Battle of Algiers, The
Gillo Pontecorvo’s masterpiece about the turbulent last years of French colonial rule in Algeria, seen from the perspective of both the guerrilla revolutionaries and the French authorities.
“Probably the only film that has ever made middle-class audiences believe in the necessity of bombing innocent people – perhaps because Pontecorvo made it a tragic necessity.”
Pauline Kael, New Yorker, 1973
One of the cinema’s great political masterpieces, as important as Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin 40 years earlier, The Battle of Algiers charts the history of Algeria’s national liberation movement from its inception in 1954 to the country’s independence in 1962.
The film is no dry, detached documentary, however much the grainy black-and-white cinematography makes it look like a newsreel. Individual set-pieces are as gripping as any ever filmed, with Gillo Pontecorvo’s determination to give both sides a fair hearing leading to constant moral ambiguity when both sides commit tit-for-tat atrocities. Although there’s no doubt where the film itself stands (it was independent Algeria’s first production), the most richly drawn character is the French Colonel Mathieu (Jean Martin), aware that he’s on history’s losing side but still required to go through the motions.
Initially banned in France, Pontecorvo’s film has been used as a morale-booster by both the Black Panther movement and the 2010 Algerian World Cup team.
Films directly influenced by The Battle for Algiers include Z (1969), Michael Collins (1995) and Munich (2005). Pontecorvo went on to make Queimada! (1969), about a fictional Caribbean insurrection.