Battle of Algiers, The (1967): Essential War Documentary

(La Battaglia di Algeri)

This seminal work about the Algerian struggle for independence from France won the “Best Film” award at the 1966 Venice Film Festival, and later garnered two Oscar nominations for Gillo Pontecorvio, as director and co-writer.

I saw the film for the first time in the 1970s in a film class, and decades later, this essentail docu has not dated at all. In fact, it is poignant and timely both a procedural (dort of how-to manual) for guerrilla terrorism as well as a cautionary moral and political tale about the struggle and its effects.

The new Criterion Blu-ray edition reaffirms the status of Battle of Algiers as a must-see movie for viewers, filmmakers–and politicians.

Rather than assemble war footage, director Pontecorvio has made a crucial strategic decision to put human faces and relatable idividuals behind the various conflicting ideologies.

Most of this political feature is shot in flashback, presented as the memories of Ali (Brahim Haggiag), a leading member of the Algerian Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN), when finally captured by the French in 1957.

We learn that three years earlier, Ali was a petty thief who joined the secretive organization in order to help rid the Casbah of vice associated with the colonial government. The film traces the rebels’ struggle and the increasingly extreme measures taken by the French government to quell what soon becomes a nationwide revolt.

After the flashback, Ali and the last of the FLN leaders are killed, and the film takes on a more general focus, leading to the declaration of Algerian independence in 1962.

Director Pontecorvo’s careful re-creation of a complicated guerrilla struggle presents an unabashedly partisan view of some complex social and political issues, which got the film banned in France for many years.

“La Battaglia di Algeri” was subsidized by the Algerian government.  With the exception of Jean Martin and Tommaso Neri as French officers — the cast was entirely Algerian as well.

There are several versions of this picture, with different running time, ranging from two and a half hour to the more coommonly shown version of two hours and 3 minutes.

Oscar Nominations: 2

Director: Gillo Pontecorvo

Story and Screenplay (Original): Franco Solinas and Gillo Pontecorvo

 

Oscar Context:

The directing Oscar went to Carol Reed, at his third nomination, for the musical movie “Oliver!” and the Writing Oscar to Mel Brooks for “The Producers.”

 

 

Credits

 

Directed By: Gillo Pontecorvo

 

Written By: Gillo Pontecorvo, Franco Solinas.

 

Released on September 20, 1967, during the height of the Vietnam War.

 

DVD: September 21, 2004

 

Rialto Pictures

 

 

 

 

 

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