cutting on the action

photography and film – facts, ideas, values

Film : The Battle for Algiers vs. La Guerre d’Algérie

The Battle of Algiers in 13 parts [ in YouTube ].


La Guerre d’Algérie 1/20 (1972)

La Bataille d’Alger (3 parts) by Yves Boisset
2007 French TV programme interviewing many of the main characters on both sides. {1}


Algérie Française!  Algérie Française!

“Vive le l’Algérie Française!”

Our headmaster was a tad eccentric to be declaiming this from the stage in the gym to a group of 11 year olds, but it was part of our weekly Current Affairs lesson. He read out news from the day’s newspaper, taking the parts of the main characters, and filled us in on the facts. Looking back, this was impressive and enlightnened teaching.

An actor once came to give us a performance of his interpretation of Charles Dicken’s one-man shows, beard and all. The gusto of our Head’s De Gaulle performance was not dissimilar. He threw himself into it completely, including French accent.  He was de Gaulle: he even looked like De Gaulle: tall, though with undersized suit,  jacket buttoned to bursting, trouser bottoms half way up his socks. He came back later (this was from 1958-62) in other current affairs lessons to explain how de Gaulle had ‘changed his mind’ about Algerian independence. (We learn now that he wanted shot of Algeria from the beginning…and was hoodwinking everbody)

There was a certain frisson for me over Algeria that the other kids probably didn’t have: I left a turbulent Iraq in July 1958 as a 10 year old.


I should have watched The Battle of Algiers decades ago. Reminded of it in Infinite Thought’s Philosophy, Film & Literature course summary, I wanted to see it now I am beginning to examine the documentary/fiction divide in the process of learning to make my own flics.


Battaglia di Algeri, La (1966) IMdb

Gillo Pontecorvo: The Battle of Algiers

Succint Derek Malcom (2000) review.

A screenplay of The Battle of Algiers by Franco Solinas  (which looks kosher, i.e. it has more than dialogue), from, which has a compendious collection of script/screenplays. N.B. each  script is marked as HTML or pdf.  Mostly Hollywood but an occasional surprise, e.g. a script dated as Stockholm May 31, 1957, of Wild Strawberries. I’ve not seen it in it’s entirely and am going to try a little experiment – read the screenplay before watching the film.


Ennio Morriccone’s music from the film:

Ennio Morricone documentary – Part 3
A brief interview with Pontecorvo.

“The Battle of Algiers”.

“Ali’s Theme”

I am intrigued by the film’s documentary style and the use of this music.


Coming to The Battle of Algiers forearmed and forewarned – filmically,  historically, politically – I was not quite as impressed with it overall as I thought I was going to be, disappointed by the lack of a deeper context ( yes, it was a war of independence but  someone might have mentioned de Gaulle, or did I miss that?) and finding instead a narrow focus, with few three-dimensional characters, leaving out much of the complicated politico-historical details. Of course a script is a script and has its limitations.  So often you can watch a hyped-up Hollywood movie and conclude,  despite it being a well-told story, it is thin gruel.

In The Battle of Algiers, Sartre – having written about the Algerian war – was mentioned  by a  subordinate to Colonel Mathieu, in charge of the counter-insurgency strategy, who responds: “Why are the liberals always on the other side?”.  From Mathieu’s mouth the telling remark that he was in the French resistance.( He is made to say: “There are 80,000 Arabs in the Kasbah. Are they all against us? We know they’re not. In reality, it’s only a small minority that dominates with terror and violence. This minority is our adversary and we must isolate and destroy it.” )  He  mentions the paras, which he heads in Algiers, fought (and lost) in Indo-China. In other words we have learnt and don’t intend to lose here. And they don’t, systematically destroying the cells of the FLN in Algiers. But the greater war is lost, which the film doesn’t really describe directly or in any detail. It is suggested by the revolt starting up again after 2 years and the final scene of rioting on the streets of Algiers. One of the things missing is the revolt of the colonists  a few years before and their barricades.

To get an idea of what went on in Algeria as whole,  view in YouTube a 1972 doumentary on the war, La Guerre d’Algérie 1/20 (1972)

Even if your French is not to hot, the moving images tell the story pretty well. One of the things the  images show is that this was the era before the media were controlled. Watching this, reminds of the Vietnam reporting. Then came the Falkands!  There was no footage like this in the Iraq wars of 1992 or 2003.


wiki: The Battle of Algiers links to historical info. from this point to many other wikis such as on Algeria and de Gaulle.

Mention in wiki: The Battle of Algiers, under heading screenplay, that the film tends to take a neutral position, though various previous scripts had tried slanting it differently.

It was released in 1965/6, so people watching it then knew about Algeria. For someone watching now, nearly half a century later, the lack of context in the film (such as the tumult in France at the time, de Gaulle coming to power in the middle of the war, the OAS,  and so one) is significant.

The Battle of Algiers and Its Lessons

by Sheila K. Johnson


The wider political events is missing from The Battle of Algiers.  France was deeply divided over Algeria, even over their attitude to the pied-noire.  Though there was general support for them during the war, public opinion turned against them afterwards. {wiki: Charles De Gaulle}.

Algeria was not considered a colony but three départements. Nearly a million pied-noires resettled in mainland France after Algeria won its independence. {wiki: Pied-Noir}

25,000 pied-noire/military were killed in the war as a whole, set against 1 million Algerians. 1 Million Algerians fled the country during the war, most returning at independence in 1962.

According to wiki:Algeria the European population in 1962 was 15.2 % of the total. Although this is contradicted in wiki: Algerian war, with: ” In 1959, the pieds-noirs numbered 1,025,000 (85% of European descent, and 15% of Sephardi Jewish descent), and accounted for 10.4% of the total population of Algeria. ” Something that seems significant is the urban/rural demographic of Algeria at the time. There were roughly equal numbers of colonists to Arabs in the main cities.


Occupation case studies: Algeria and Turkey
By K Gajendra Singh

The author was an Indian diplomat who served in Algeria in 1964. The details of the Algerian war are there.

There is a substantial  wiki: Algerian War from which many links.

This YouTube

La Guerre d’Algérie 1/20 (1972)

is in French.  Here is an opportunity to compare a documentary-style fiction film with a detailed documentary based on media footage. Note how France retains control over Saharan oil.

This extract from French Cinema and the Algerian War: Fifty Years Later: Decades later, the savage conflict and its political and human repercussions are at last being seriously examined by French filmmakers


..a montage of materials taken from French and foreign news programs of the period, organized chronologically, which told the story of the war as seen by the press (cinematic or otherwise) between 1954 and 1968. In other words, the “news” from Algeria since, officially speaking, there was no war in Algeria. While the military correspondent of Le Monde, Jean Planchais, wrote a long and sympathetic review of the film entitled “The Algerian War Rediscovered,” he nevertheless reproached the filmmakers for producing a mere montage rather than the political tract that could have been expected of them. Months later, Freddy Buache, writing for the Swiss daily La Tribune de Lausanne, accused the authors of having preferred “a sort of photo album of an exceptionally atrocious war” to serious political analysis.

It goes on to describe other films on the Algerian War (documentary and fiction) made since and the changing attitudes of the French to discussing it.

This YouTube titled  Interview Pier-Noire – 14 Juillet 1962 – Oran is an extract from an documentary, which interviews an elderly pied-noir (I was born here. My mother was born here….) who at the time of interview was declaring his intention to stay in Algeria, that he he lived amongst Arab Algerians without difficulty. I wonder what happened to him and others like him who wanted to stay.

De Gaulle and Algeria

On 4 June 1958, de Gaulle declared to a huge French crowd in Algiers, “I have understood you !” even as he announced root and branch reforms. In Mostaganem, he was subsequently heard (though only once) to shout “Vive l’Algérie… Française ! (Long live French Algeria !)”
Behind these resounding phrases, however, de Gaulle presented a more complex face to the skilled observer. In October 1958, in Constantine, his cry was “Vive l’Algérie et vive la France ! (Long live Algeria and long live France !)” and he invited the FLN to “bury the hatchet” with France. Clearer still, in 1959 he confided to a reporter that “the Algeria of our fathers’ days is dead and, if we cannot understand that, we will die along with her”.

“Je vous ai compris” short video clip of De Gaulle in June 4 1958 telling the French Algerians that “I have understood you.”  He is seen in the same shot in one of the later episodes of  La Guerre d’Algérie 1/20 (1972)

“Torture en Algerie Francaise”:  a short extract  interviewing men who had served in Algeria during the war.

The Algerian War in Paris

Lawrence Bohme ( Sorbonne [1961-63]; UNESCO translator, [1981-85]. )



Film, Play, Power and the Computational, or Byting Celluloid February 2006

Daniel Coffeen



wiki: Gillo Pontecorvo

History of Algeria short summar with specific headings, e.g., Nationalism and reaction 1945-1958/The FLN Years 1962-1992

Learning From the Real Battle of Algiers

Robert J Avrech

Not strictly about film (he’s angling to use it to illustrate Arabs are undemocratic, what the Algeria can tell America about Iraq, etc., and how Israel is a pussy cat by comparison in it’s response to the Palestinians) but there are a few bits of info such as the mention of influence Franz Fanon on Pontecorvo at the time of the making of the film.

…the film is a work of leftist propaganda, beautifully crafted, to be sure, but a film that seeks to justify Islamic terror by proposing that the French were so brutal that the Algerians had no choice but to resort to unrestrained terror.

….The Palestinians are lucky people.

Because their enemies are Jews.

I’d put it another way: the Palestinians are unlucky because they haven’t got their own country.

Battle of Algiers by Kevin Beary  in

Written in June 2003.  Primarily about the film. Few mentions of parallels with US in Iraq.

Although nearly forty years have passed since its creation, Battle of Algiers is more timely than ever – especially for Americans, given the American involvement in a contemporary colonial war in the Middle East.

Profile of director Pontecorvo. That the impetus from the film had come from FLN leader Jacef Saadi,  who ended up play the part of FLN commander Kader.
The big picture – Battle of Algiers

An 1996 article from Socialist Review by Martin Smith

De Gaulle – a Lesser Evil? by Shane Mage
A 1960  view from the left  in Internationalist Socialist Review

The Battle of Algiers

Peter Bradshaw on the 2007 re-release of the film:

…torture scenes are laid out in montage for us without any self-conscious emotional affect or drama.

….without any of the internal humanising or dramatising conflict that would be considered vital now: they do indeed look almost like a military training film. Another sort of director, possessed of a more conventional liberal scruple, might have felt the need to show a torturer’s inner pain or the torturee’s hidden backstory. But Pontecorvo shows them in terms of strategy.

Omar Odeh in Bright Lights Film Journal also reviews the new DVD

The blog International law and Films has a considerable post on The Battle of Algiers.


A guillotine was used in the film to dispatch an Algerian. The question entering my mind was, Were they still using it in France at the same time? Didn’t find the answer, but found  The Executioner’ Tale,  a 2002 Guardian article by Hugh Schofield, which  gives a figure for numbers of Arabs guillotined (200). Were any pied-noirs (perhaps a real-life Meursault or twos?)  likewise dispatched (for common-or-garden murder, par example) ?


Who was Lt. Colonel mathieu based on?

Marcel Bigeard

There ia link in the references to Film: French Lesson by Steve Sailer which mentions Bigeard.

No Time for Soldiers Time magazine 18 August 1958

January 13, 2009 Posted by | Algeria, Algerian War, film [its techniques], Gillo Pontecorvo | , , | Leave a comment