Battle of Algiers

9 thoughts on “Battle of Algiers

  1. Kennedy Mugo

    The Battle of Algiers.

    The film raises very interesting questions about colonization; especially, after the colonists have been in a land for more than a century—as is the case with the Pied Noir. They have been in Algeria since the 1830. When the freedom fighters of Algeria LFN, natives of the land, start their struggle they understand that they are at the bottom of the hegemonic power structure. The French, even though, having stayed in this country for more than a century, have been practicing an apartheid type system that keeps the white French population from integrating with the Arab/Berber population.
    This brings me to the third idea that is brought to the fore by the movie: Is the action that FLN taking against the French colonizer ‘terrorism’ or ‘struggle for independence’. How we look at this conflict might be the same way one might look at the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Are the various Palestinian groups who take up arms ‘freedom fighters’ or are they ‘terrorist’? This question is very valid because the Jewish population has not been in Israel/Palestine for as long as the Pied Noir colonized French Algeria and considered it their home. I would also not be stretching the truth too far by drawing similarities between the tactics used by the French in Algeria as seen in the movie and those used by the Israeli defense force in their ‘siege campaigns’, which is a retaliation with overwhelming force to any attack.

  2. Sylvana Chan

    Second time around and its message is just as powerful! I saw this in another political science class–“Ethics and War” with Professor Carmola–but found some new insights after watching it twice.

    First, I find it a little hard to believe that this film was made a mere four years after Algeria gained independence from the French. I’d expect a movie to be made about the revolution much later–after the wounds heal, so to speak. But it was made not long after many of the events depicted in the film actually happened.

    Second, I will forever be impressed with the director’s narrative. His portrayal of the events and sentiments of the revolution are accurate and fairly unbiased. Of course, there is no denying the film is more sympathetic to the rebel forces than to the French. It is, after all, a movie that documents the FLN’s efforts toward Algerian independence–a revolution that ended up being SUCCESSFUL. Nonetheless, I think Pontecorvo depicts wins/losses on both sides with great skill. The strongest example of his objectivity is demonstrated in the montage sequence of French forces “interrogating” suspect FLN members. Viewers no doubt react with some degree of disgust at French treatment of detainees, yet Colonel Mathieu is given an opportunity to defend such behavior in the previous scene. He asks the journalists to consider what France’s motive is. If it is to keep Algeria at all circumstances, people must deal with the nasty consequences.

    Furthermore, the director shows devastating losses on both sides: the FLN detonated bombs and killed innocent Europeans at cafes, dance pubs, and offices. The French, similarly, planted bombs in the Arab quarters of Algiers. Both sides gun people down; both sides are shown to be guilty of SOMETHING.

    “The Battle of Algiers” truly achieves the kind of accuracy and realism that all historical/political films should strive for. It was inspiring to watch–viewers definitely get lost in the drama of the revolution and find themselves oddly attached to the characters of the film. And to think–this was all done in black and white in the 60s! Awesome.

  3. Catherine Gordon

    This was my first time viewing the film, and I was impressed and surprised by how objectively the filmmakers recounted both sides of the conflict. The film demonstrated the motives and tactics of the FLN and the French police and paratroopers, displaying the brutality both inflicted and experienced by the native Algerians and the French-Algerians. It was incredibly tragic to witness the acts of violence committed by both groups, but the film also made clear the frustration and desperation felt by the members of the FLN and the French police, leading them to believe violence was necessary to achieve their goals. The film was very effective at demonstrating the harsh realities of European colonialism and occupation in the Middle East and North Africa, and it has given me a better understanding of similar situations in other parts of the region.

    One quote that stood out to me was something that Ben M’Hidi said to Ali concerning the arms strike: “Acts of violence don’t win wars. Neither wars nor revolutions. Terrorism is useful as a start. But then, the people themselves must act.” I think this quote sums up a lot about the Battle of Algiers and the film. Most of the movie focused on the terrorist acts and use of violent force, which ended with the paratroopers taking down the heads of the FLN. In the last ten minutes of the movie, however, the Algerian people went out into the street and demanded independence, and that’s when real progress was made towards independence.

  4. Edwin Merino

    What most impressed me about this film was the degree of realism that it portrayed. Considering that this movie was made only a few years after actual independence was gained, it certainly must have struck a deep emotional cord with both the pied noirs and Algerians who were involved in this struggle.

    Perhaps the most telling and saddest point about this conflict is that both sides could not reconcile with each other. The hatred and the differences seem so ingrained that in the end only one side could remain on the disputed land. I liked how the director was fair to the portrayal of all sides, not amounting to portraying either side as vicious animals, but rather as desperate and even confused participants in a wider conflict. Even within the FLN, Amir and Jaffar have different visions of how to deal with the French. There is no good guy in this film, but the audience can also understand the predicaments and intentions of both sides.

    One of the most interesting moments for me was when Colonel Matthieu was interviewed by several reporters. He mentioned that at the beginning of the conflict, even the Communists wanted the insurgency crushed. He was carrying out the will of the people, and such action required for some unfortunate but in his eyes necessary bloodshed. He noted that when political will in the country fades, as it did in Indochina, France will lose the conflict. His comments are validated, as the French eventually become disillusioned, while the will and unity of the Algerians in the end lead to the end of the conflict.

    The film is relevant today, as popular movements in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya have seen the same success as the Algerian movement. At the same time, the counterinsurgency theme is still relevant in the United States’ involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq.

  5. James Pates

    This was a powerful film. I was struck throughout by how effectively subtle camera movements and breakaways could generate a reaction from me. That, I think, means the film was effective in portraying the human side of a city at war. The cruelty of war was shown on all sides, beginning with the execution by guillotine and the subsequent cuts to the austere prison walls. This scene was nearly immediately contrasted by the bloody guerrilla warfare carried out by the FLN in the streets, killing French soldiers without warning or mercy.

    The film raised significant questions about the morality of a fight for independence, and what the bounds each side must operate within to be considered fighting for a moral cause. The French’s control over hospitals and requiring reporting before gunshot wounds can be treated raised one such moral quandary, as it left doctors unable to care for victims of the violence.

    The point of most contention for me came after the first bombing of the Arab quarter by French Algerians, after which native Algerians took to the streets in fury. All the while, the radio broadcast, “the FLN will avenge you.” At that point, those outraged by the bombing were inundated with the message that they should work through the FLN to effect change, which could have been a mischanneling of that outrage. It would seems that the sheer number of people so motivated to make demands after the bombing could have made gains with the French without funneling their anger through the FLN and allowing the organization to represent them. The FLN usurped the power of the masses and used it to justify their controversial approach to protesting.

    Some other notable points for me included how well the filmmakers portrayed the hesitation of the women bombers, panning around to show how their bombings would affect youth out entertaining themselves and other women like themselves, the use of the train-track like sound to create tension and build suspense, and the panning to the faces of French soldiers after the French general announces that “Humane considerations can only lead to despair.” Those faces showed surprise and even disagreement with that statement and was an impressive tactic by the filmmakers to show the controversial nature of the declaration.

  6. Riley O'Rourke

    Seeing Battle of Algiers twice takes away none of its tragedy or power. What does stick out more on the second viewing is the tired efficiency of the French counter insurgency techniques as they work through the ranks and cells of the FLN. It is this efficiency combined with the continued and escalating racism and strikes of the pied-noirs that ultimately makes their efforts futile. The early efforts of the FLN served as a catalyst for a nationalist movement against French colonization. Without the brutality their attacks and purges provoked perhaps this would not have come to pass for years. It reminded me of how Ireland was largely content to be an English colony until the British executed the efforts of what was a fairly pitiful attempt at an uprising in 1916.

    This too was something that stood out to me. The presence of so many ethnically French Algerians was illustrated very well by the film. These were people who considered Africa home and whose motive could easily go counter to those of mainland french politics and the army. It is easy to see how they and elements of the army would attempt coup against de Gaulle in 1961, when they sensed the French government bowing out. Also it shows the different methods of colonialism practiced in the region. Settler populations vs. exploitative colonies.

  7. Ian Trombulak

    This was my first viewing of Battle of Algiers, and I am glad I had the chance to see it. Cinematically, it was both engaging and, at times, horrifying as the two diametrically opposed forces clashed repeatedly, with significant civilian death as a result. The filming of the sequence in which the three women drop off their bomb-purses was especially effective. Perhaps because it is a trope of western cinema, I was convinced that at least one of the women would have second thoughts upon seeing the “real people” at her target location and leave the bomb in some alley somewhere. Instead, even the woman who saw that her bomb would kill teenagers followed through, demonstrating the dedication members of FLN have to their cause. The tight editing of this sequence increased the drama of the incident and effectively portrayed the conflicting motives and ideologies that led to such an attack.

    More importantly, however, the movie helped illustrate to me the realities of foreign occupation in the Middle East. It’s one thing to read that “the British are in Egypt” or “the Italians occupied Libya” or “the French were in Algeria,” but it changes the way you think about it to see the occupations played out on screen. Since foreign occupation and colonization has been such a huge part of the recent history of the Middle East, it was extremely valuable to see one of these occupations and the havoc that it wreaked in one city.

  8. Matthew Yaggy

    I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that The Battle of Algiers paints a fairly accurate picture of what happened during Algeria’s battle for Independence. While the readings did touch on the second-class nature of native Algerians and the discrimination they experienced at the hands of the pied noirs, they did not really go into much detail. This film painted a very stark image of the conditions the native algerians found themselves under. The blatant racism displayed towards the native algerians was pretty sickening. If someone came into my homeland and started subjugating me, I would probably react violently as well. I am curious as to why women were not patted down at check-points, but i assume it has something to do with religious propriety. Anyone know? It’s also interesting to think about the sense of entitlement and superiority inherent in the European nations that received mandate nations. How did that ideology grow? Eugenics?

  9. Nejla Calvo

    This was my second time viewing “Battle of Algiers” and I am so glad that I watched it again, because it seems to have impacted me stronger this time. It may be because the film showcased the kind of struggle for liberation and spirit of freedom that we see echoing across the Middle East and North Africa today. There were specific film-making techniques, scenes, and lines in the movie that grabbed my attention.

    First, the filmmakers were skilled in showcasing the escalation of indiscriminate attacks in an understandable manner. I am suggesting that as a viewer, I could understand the motives and tactics behind both the FLN and French Paratroopers. The FLN resorted to calculated terrorist tactics in order to showcase their strength and presence to the French colonizers, the French police force, the French paratroopers, the Arab-Algerians who supported them, the Arab-Algerians who doubted them, and to the international audience. The methods in which they constructed their organizations and orchestrated their attacks were, for the most part, resourceful and tactical (secret communication, disguises, weapons smuggling, etc.) . Nonetheless, the tactics of Colonel Mathieu were strategic and intelligent (torture, humiliation, surprise raids, complete occupation of the Casbah). Although inhumane, he understood that in order to be successful in their mission to squah the FLN, the French Paratroopers has to systematically isolate and pick off leaders of the liberation movement. The only way to kill a tapeworm is to destroy its head.

    I think that the scene where the FLN leader and Colonel Mathieu are interviewed back to back perfectly verbalizes the views from both sides. When asked if it is honorable to blow up bombs in baskets, the FLN leader responds, “give us your bombers and we will give you our baskets.” When the reporters express concern about torture methods of interrogation, Colonel Mathieu boils the situation down to a simple point: The French want to stay in Algeria. The Algerians want the French out. It is the soldiers duty to do whatever it takes to ensure that the French stay in Algeria.

    Without getting to long-winded, I can’t leave this post without pointing out how this film mirrors many aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I understand that the context and histories of both places are different, but the underlying themes and images of the film struck me as very familiar. These include land disputes, military policing, checkpoints, decreasing mobility, resistance, terrorist tactics, house raids, etc. A huge difference between the two is that the Algerian liberation movement lasted 8 years, while the Arab-Israeli conflict has been going on for over 60 years.

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