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The given sequence from The Battle of Algiers reflects the struggle of Algerians against French occupation. The plot is based on the work of the national liberation front of Algeria and the confrontation of French security forces. The director, Gillo Pontecorvo, does not focus on any main character, trying to show the mood and tragedy of people in general. As one of the most prominent political films, The Battle of Algiers presents complex relationships between the local population and foreign occupations, where the beginning sequence with an old man and the one with three women planting the bomb position spectators politically and determine their attitudes.
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The given film is shot in a documentary genre in the city of Alger two years after the Algerian War. Despite the violence of French colonial rule, the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) leaders united to combat injustice and oppression. The film focuses on Arab Algerians, in general, to show their feelings and behaviors in such a difficult period. A diverse shot from all possible plans: from the crowd, the horizon, the height, near the heroes, and in the company of the soldiers gives a secondary sense of reality as if it was accidentally attested and chronicled. As for the editing technique, fast frame change and white and black form make it associated with Italian neorealism cinema. Music and sound effects play a great role in the film. For example, while women from FLN prepare for a bombing, a viewer may listen to drums rather than dialogues that symbolize their method of struggle. Truck engineers and helicopters are sounds of French methods. The fictional realism to link television people get used to seeing the truth. In addition, the viewer also observes the work of the guerrillas, the organization of the underground, and the very scenario of the revolution, which almost turned into a civil war not on the scale of full-scale combat operations, but in demonstrations of protest to the authorities and strikes.
The mutual antipathy between Arab Algerians and the Algerian French is revealed in the darkest tones in the course of the film. The first ones have built the image of Frenchmen as oppressors who have put the country in the abyss of filth and debauchery causing ignorance and poverty: for example, the episodes with the old man in the French quarter1. Focusing on the argument by Robert and Spencer, who claim that film editing positions viewers in a political manner, it is possible to note that the given film shooting also impacts spectators’ attitudes2. The camera moves slightly to catch up with the characters’ emotions. When the old man is given clothes and told to spy for French soldiers, the camera focuses on his face that clearly shows his emotions. Namely, the face of the man represents sorrow and despair. The man cries “no”, and the soldiers return him back. At this point, spectators observe the whole scene, noting cruelness of French invaders. Watching the film, one feels consistent with Robert and Spencer, who emphasize that editing of the film cultivates the point of view. In this case, the film editing promotes compassion to Algiers represented by the old man and stimulates anger towards French people.
The second example refers to three women who filtered the European area to plant bombs. This sequence is presented through the point of the mentioned women with the help of editing. Close-ups compose another technique of shooting used by the director. The spectators have the opportunity to individualize them. In this regard, viewers tend to empathize with these women than the potential European victims. At the same time, the sounding of the given sequence helps to understand that this is not merely a confrontation between positive and negative characters, rather this is life, and people are presented with all their vices and virtues3. In other words, there are no monsters and no saints. The harsh methods used by both colonialists and freedom fighters are imposed by the director, explaining by the words of the characters that for some, it is only the work of an ordinary soldier who executes an order, and for their opponents, it is the usual way of self-defensive opposition to the external force.
In conclusion, it should be emphasized that the war for the independence of Algeria was a complex anticolonial clash, in which the conjunctural interests of the French political elites and economic causes were intertwined. The director filmed his work in a documentary style in the most simplistic manner, as if trying to appeal to ordinary viewers of the cinema and the wider public. Therefore, in this picture, there are no individual unambiguous director’s preferences. There is no main character since all the people presented in The Battle of Algiers reflect important ideas and act as key heroes and heroines. The direct message to people is about the pain and uselessness of the war, in which some people forcibly hold power through threats, executions, and torture, while others compulsorily try to overthrow this power by arranging terrorist acts, where innocent people perish. Rebels won, but are there any heroes in such a war? This question seems to be the leitmotif of the film.
The Battle of Algiers. Directed by Gillo Pontecorvo. Italy and Algeria: Criterion, 1966. DVD.
Stam, Robert, and Louise Spence. “Colonialism, Racism, and Representation.” In Film Theory and Criticism, 7th ed., edited by Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen, 751–66. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
- The Battle of Algiers, dir. Gillo Pontecorvo (Italy and Algeria: Criterion, 1966), DVD.
- Robert Stam and Spence Louise, “Colonialism, Racism, and Representation.” In Film Theory and Criticism, 7th ed., edited by Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen, 751–66, (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 82.
- Robert Stam and Spence Louise, “Colonialism, Racism, and Representation.” In Film Theory and Criticism, 7th ed., edited by Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen, 751–66, (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 88.