(The Battle of Algiers)
Director: Gillo Pontecorvo
Production: Igor Films (Rome) and Casbah Film Company (Algiers); black and white, 35mm; running time: 123 minutes. Released 1966. Filmed 1965 in Algiers; cost: $800,000.
Producer: Antonio Musu and Yacef Saadi; screenplay: Franco Solinas and Gillo Pontecorvo; photography: Marcello Gatti; editors: Mario Serandrei and Mario Morra; art direction: Sergio Canevari; music: Gillo Pontecorvo and Ennio Morricone; special effects: Tarcisio Diamanti and Aldo Gasparri; Algerian assistants: Ali Yahia, Moussa Haddad, Azzedine Ferhi, Mohamet Zinet; Algerian "opérateurs": Youssef Bouchouchi, Ali Maroc, Belkacem Bazi, Ali Bouksani.
Cast: Yacef Saadi ( Djafar ); Brahim Haggiag ( Ali La Pointe ); Jean Martin ( Colonel Mathieu ); Tommaso Neri ( Captain Dubois ); Mohamed Ben Kassen ( Le Petit Omar ); Fawzia El Kader ( Hassiba ); Michele Kerbash ( Fathia ).
Awards: Venice Film Festival, Lion of St. Mark, 1966.
Solinas, Franco, Gillo Pontecorvo's "The Battle of Algiers": A Film Written by Franco Solinas , New York, 1973.
Saadi, Yacef, Souvenirs de la bataille d'Alger: December 1956 September 1957 , Paris, 1962.
Mellen, Joan, Filmguide to "The Battle of Algiers, " Bloomington, Indiana, 1973.
Bignardi, Irene, Memorie estorte a uno smemorato: vita di Gillo Pontecorvo , Milan, 1999.
Hennebelle, Guy, "Une Si Jeune Paix," in Cinéma (Paris), December 1965.
Porin, Pierre, "Le Cinéma algérien et La Bataille d'Alger ," in Positif (Paris), October 1966.
Pontecorvo, Gillo, " The Battle of Algiers: An Adventure in Filmmaking," in American Cinematographer (Los Angeles), April 1967.
Castelli, Luisa, in Occhio Critico (Rome), May-June 1967.
Crowther, Bosley, in New York Times , 23 September 1967.
Gill, Brendan, "Truthtelling," in New Yorker , 23 September 1967.
Morgenstern, Joseph, "The Terror," in Newsweek (New York), 23 October 1967.
Kozloff, Max, "Shooting at Wars," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Winter 1967–68.
Mussman, Toby, "Gillo Pontecorvo," in Medium (New York), Winter 1967–68.
Kauffmann, Stanley, "Recent Wars," in New Republic (New York), 16 December 1967.
Covington, Francee, "Are the Revolutionary Techniques Employed in The Battle of Algiers Applicable to Harlem?" in Black Woman (New York), 1970.
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Sainsbury, Peter, in Afterimage: Third World Cinema (London), Summer 1971.
Mellen, Joan, "An Interview with Gillo Pontecorvo," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Fall 1972.
Miklay, E., "Valóság és modell: Pontecorvo: Az algiri csata és a Queimada," in Filmkultura (Budapest), September-October 1972.
Bosséno, C., in Image et Son (Paris), February 1981.
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Marshall, B., "Birth of a Nation," in Stills (London), May-June 1983.
O'Sullivan, Thaddeus, "Images of Liberation," in Sight and Sound (London), vol. 7, no. 3, March 1997.
* * *
In 1966 the revolutionary filmmaker Gillo Pontecorvo released his stunning chronicle of one of the major clashes of the Algerian struggle for independence: The Battle of Algiers. The film's fictionalized account of this crucial three-year period in Algeria's history draws on actual people and events as the basis for its story, and adopts an impressively convincing documentary style in its presentation.
The film's opening credits contain a message stating that "not one foot" of actual newsreel footage was used in the making of the picture, yet Pontecorvo achieves a naturalistic, cinema-verité quality through his direction, conveying the events with the immediacy of a television news broadcast. Marcello Gatti's grainy, black and white photography captures the look and texture of a newsreel, as does the jarring realism of the hand-held camerawork in many of the film's explosive crowd scenes. The use of non-professional actors (with the exception of Jean Martin as the French Colonel Mathieu) also contributes to the film's overall impression of events being recorded as they occur.
This documentary-like effect has evoked both praise and condemnation for Pontecorvo, with some critics expressing admiration for the film's achievement and others questioning the ethics of filming a partly fictional scenario in such strikingly realistic terms. For Pontecorvo and his screenwriting partner, Franco Solinas, however, the question of the "truth" of The Battle of Algiers is answered by the film's political impact as an anti-imperialist statement. If isolated moments in the film, such as its central character's harassment by a group of arrogant young Frenchmen, are the products of the authors' imaginations, they are nevertheless representative of events which occurred countless times during France's 130-year occupation of Algeria. Indeed, the film's most harrowing scenes—those of captured rebels undergoing torture at the hands of the military—demand to be shown, to demonstrate the full measure of the inhuman brutality they represent.
Yet Pontecorvo's political stance regarding the Algerian struggle does not lead him to resort to the caricatures of heroism and villainy which so often mar the impact of otherwise fine political films. Even as he reviles the policies of the French government, he forces us to confront the painful fact that these are human lives that are being lost and not mere pawns in a revolutionary uprising. His camera lingers on the faces of those who will die moments later from a planted rebel bomb, bringing home with wrenching clarity the bitter price of violent conflict. This rare approach, in a genre which frequently averts its eyes from these hard truths, places The Battle of Algiers at the forefront of political filmmaking by allowing each viewer to reexamine his or her own position on political violence in the harsh light of the images on the screen.
In the years since its release, The Battle of Algiers has become a staple of film classes and revival house theatres. Its political merits have been widely discussed and debated, with the individual outlook of each critic coming very much into play in any evaluation of the film. The film's cinematic achievements, however, remain as powerful as they first appeared in 1966, and subsequent armed revolts in other Third World countries have only served to reinforce the universality of Pontecorvo's remarkable work.
—Janet E. Lorenz