A film is a piece of art that aims to entertain as well educate. It is a popular kind of entertainment that is created by a certain culture, and may affect another one. There are various genres of films, with each having its own aim and characteristic. For instance, historical movies (films) are designed to tell about history, comedy ones are to amuse and provoke laughter and so on. Films are always pregnant with meanings and messages that the audience has to depict while enjoying the scenes and following the course of the story. The Battle of Algiers is a worldwide famous film that was banned by France because of the ideas and reality it transmits to the world about the guerilla war that took place in Algeria and led to the destruction of a whole population while seeking their freedom. The film describes the events from two different points of view and aims to convey a lesson at the end.
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The Battle of Algiers is a war film which is a recreation of the events that happened in the capital city of Algeria between 1954 and 1962 during the Algerian War of Independence. The film won the Golden Lion Award from the Venice International Film Festival in 1966, the International Film Critics Award also in 1966, and the United Nations Award from the British Academy of Film and Television in 1971. It was directed by Gillo Pontecorvo who was a member of the Italian Communist Party at the time and was implicitly on the side of the independence movement. He was nominated as Best Director for the movie in 1966 from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science. The film was inspired by Souvenirs de la Bataille d’Alger which Saadi Yacef, who was a leader of the FLN (Front de Liberation National), wrote in prison. The screenplay, which was written by Gillo Pontecorvo and Franco Solinas and was nominated as Best Original Screenplay in 1966 from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science, describes the sufferings of both sides: the Algerians and the French both civilians and military.
The movie was filmed in black-and-white and the casting took place in the actual locations of the struggle which made the scenes appear as if they were recorded the time they were happening and not a recreation of a bloody war which ended a long history of colonization in Algeria. To stress his neutrality vis-à-vis the two parts of the struggle, Pontecorvo tried to create parallels between the scenes of both French and Algerian people being assassinated and killed by using the same tragic music. However, he made a difference between the French and Algerian approaches to the war by using different sounds to symbolize each group’s approach: the sound of gunfire, helicopters and truck engines for the French, and the bomb blasts, ululation, wailing and chanting for the Algerians.
Pontecorvo uses non-professional actors for the movie, maybe because he wants the events and the screenplay to be sought for their importance and not only for the sake of the famous actors involved. So, he chose Brahim Haggiag, an Algerian, to play the role of Ali la Pointe. His adversary, Colonel Mathieu, was acted by Jean Martin, the only professional in the film, who was an actor, mainly acting in theater (in Waiting for Godot), and have been member of the French paratroopers in Indochina. Besides, Saadi Yacef, the former FLN leader, played the role of Jaafar, another FLN leader.
The film is shot in flashback and it is shown as the memories of Ali la Pointe (played by Brahim Haggiag) who was a leading member of the FLN. The film opens with scene in which the French paratroopers arrests Ali and he starts remembering the events that occurred 3 years earlier when he joined the FLN. The film describes the atrocities from which the French and the Algerians suffered. It traces the resistance of the Algerians (mainly the FLN members) to free their country from the colonizers as well as the French measures taken to stop them and remain in Algeria. When Ali’s memories are over, he and the other remaining FLN members are killed. However, the elimination of the FLN does not stop the resistance but rather turns it to a nationwide one asking for an independent Algeria which is finally achieved in 1962 with the Declaration of the Independence of Algeria.
The main actors of the movie are the persons who were involved in the real-life experience, which made the film appear like a documentary rather than a recreation of events. Saadi Yacef, who was a leader of the FLN and was put in Jail by the French, acted in the movie as an FLN leader also under the name of Jaffari. The bombing in the cafés and French agencies or the assassination of either French or Algerians are in fact a recreation of what Yacef lived. Even when he was arrested by the French in the Casbah, he is acting his own arrest.
The other member of the FLN is Ali la Pointe which was played by Brahim Haggiag. Ali was a thief who was arrested and put in prison where he witnessed the executions of Algerians. Once he was released, he became a member of the FLN but he was first tested to make sure that he was not a spy (he was asked to kill a French policeman). Even if Brahim Haggiag was not, in reality, an FLN leader; he lived at the time of the struggle for liberation and witnessed, and may have participated as an Algerian, in the resistance against colonialism. He can be seen as the representative of all Algerian young people who were ready to sacrifice themselves to ensure their people’s freedom.
The third major character of this film is Colonel Mathieu, played by Jean Martin. He represents the efficiency and seriousness of the French military. He came from France to ensure stability in Algeria when the FLN members became threatening the French existence in Algeria. He is very influential and follows strategic method of fighting the enemy instead of just spontaneous violence. He has a strong personality and can at any time change the course of events once he feels that it’s not in his benefit. For example, when an FLN a leader is captured and a press conference is held, he stops the conversation as soon as he feels that the enemy’s words started to influence the audience. Besides, when answering a journalist’s question, he said openly that if they want France to stay in Algeria, they must accept the consequences.
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Other important characters in this film are “women”. Unlike what is usually known, that war is reserved for men, the battle of Algiers involved both men and women who fought side by side to reach their goal. Women serve as a “secret bunker” for weapons and guns as they are the only ones who are exempt from inspection, and hence, they can carry them in their bags. A most striking scene in the movie is when three FLN women drop their veils and assume a French look to be able to enter a French café, nigh club and travel agency to plant explosives and create an alert situation among the French. So, women were a vital part of the FLN and fought with men to ensure freedom.
One last character to mention is Omar, the small boy whose duty was mainly to transmit letters and serve as a messenger between the FLN members and which represents the Algerian children who participated in the resistance and who proved to be older than their ages. Thus, the Algerian society, with all its components, was mobilized against the common enemy which was the French colonialism.
In the “Battle of Algiers”, Pontecorvo shows the inevitability of violence. In other words, every part wants to be the winner and hence tries to be the last one to inflict the other: an execution of an FLN leader led to the assassination of many French policemen, which led to the French bombing the Casbah which led to the FLN women bombing the French sites (cafés and offices).
The film clarifies history and tells us that we keep repeating the same mistakes over and over even today. This film is pregnant of messages. On the on hand, it tells us that violence can lead only to violence and not peace. On the other hand, it gives a moral lesson to the countries which try to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs and try to impose their own will. They will be losers no matters how long they manage to stay there.
The “Battle of Algiers” is a film which is worth seeing since it tells us history as well as moral lessons on how we should respect others’ properties as well as struggle to preserve one’s own belonging.
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