The Battle of Algiers

[Editor’s note: as always, the opinions expressed by Joe Moser, my contributor at large, are his own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Olive Press … boilerplate boilerplate …]

If you’re interested in colonialism, guerrilla and revolutionary tactics, Africa, France, or more broadly, politics and history, check out The Battle of Algiers, now in restored re-release in, hopefully, a city near you. There’s been some stink recently over the fact that the Pentagon has made this mandatory viewing for its people dealing with the situation in Iraq. Though the film was financed in large part by the Algerian government, it depicts the French military point of view, as well as that of the Algerian revolutionaries, and presents a veritable how-to guide for suppressing resistance in colonial outposts. Though I watched the film with some academics who willfully misunderstood the rationale behind the Pentagon’s use of the film, it’s very easy to see what they could glean from it, especially if they ignore the final fifteen minutes.

Though many viewers of various political orientations might find parallels between the Algerian struggle for independence in the late 1950s and early 60s and the current state of affairs in Iraq, I viewed it as much more analogous to the conflict between Israel and Palestine. At one point, the head of French military operations declares that the entire colonial question in Algeria can be boiled down to a simple difference of opinion: “They want us to leave, and we want to stay.” While I think the situation is, more or less, just that simple in Palestine (and here I betray my own political bias), I don’t believe that the U.S. simply pulling out of Iraq is a viable or attractive solution at this stage. Whether we ever should have gotten involved in the first place is an entirely different question.

The film can best be characterized as a docudrama and is remarkable in recreating history and documenting atrocities on both sides of the battle: bombings, assassinations, torture, heroism, brutality. The film, before its time (1966) in terms of realism, seems to have been highly influential on Irish cinema–particularly evident in Michael Collins (which I recommend with strong reservations, Julia Roberts’ singing not the least of them) and Bloody Sunday (which I highly recommend)–as well as American films. See it with someone you love. Otherwise, you might become despondent.