The Battle of Algiers (5/10)
2004 by Tony Medley
When you look at the
movies getting all the Oscar buzz, Master and Commander, Mystic
River, Cold Mountain, Lost in Translation, The Station Agent, et. al, you
realize what a dismal movie year 2003 was. While some of these might
have been mildly entertaining, some wouldnít have gotten past the
story board in 1939, or in any other year I can remember, for that
So I took a busman's
holiday and went to see a much-ballyhooed film from the past, The
Battle of Algiers (1965), a black and white semi-documentary of what
someone called the bloodiest revolution in modern history. I guess
whoever said that never heard of the American Civil War.
this is a pretty good example of filmmaking, despite the fact that
itís far too long at 2:03. Thereís no character development
whatever. Itís just an episodic telling of the years of 1954-62 in
Algeria. Itís the story of France, who opposed the war to liberate
Iraq by deposing Saddam Hussein, defending its colonial rule of a
conquered people in Algeria, and the Muslim population fighting back. It
seems to show a more sympathetic and personal view of the killings of
Algerians by the French, although it does show the Algerians as using
women and children to set bombs to kill innocent Europeans in discos and
bars. Many of the killings by Algerians are cold-blooded murders of
seemingly innocent policemen. But the policemen are presented as little
more than simple ciphers, not as real people with families, so thereís
little emotion when we see them murdered.
weakness of the film is the bloodless way it shows the murders of
policemen. They are shot and when theyíre shot they just fall as if
they are in a faint. Modern films at least show the violence of being
shot by showing what happens to a victim when the bullet tears through
the body. The Battle of Algiers was shot in a time when
filmmaking had become sophisticated enough to show the damage done by a
being hit by a bullet.
It shows three
terrorist bombings of innocent Europeans and the way the bombings were
accomplished in a sympathetic, realistic way. The excellence of the
filmmaking is that it looks like they must have used newsreel footage,
but everything was shot by filmmakers with actors.
This film has
received a lot of praise from critics, but not that many people will
find this that entertaining. You donít really get involved because
thereís no character development. Itís just a series of vignettes,
although one person, the illiterate uprising leader, Ali la Pointe (Brahim
Aggiag), appears in the beginning and in the end.
When things got
really violent the French brought in WWII hero Col. Mathieu (Jean
Martin) whose idea was to capture and kill the four leaders of the FLN
(the National Liberation Front) and the revolution would end. He did but
What it does do is
highlight French hypocrisy. Despite the lofty rhetoric of present day
France in attempting to keep Saddam Hussein in power, the French in
Algeria are shown with no scruples. They killed and tortured at will and
with impunity. No Geneva Convention for them. Anything went, including
decapitation. The French ruled Algeria despotically for 132 years and
were fighting to subdue a colonial outpost against their subjectsí
will. When the French were finally forced to allow a vote in 1962, 91%
voted in favor of independence.
Contrasted with the
despicable French actions in Algeria, the U.S. is fighting to liberate
Iraq and get out as fast as we can. No torture, and scrupulous adherence
to the Geneva Convention. If thereís a parallel, itís to equate the
French in Algeria to Saddamís Baathist party.
In fact the Algerian
revolution cost the French around 18,000 dead military and 3,000 dead
civilians. The number of Algerian dead has been estimated as high as one million.
you want to learn about the Algerian war of liberation and/or see an
example of quality filmmaking, you might find this worthwhile.
January 19, 2004