Film / The Battle of Algiers

The Battle of Algiers is a 1966 film by Gillo Pontecorvo, and is a dramatization of the Algerian War of Independence. The story begins with Ali La Pointe, a card sharp in the cramped slums of Algiers, the capital city of French-controlled Algeria. Imprisoned, he joins the rebel group FLN and takes up arms against the colonial French government. After a few skirmishes with French police, reprisal killings spur ever-worse reprisal killings as the native and colonist populations are radicalized against each other. A UN vote for independence comes and goes as a general strike is called. Afterward, a French military expert, Colonel Philippe Mathieu, is brought in to pacify the region, gain intelligence, and destroy the FLN leadership.

A critical favorite, the film has attracted no small amount of controversy over the years. France banned the movie until 1971. It has been used as a how-to for many left-wing groups worldwide (notably, the Black Panthers used it as a training film in the '60s), and, conversely, was screened by the Pentagon in 2003 as a primer on counterterrorism.

The Battle of Algiers provides examples of the following works:

  • Action Girl: Hassiba Ben Bouali.
  • Answer Cut: After Mathieu's comment to the press about pro-war reporters "accepting all necessary consequences," we immediately segue to a grisly torture montage.
  • Anti-Hero: Ali.
  • As Himself: Saadi Yacef, FLN leader and one of the film's producers, plays himself in all but name (his character's named Jaafar). In particular, the depiction of his arrest comes straight from Yacef's memoirs.
  • Big "NO!": There's a loud one in the beginning.
  • Black and Gray Morality: Terrorists blowing up innocent civilians (including children), versus colonial forces who torture people and don't care about "collateral damage".
    • Not to mention the FLN's strict insistence on sharia law, enforced by the death penalty.
  • Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys: Completely averted here.
  • Child Soldier: Petit Omar, more or less.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Done by the French soldiers.
  • Colonel Badass: Colonel Mathieu.
  • Composite Character: Colonel Mathieu draws on several real life French paratroopers, including Jacques Massu, Marcel Bigeard and Yves Godard.
  • Cycle of Revenge
  • Doomed Moral Victor: Ali.
  • Dragon-in-Chief: Mathieu is subordinate to a French General who plays little role in the actual fighting.
  • During the War
  • The Empire: France.
  • False Flag Operation
  • Foregone Conclusion
  • Freakier Than Fiction: In actuality, the war was even more brutal than depicted here.
  • Gauls with Grenades: Specifically, their elite paratroop regiments.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: The movie certainly doesn't whitewash the FLN, but some of their more unsavory actions (whether mutilating French corpses or fighting with other Algerian nationalist groups) go unmentioned.
  • How We Got Here
  • I Did What I Had to Do:
    Mathieu: Should France remain in Algeria? If your answer is "yes", then you must accept all the consequences.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted. When the first bomb is placed in the busy cafe, we see the people inside, including several small children. They all die in the massive blast.
  • Kick the Dog: Oh man, where to start...
  • Line-of-Sight Name: When Col. Mathieu is asked to name the operation to defeat FLN, he steps on the balcony to give it a thought. He then spots a sign promoting champagne, and thus the Operation Champagne is born.
  • Necessarily Evil: Again, Mathieu, though mileage may vary over the "Evil" part.
    • Arguably, the revolutionaries are this as well.
  • Pet the Dog: The French gendarmes are mostly shown as brutes or faceless victims of the FLN. Yet several risk their lives saving an Algerian boy from being lynched by enraged settlers after a terrorist bombing.
  • Punch Clock Villain: Colonel Mathieu. He has to do horrible things but he isn't particularly deplorable. He even mentions that Algerians are good people and hopes things will remain peaceful after the FLN presence in the city is wiped out.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized
  • Rotating Arcs: There is no main character, as such.
  • Shoot the Dog
  • Torture Always Works: One of the most thorough explorations of this topic. On a tactical level it's played straight, as Mathieu gains important tactical information from employing torture. The movie's more concerned with its broader impact, generating resentment among the Arab population of Algiers, and its moral implications.
  • Urban Segregation: The famous shot panning from the wealthy European Quarter of Algiers, to the dirt poor Casbah.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Ali and Colonel Mathieu, in their own ways.
  • Worthy Opponent: Mathieu genuinely respects the FLN leaders, as military/terrorist leaders if not politically. After Ben M'Hidi's death Mathieu gives the press a long speech in praise of Ben M'Hidi's courage.