Essay on Gillo Pontecorvo's The Battle of Algiers

Essay on Gillo Pontecorvo's The Battle of Algiers

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Since its release in 1966, Gillo Pontecorvo's The Battle of Algiers has divided critical opinion. The film which depicts the Algerian struggle for independence against French colonial power, was awarded the Lion d'Or at the 1966 Venice Film Festival. Yet, despite this acclaim, the inherently controversial film was banned in France until 1971 due to its graphic portrayal of torture and repression during the Algerian war. The politically engaged director had however sought to make The Battle of Algiers within a 'dictatorship of truth,' neither supporting the Algerians nor reducing his film to propaganda. Influenced by the distinctive film style Neorealism, Pontecorvo rendered such an extraordinarily accurate reflection of social reality that the film's original U.S. distributor inserted the disclaimer: "Not one foot of newsreel or documentary film has been used." The following sequence analysis will therefore explore the neorealist cinematic techniques employed by Pontecorvo and examine their effects on our understanding of the issues and themes raised within the film.

In the sequence chosen we begin at the end of the story. Shot on location in Algiers, the year is 1957. An Algerian nationalist has revealed the whereabouts of the last FLN member Ali La Pointe. The French Military, determined to suppress the Independent Movement have stormed the Casbah and have finally located 'la tête du ténia' behind a tiled wall. Before the climatic ending, Pontecorvo's complex temporal structure transports us to the year 1954, here the film traces the transformation of Ali La Pointe from petty criminal to nationalist martyr.

In the opening sequence, the FLN and the French military are cinematically pitched against each other through the ...


... middle of paper ...


...e previous sequence, between the European youths and Ali La Pointe, visually justifies Ali’s rebelliousness.
When the police arrive, Ali flees until; he is tripped up by a young Frenchman who in turn receives a brutal punch from Ali.

France v Algeria represented through protagonists Ali La Pointe and Colonial Mathieu
A voice-over lists Ali’s record as a petty criminal and past as a boxer, thief, and ruffian. The image accompanying the narration is a close shot of Ali under arrest, walking with the police officer. The music is Arabic. The scene is later paralleled by the arrival of Mathieu parading before waving Frenchmen while the narrator intones a description of Mathieu’s exploits.

due to the Italo-Algerian coproduction, it can be argued that Pontecorvo anoints the FLN with the status of victim. Music - Complex interrelationships between sound and image.

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