The Battle of Algiers (1966)… Revisiting violence



My rating: 8

IMDB rating: 8.2

IMDB link:

Dearest reader,

Being from South Africa, colonialism and post-colonialism is a reality that we face everyday. On the 7th of May we had our fifth democratic elections and some of the political parties still use decolonization as an active strategy in their campaigns.

Scholars have more than once described the phenomena of the restitution of things to their ‘real place and meaning’. If a colonial force is expelled, what do these countries return to? Surely the effect of the Westerners’ presence have rendered the ‘real place’ obsolete?

These are just some of the questions that The Battle of Algiers raises. The Algerians that are desperately trying to gain their freedom, are trying to force the French from their country. As the situation in South Africa played out, and this movie also succeeds in portraying, is the fact that you have to realize that just like not all black people were radical in their protest against Apartheid, not all white people necessarily agreed with Apartheid. Therefore, the complete expulsion of the white South Africans, or the French in the case of The Battle of Algiers is impossible.

Doing this in film class this week, you just once again realize that a shared history does not necessarily mean a shared viewpoint. This is, again, what the filmmakers of this film tries to highlight; they attack the notions of collective or general history to rather tell the story or show the people as they were.

This brings us to the fact that this film stems from the Third Cinema school. A school that is counter-cinematic, anti-colonialist, a cinema takes a stand, that questions general notions of history and that is made to move people into action.

This film also, for the first time in cinematic history, breeches the boundary between documentary and fictional film by using ‘real people’ (not actors), masses instead of individual heroes and a balance between the portrayal of the conflicting perspectives. You sometimes get the feeling that a camera has just been placed in the middle of the actual war and you are voyeuristically watching the bombs go off beside you.

On that note, it is also interesting to examine the violence in this film. Violence, as commercially as it is used nowadays, is still very sensitively handled in this film. Going into this film I was warned about the graphic nature of the violence, but by being so exposed to the ‘commercial Hollywood violence’, I could not find the violence in this film. Also, having recently watched Zero Dark Thirty, and by reading the controversy surrounding the use of violence in that film, I feel that I, as a modern day viewer, stepped into The Battle of Algiers desensitized to the horrors that was so actual in 1966. It is true that us, the viewers, partake in this violence, and even more so today, voyeuristically. And for me, this violence due to the oppression by a colonial force was very close to home.

This truly is a brilliant film, not only for the events it portrays and the way in which it truly tries to be unbiased, but also for several other reason; the role of women as active partakers in the resistance, the corruption of children through war, western space versus colonized space, de-romantisation of the revolution and the impact of constant surveillance. Classic third cinema at its best!

For a very interesting piece on Battle of Algiers by five well-known directors, see this blog Sonny Syah: Politics+film = Emotion: 



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