blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

The Battle of Algiers (1966, Gillo Pontecorvo)

Jean Martin and Saadi Yacef star in THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS, directed by Gillo Pontecorvo for Magna.

The Battle of Algiers is brilliantly constructed. Director Pontecorvo deceptively frames the film–he also gives most sequences a date and time, which shows the viewer how greater events are progressing, but Pontecovro also gives multiple times in a day, which puts the viewer on edge even though the exact time isn’t really useful.

Pontecorvo and co-writer Solinas are extremely careful about how they show sympathy to either side–the revolutionary Algerians and the occupying French. A character will get all sorts of humanizing only to be revealed a monster and vice versa. Pontecorvo most enthusiastically shows the contradictions in Jean Martin’s colonel in charge of suppressing the revolt. Martin’s performance is so striking, he’s the most active thing in the second half of Algiers. The film, and the viewer, wait for him.

After the first act, which follows Brahim Hadjadj’s transition from a petty crook to a freedom fighter, Martin is the only sign Pontecorvo is going to allow easy access to the film. Everything else is disinterested. Hadjadj isn’t likable or even charismatic. Saadi Yacef, as the revolutionary leader, is both those things. Pontecorvo makes Hadjadj by forcing the viewer to question why he shouldn’t be sympathetic.

The narrative complexities can’t work with Pontecorvo’s direction. Every shot is so controlled–but every shot is of something chaotic–it creates detached cinéma vérité. In Algiers, Pontecorvo is showing truth through an acknowledged fictive lens, giving him options.

Glorious editing from Mario Morra and Mario Serandrei.

Algiers is brilliant.



Directed by Gillo Pontecorvo; screenplay by Pontecorvo and Franco Solinas, based on a book by Saadi Yacef; director of photography, Marcello Gatti; edited by Mario Morra and Mario Serandrei; music by Ennio Morricone and Pontecorvo; production designer, Sergio Canevari; produced by Saadi Yacef and Antonio Musu; released by Magna.

Starring Brahim Haggiag (Ali La Pointe), Jean Martin (Col. Mathieu), Saadi Yacef (Djafar), Samia Kerbash (one of the girls), Ugo Paletti (captain), Fusia El Kader (Halima), Mohamed Ben Kassen (Petit Omar).


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