the feeling you're watching a documentary. Interestingly enough the only professional actor in the entire film is Jean Martin who plays Lt Colonel Mathieu (based on General Massu). It's a travesty that this film has faded into obscurity, but evidently enough people know about it for a screening of the film to take place for Special Operations at the Pentagon on August 27, 2003. "The Battle of Algiers" was banned in France and is considered the quintessential film study of a nationalistic insurgency against capitalist suppression. If you are interested in watching an unforgettable political film, it doesn't get better than "The Battle of Algiers." After watching "The Birth of a Nation" Lenin commented that cinema is "History written with lightening." And after finishing "The Battle of Algiers" I'd have to agree--displacedhuman"
Historically Loaded and Politically Powerful Cinema...
Kim Anehall | Chicago, IL USA | 10/26/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Battle of Algiers displays the occupied Algeria attempt to fight for freedom as they have been under French rule since the 1830's. A little background history would enlighten the audience as the invasion of North Africa, Land of the Berbers, by the French in the 1830's was instigated by 300 years of "pirating" ships in the Mediterranean and raids of southern Europe, which enslaved many Europeans that were brought to Africa. However, the French occupation brought great injustices to the Algerian people as they are treated as second class citizens. In addition, the French controlled the markets, resources, and jobs, which only further the lives of the French citizens.
The injustices forced upon the Algerians to live in poverty, unemployment, societal harassment, and unequal rights. Consequently, the Algerians begin to rise against the injustice, but the unequal military force drives the Algerian freedom fighters to exercise terrorism and other hideous acts of violence. This violence is fed by further aggression from the French police as it escalates the violence from both sides.
The story begins with a man being humanely treated after a rough bout of torture as persecuting soldiers blame the man for the excessive torture, as all he had to do was to tell them what they wanted to know. The tortured man has just revealed the whereabouts of a known terrorist and he is in emotional agony as he is aware of what he has just done. They dress the agonized man in a French camouflage uniform, and depart to capture the freedom fighter.
The freedom fighter, Ali La Pointe (Brahim Haggiag), hides in a secret room behind a wall with three others. When the French soldiers arrive they immediately seek the hidden room and they threaten to detonate a bomb that will destroy the building with them inside unless surrender. In this moment Ali flashbacks to how he ended up in this situation, which also conveys the importance of this moment in Algerian history.
Gillo Pontecorvo and Franco Solinas wrote a politically loaded story about the Algerian liberation in the 1960s that depicted the French resistance to let go of their colony in northern Africa. The film was released in a time when the world was divided in east, Warsaw Pact, and west, North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Communism was the foundation of the east while the west was built around capitalism. These two economical ideologies were in fact in constant confrontation in the Third World as the Western World resisted to let go of their colonies. The civil outcry for freedom in Algeria spread a wildfire of freedom seeking people throughout the Third World.
Pontecorvo and Solinas, which laid out the framework for the film, base the story on long and hard research in Algeria. The film is told with a strong democratic view, which is reinforced through Pontecorvo's direction, which used an Italian neorealistic approach. The cinematic experience that is brought to the audience is powerful, as it will shake the ground upon which the audience is resting their feet. Battle of Algiers also teaches the audience to appreciate freedom fighters such as the patient Gandhi with his nonviolent approach to reach freedom.
CRITERION - Once again the unique art house company releases a DVD worthy their meticulous attention as they provide a film with outstanding information in regards to the film with several discs and booklet. This is definitely worth a purchase for any film enthusiast that wants to learn a little bit besides enjoying the cinematic journey."
Agron Elmazi | Buffalo | 03/29/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This film was released in the late sixties at the same time the U.S. was getting involved with Vietnam and the similarities are obvious. This is an emotional film which should be seen by all people(except young children). It's use of black and white film, documentary style look, non-professional actors, music, and realism make this a legendary film experience. It starts off with Ali "La Pointe" joining the freedom fighters against French colonial rule. Both sides start bombing each other and then France sends in its army to squash the rebellion. The films violence is harsh but necessary. The torture scenes were removed from some european prints but is intact in this video. This is the type of film that should be shown in highschool and college classes, it is a part of history. The things that will linger with you after watching this excellent film is what the Algerians went through to get their independence, too many innocent people died in this struggle and the viewer can't but help feeling the tragedy of this type of struggle, the final thirty minutes of this film is heartrending. Watch it!"
Ground-breaking film is a must-see
Clayton Whitt | San Luis Obispo, CA United States | 07/11/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I'll review the actual film instead of rambling on about the politics. The Battle of Algiers is a ground-breaking, must-see film. If you have seen recent films like "Traffic" and "City of God (Cidade de Deus)", then you must see this film, for it pioneered the documentary-style utilized by those other films that puts the grit and gravel under your feet while you watch it. The film does not purport to be a documentary, but rather than the clean, sweeping, over-directed camera shots you may be used to, the camera is usually on the ground, following the characters from their point of view. The action is brutally realistic (for its time). And the film-maker is certainly sympathetic with the plight of the Algerians in their struggle against the French; you will be too, if you do not share the naive view that colonialism is somehow there to "protect" the colonized population. Nevertheless, the filmmaker shows some of the atrocities committed in the name of Algerian independence, such as cafe bombings that killed dozens of innocent people. He doesn't sugarcoat these scenes, and he leaves it up to the audience to decide whether this kind of action can ever be justified (I certainly don't think so). This film is even more relevent today, as another Arab nation undergoes colonization once again by the West. Watch this film, and you will understand a lot more about the contemporary situation in the Middle East."
That rare film: it doesn't tell you what to think/feel
Jesse Kornbluth | New York | 10/30/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Almost every war movie stacks the deck. Enemy soldiers wear heavy boots, are unshaven, speak in accents and die in large numbers at the end. Heroes are played by actors who get $10 to $20 million a film; of course they get to go home and pick up their lives where they left off. Moral complexity? Not that you can notice --- war movies are like Westerns, just with better weapons.
Political movies are no better. The filmmaker --- if not the studio --- is on one "side" or other. The movie is a function of its point-of-view.
What if there were a political film without a hero? A war movie that doesn't take sides? Would that be a snooze?
"Battle of Algiers" is that film. It is not only one of the greatest movies about conflict, it is one of the best movies about political conflict. In fact, it is one of the greatest films ever made --- so great that no one has been able to steal from it.
"Battle of Algiers" is rooted in fact. It covers the period from 1954 to 1957, when Algeria was a colony of France and Algeria's National Liberation Front led uprisings in Algiers. French troops were sent in. The revolt was crushed.
But the movie is not the record of a victory or a defeat. It's about what makes people cry "Enough" and do something about it. It's about the cost of conflict and the loss of innocent life. And, in the end, it's about the tide of history --- in this case, about what may be the inevitable result of colonial occupation.
The movie looks like a documentary, shot in black-and-white by a cameraman who flinches when bombs go off.
In fact, there is not one frame of historical footage in the film.
As for actors, there are 150 amateurs in the film. The only professional is the French Colonel. The Algerian boy who plays Ali La Pointe was an illiterate street kid with no acting experience. Journalists and French soldiers were played by tourists.
As for taking sides, Pontecorvo doesn't. He doesn't even have a designated hero. He's following a "collective protagonist" on the Algerian side and the power of France --- personified by Colonel Mathieu, who was a Resistance fighter during World War II --- on the other.
For all that, "Battle of Algiers" is a hugely controversial film. When it was released in 1967, it was widely honored --- it won the Grand Prize at the Venice Film Festival and was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Screenplay (Gillo Pontecorvo and Franco Solinas), Best Director and Best Foreign Language Film. It was also banned for years in France after some theaters showing it were bombed. For a decade or so, it was shown --- with noisy projectors and sheets for screens --- in the Middle East as a training film for insurgents. And in 2003, the Directorate for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict at the Pentagon screened the film as a possible scenario of what American troops might face in Iraq.
The plot: Ali La Pointe is a petty criminal in jail for a minor offense. There he sees an execution of a fellow Algerian whose last words are "Allah is great! Long live Algeria!" When he's released, Ali is recruited by the National Liberation Front, which has developed an effective new tactic --- making war on French civilians.
This splits the viewer down the middle. It's very hard to cheer the French, but what can you say about people who put bombs in coffee shops and blow up high school kids? Does the end justify the means? If not, how do you effectively break the yoke of colonial oppression?
For all the action scenes --- and "Battle of Algiers" has some of the most astonishing street fights and scenes of "terrorism" ever filmed --- it's the conflict of ideas that's most stinging. Here's a news conference with a captured freedom fighter:
Journalist: M. Ben M'Hidi, don't you think it's a bit cowardly to use women's baskets and handbags to carry explosive devices that kill so many innocent people?
Ben M'Hidi: And doesn't it seem to you even more cowardly to drop napalm bombs on defenseless villages, so that there are a thousand times more innocent victims? Of course, if we had your airplanes it would be a lot easier for us. Give us your bombers, and you can have our baskets.
Most of all, there is a compelling argument about the wisdom anbd effectiveness of torture. Here's the leader of the French Army in Algiers:
Col. Mathieu: The word "torture" doesn't appear in our orders. We've always spoken of interrogation as the only valid method in a police operation directed against unknown enemies. As for the NLF, they request that their members, in the event of capture, should maintain silence for twenty-four hours, and then they may talk. So, the organization has already had the time it needs to render any information useless. What type of interrogation should we choose, the one the courts use for a murder case, that drags on for months?... Should we remain in Algeria? If you answer "yes," then you must accept all the necessary consequences.
The music is by Ennio Morricone, who scored Sergio Leone's "spaghetti westerns" --- better believe it will haunt and agitate you. And when you see what happens at the end of the film, you'll know why I tell you that your heart level will definitely elevate.
The film is in French. The subtitles are large and clear. But you don't need to hear the sound to understand the plot. Understanding the message is much more difficult. Indeed, forty years after "Battle of Algiers" was released, its issues are the biggest international challenge we face.