The Battle of Algiers
This is a film made in 1965 about the late 1950’s uprising in French-run Algeria. It has a soundtrack by Morricone, and is filmed in an interesting and gripping documentary style, in order to try and stress the realism of the events portrayed. It’s an even-handed film, showing evil acts perpetrated by both sides during the struggle, and I was quite surprised to find out that it was actually commissioned by the Algerian government. It doesn’t seem particularly biased (or as unbiased as such film can be).
There’s no flinching here from the acts committed. We are shown children and civilians being carried from collapsed buildings after some French action, and emotive, welling music rises (‘hm’, I thought, ‘so it’s gonna be anti-French’), but later similar footage is shown of the aftermath of a bombing of innocent civilians in a cafe, and a similar montage and the same music is used. More bombings – at a race course for example – presenting the approach of the Algerian Liberation Front (FLN) are shown, but again, this is balanced by unflinching footage of the torture of arab suspects by the French – electrocution, drowning, hanging in awkward positions, beating…
There’s more scary stuff here. The ease with which the women change from traditional covering clothing to Western-style clothes and make-up to get through checkpoints with bombs, the hiding of guns in the robes which are quickly pulled and used to shoot policemen going about their jobs (at the start of the agitation), and how the fighters assume (correctly!) that other arabs will willingly help them. Other striking scenes include how one of the fighters is going to be blown out of his hiding place and the French offer to allow a boy to come out – but the man keeps the boy with him. Another is the FLN (early on, before the struggle is really underway) declare they will clear the Kasbah of drink and drugs and prostitution, and a gang of small boys start taunting an old drunk. He staggers up a wide stairway, but the boys whistle and call other boys, until there’s a mass of them, pulling the drunk about, and then dragging/forcing him down the stairs on his back…
There’s a lot to be said for watching this film. I can’t recall any movie quite like it, and it is a cliche, I know, to say it’s never been more relevant. But it’s a true cliche.
It’s tense, it’s gripping, it’s thought-provoking.
This film is in French and Algerian/Arabic.
REWATCHABILITY: Once a year. Suitable for middle teens up. Quite grim and bloody, but it is in black and white.