The Battle of Algiers

The Battle of Algiers

*****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Few revolutions have been quite so bloody as that which took place in Algeria in the middle of last century, and few films about revolution are quite as intense as The Battle Of Algiers. Many of its key roles are filled not by actors but by the very individuals who played out those roles for real, and the supporting cast and extras are almost all people who directly experienced the violent struggle which shook their country as underground organisation the FLN led the revolt against their French colonial masters. Watching this parade of atrocities, it's remarkable to realise that those who fought against one another at the time were able to come together for the sake of preserving history in this film. Their united presence ensures that what viewers receive is a potent, highly accurate and impressively balanced account of what actually went on.

After 130 years of French colonial rule in Algeria, the FLN uprising came as something of a shock. Arabs who felt that their people were being economically suppressed and morally compromised by the presence of the French came together to address the situation by means of a series of increasingly violent acts which in turn attracted a violent response and the imposition of martial law. This film is uncompromising in its portrayal of the ugliness of what amounted to urban warfare. The civilians and even the soldiers caught in the crossfire are all presented as human beings, yet at the same time the fear and anger which drive those who commit the violent acts are vividly expressed, so that it's hard not to feel some sympathy. As the situation escalates, people on both sides gradually lose their moral compunctions and find it harder to care about the suffering of individuals where apparently greater things are at stake. This is a timely re-release for a film which offers an astute examination of the nature of political violence. Though it's very good at showing rather than telling, and more powerful because of it (a sequence in which three women who have seen their relatives killed plant bombs in public places is particularly affecting), it also contains direct philosophising about revolution and the means required to bring it about.

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With lush black and white photography and a ravishing score by Ennio Morricone, The Battle of Algiers is an unforgettable piece of cinema, utterly absorbing and very hard hitting. Whilst it ultimately celebrates the success of the Algerian cause, its most powerful message is one of horror at the suffering on both sides. This is cinema at its finest - don't miss your chance to see it on the big screen.

Reviewed on: 11 May 2007
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The Battle of Algiers packshot
A vivid recreation of the events leading up to Algerian independence.
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Director: Gillo Pontecorvo

Writer: Gillo Pontecorvo, Franco Solinas

Starring: Brahim Hadjadj, Jean Martin, Yacef Saadi, Samia Kerbash, Ugo Paletti, Fusia El Kader, Omar, Mohamed Ben Kassen, Michele Kerbash, Franco Morici, Tommaso Neri

Year: 1966

Runtime: 121 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Algeria, Italy

Festivals:

New York 2016

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