Once The Battle of Algiers pulls you in with its relentless atmosphere, it is never to let go. Where most political thrillers have a tendency to carry only one leaning, Gillo Pontecorvo decides to play differently by showing both sides of the battle and thus what he leaves us with is one of the harshest and most daring of all cinematic achievements. One could never expect that such a film like this could be so heavily grounded with reality, it’s almost like watching a documentary filmed amidst such events in history. The harsh truths that are exposed about humanity by Pontecorvo’s brave piece of filmmaking only make for a more haunting experience too difficult for words.
It was rather well known that back within the day, The Battle of Algiers was the subject of socio-political controversy because it was debated whether the film was in support of the French side or the Algerian side. This is where Gillo Pontecorvo should be applauded, because he exposes the darkness which arises from both ends of the political spectrum, by giving a picture of the objective truth. There is no heroism or demonizing at all. It is a film that could easily have been a propaganda piece, yet given the lack of leaning, something brave for the time is what we are left with and even today, it still maintains its own political relevance. Since I don’t wish to go down to talking about my own political views (there are many aspects to both sides I don’t like and at the same time I despise the idea of political correctness for all of their hypocrisies), where I do applaud The Battle of Algiers comes from how it is showing how heavily flawed both sides are.
All throughout, Gillo Pontecorvo maintains a documentary-like approach to the very look of the film which creates more tension for the final product. The Battle of Algiers in itself is already a fascinating subject to research (after I finished watching the film, I was compelled to do some research on the subject), but Gillo Pontecorvo through his neorealist approach to his direction does not only tell the story of the titular Battle of Algiers, but he places his viewers in the middle of what is happening. It is always willing to explore the many facets of what flames the revolution and what atrocities are provoked by both sides of the spectrum, giving the film the gritty approach that characterizes it apart from all other political films.
It’s interesting to think about how the gritty approach to the film’s style also gives it the stunning picture of brutality that separates it from most other films of the day. What Pontecorvo has created with The Battle of Algiers in its willingness to expose the atrocities committed by both sides of the war, is also in a sense a saddening film for how it paints a picture of the loss of humanity that politics bring up. For within all the graphic violence that Gillo Pontecorvo was willing to either show or imply, there is always a sense of tension which arises from the sheer fact that his film is grounded with honesty and realism from beginning to end. It is for reasons like this alone that Gillo Pontecorvo should be commended for his bravery as a filmmaker.
Ennio Morricone’s score is yet another aspect that I wish to highlight for when it mixes together with the cinematography styles which Pontecorvo applies to his work, there is a specific approach to the manner it had been scored. Morricone’s score adds a specific energy which, together with the many camera movements creates a sort of hyperactivity that represents the paranoia which would be present. It would also help that the editing adds more to the bravery created by The Battle of Algiers for like the score and camerawork, it adds more to the frenetic paranoia which arises from politics, together with a unique flow to the film’s pacing which gives the film the very feeling all of it is happening in front of our very eyes, as even today this sort of approach is so unique for it had not been repeated in this manner.
The Battle of Algiers is a relentless act of bravery. It is a film that defines how war films should be heading out, for it chooses to show the truth behind what both sides have committed and it is not at all a pretty image in the same manner that Hollywood would give it with their over-patriotism to what they churn out. Not only is Gillo Pontecorvo choosing to tell a film about the Algerian War of Independence, but also willing to show the inhumane nature that politics inspire by placing his viewers amidst everything that is happening with his documentary-like approach, channeling the films of the Italian neorealist movement, because in no time you forget you’re only watching a film. There are no heroes to the war, only demons arising from both ends, big or small.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Janus Films.
Directed by Gillo Pontecorvo
Screenplay by Gillo Pontecorvo, Franco Solinas
Produced by Antonio Musu, Yacef Saadi, Fred Baker
Starring Jean Martin, Saadi Yacef, Brahim Haggiag, Tommaso Neri
Release Year: 1966
Running Time: 121 minutes