Would it surprise you to learn that The Battle of Algiers (Pontecorvo, 1966) is on the top ten lists of countless film critics and filmmakers, and was also the favorite film of Andreas Baader, leader of the left-wing militant organization the Baader-Meinhof Group? That the film was banned in France and not shown until five years after its release? That it has been screened around the world for military organizations, including the Pentagon in 2003, as preparation for urban guerrilla warfare? The film clearly has lost none of its power in fifty years. Shot in a documentary style, the film so convincingly captured the Algerian independence movement that upon its American release, it carried a notice that “not one foot” of newsreel footage had been used.
The director, Gillo Pontecorvo, consciously chose non-professional Algerians to maintain this verisimilitude. The film was inspired by an account of the campaign by Saadi Yacef, a National Liberation Front (FLN) military commander, and he very effectively plays an FLN leader in the film. The use of Algerians in these key roles is all the more incredible when you think about the forces at work on the film. At the time, there was a push to have a white Westerner shape the key narrative of the story and to be the audience avatar. This would have kept Algerians as the exotic other, rather than telling the story from their perspective.
When you watch the film, let us know if you think the filmmaker succeeded in his goal to show the truth and the means to which both sides of any conflict will go to prevail.
What you’ll find in this episode: how Jean Martin was uniquely qualified to play his role, how the filmmakers planned and executed the major crowd scenes, and the actor initially proposed to play a lead character.
Links and Recommendations:
Check out The Battle of Algiers on IMDB.
Ericca’s further viewing pick of The New World.
Cole’s further viewing pick of Is Paris Burning?
More on Gillo Pontecorvo’s process.
The Casbah of Algiers’ last breath.