La battalia di Algeri [The Battle of Algiers] (1966)

<strong class="MovieTitle">La battalia di Algeri</strong> [<strong class="MovieTitle">The Battle of Algiers</strong>] (1966)

(Kanopy Streaming, October 2018) Using docu-fiction to report on recent history is always a delicate exercise, especially if you’re going to attempt a level-headed description of a civil conflict. I’ll be the first to note that as a twenty-first century Canadian I’m probably missing the vast majority of the cultural context that makes The Battle of Algiers so poignant: I wasn’t around for the Algerian War and have no patriotic opinion on the matter. But the film itself speaks loudly as it describes the 1954-57 Algiers uprising and the efforts of the French government to quell it. The Battle of Algiers follows both the insurgency groups and the government responses, and proves remarkably even-handed in describing both their objectives and their reprehensible tactics. Writer/director Gillo Pontecorvo conceived the film as a docu-fiction exercise and as a result its atmosphere is raw and immediate. There’s a credibility to the execution that bolsters the quasi-documentary script. Neither French nor Algerian come across as being particularly noble, and it’s a wonder that the film is able to construct an understandable narrative out of a complex urban warfare situation. At times, it almost acts as a primer on how to rise against occupying forces and on how to counter the uprising. As a result, The Battle of Algiers can (and has) been lauded by a strange assortment of commentators from all political factions, used in military training academies and in insurgency training as well. I watched, fascinated more often than not. It certainly earns a place as one of the most striking films of the 1960s, a decade rich in other defining movies.

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