The Battle of Algiers (1966)


Our Weekly Entertainment Dispatch

What occupation is really like

The Battle of Algiers (1966)

There are some films that feel so real, the experience is more like eavesdropping than viewing. This “fly on the wall” phenomenon is fully present in the iconic The Battle of Algiers, a 1966 Italian/Algerian production that details the story of the (ultimately successful) Algerian resistance to French occupation in the 1950’s. For anyone wishing to truly see and feel what long-term Israeli occupation of Gaza would be like, this one is a must.

The French came to Algeria in 1830 and essentially never left. Filmed on-location in the 1960’s in the Algerian capital of Algiers, viewers can sense the clash of cultures in the settings alone, as modern French cafes sit within neighborhoods that look like they go back to biblical times (which they likely do).

In a way, it is this setting, and other subtleties of realism, that make the movie so compelling. The plot-line is, at best, loosely defined. In sum: native Algerian revolutionaries commit terrorist acts to throw off French rule. That’s right, “terrorism.” Acts like detonating bombs in crowded areas and executing unsuspecting French police are not really intended to do anything more than spread fear among the French, while attempting to rally native Algerians. The targets are ideological, not military.

The film also lives in its faces. Several of the main roles are played not by actors, but by the actual Algerian revolutionaries themselves. As such, watching the intimate scenes of planning and execution feels at times as if there were a hidden camera overseeing historical events. As the resistance leadership moves around the dense Casbah neighborhood, you feel the claustrophobia, the desperation, and the commitment of the rebels as if you’re looking over their shoulders.

The movie clearly leans to the revolutionaries, very much in-keeping with the spirit of the 1960’s and European movies of the time. But the methods used by both sides are never sugarcoated. And while the French may ultimately be portrayed as the villains, one wonders what the European filmmakers would make of what Algeria has actually achieved since its independence.

A mainstay of “top 100” film lists, The Battle of Algiers ends in a way that suggests inevitability; the occupiers can win all the battles they like, but in the end “occupation” has no successful endgame. So if you’ve been wondering why Israel is so reticent to occupy Gaza, Algiers will answer you. Clearly, the Israelis know this movie’s lessons.

The HD version of The Battle of Algiers is available on Amazon Prime for $3.99. It’s also available through Kanopy, the free app available through most public libraries (which is a bit of a little-known service — 10 free movies a month!).

This one is, really, sort of unforgettable. You live it. And it’ll likely make you view the current conflict in Gaza with new — and wiser — eyes.

Enjoy the movie and support your local police!


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