The Battle of Algiers

Nicholas Harrison

in Cinema and Media Studies

ISBN: 9780199791286
Published online August 2012 | | DOI:
The Battle of Algiers

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The Battle of Algiers (1966) offers a moving account of an early phase in the Algerian war of independence. Its level of historical accuracy is high and is connoted through its black-and-white images, its dialogue in French and Arabic, and its large cast of nonprofessional actors (alongside one professional, Jean Martin). So it is not surprising that it has sometimes been treated almost as a documentary, but its effect on audiences also relies on its fictionalized elements, its sophisticated manipulation of narrative convention and chronology, and its aesthetic complexities—notably in its use of music and montage. Its director, Gillo Pontecorvo, and his screenwriter, Franco Solinas (who on other occasions worked with such distinguished directors as Francesco Rosi, Costa-Gavras, Roberto Rossellini, Sam Peckinpah, and Joseph Losey), conceived of the film as an exercise in Marxist anti-imperialism, a display of international solidarity with Algerian nationalism, and an illustration of the irresistible force of class struggle. It was produced by Saadi Yacef, who during the war of independence had been a leader of the principal Algerian anticolonial organization, the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN), which came into being at the start of the war in November 1954 and took power in the newly independent Algeria in July 1962. The film was shot on location in Algiers in 1965, just three years after the war ended, with private financing from Italy and Algeria and with the support of the Algerian government. Solinas’s screenplay was based on Yacef’s memoirs, and Yacef was also one of the stars of the film, playing himself; some other former combatants thought the film was too sympathetic to the French and that it overplayed Yacef’s role (or underplayed their own roles). In France the film met with fierce hostility, such that it was several years before it went on general release and several decades before it was shown on television. Meanwhile, in other places around the world the film was greeted as a masterpiece of political cinema, reportedly offering inspiration to diverse political groups, and was rereleased in the 2000s, when it was also screened at the Pentagon for the lessons it offered in the so-called War on Terror.

Article.  12715 words. 

Subjects: Media Studies ; Film ; Radio ; Television

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