The return of an anti-imperialist classic
Review by Laura Durkay | February 20, 2004 | Page 9
The Battle of Algiers, directed by written by Gillo Pontecorvo, co-written by Franco Solinas. Visit www.rialtopictures.com for local screenings.
A WOMAN plants a bomb in a crowded cafe. Occupying troops dynamite a home in a crowded Arab neighborhood. But this is not Iraq or Palestine in 2003--it's a scene from the 1965 film The Battle of Algiers, recently re-released in selected cities.
The Battle of Algiers depicts the Algerian struggle to throw off 130 years of French colonial rule. Filmed in a documentary style using mostly non-professional actors, it takes an unflinching look at urban guerilla warfare and the even more brutal tactics that French occupiers used to maintain their rule.
The film is based on the prison notebooks of Saadi Yacef, who was a leader of the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN), an underground resistance group that fought a fierce guerrilla war against the French from 1954-57. Yacef and Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo spent two years in the Casbah, the huge Arab ghetto of Algiers, looking for ordinary Algerians who could convey the burning hatred of colonialism that saturates the film.
In a riveting sequences, three Arab women disguise themselves as French to plant bombs in the French quarter. The wide streets and posh buildings of Algiers' European quarter are contrasted to the crowded, dilapidated Arab slums of the Casbah. The incredible power of the film is that while it doesn't whitewash the violence of national liberation struggles, it stands firmly and confidently on the side of the oppressed.
In August, the Pentagon showed The Battle of Algiers to officers planning the occupation of Iraq, advertising it as "how to win a battle against terrorism and lose the war of ideas." But the Pentagon hacks missed the point of the film--that there is no other way to maintain colonialism except with terror, and imperialism inevitably produces anti-imperialism.
Through midnight raids, demolitions and torture, the French paratroopers in the film virtually destroy the covert military organization of the FLN. But ultimately even this repression is useless--as the end of the film shows mass protest of Algerians confronting tanks and tear gas to win their independence. With its obvious relevance to today's struggles, The Battle of Algiers should be required viewing for anti-imperialists.