Battaglia di Algeri, La (1965)
I wasn’t sure what I was getting into with this film. It was supposed to be about insurgency. It focuses on the the movement to liberate Algeria from the French. I saw a trailer for it a year or so ago and it finally showed up in the Netflix queue.
This is an old film, but you would almost not know that from the tight way it is edited. And the black and white film helps make it even more tense. When you consider that most of the people in the film were not professional actors and that none of the footage in the film is “real” – it is incredibly amazing how well they manged to make a film that feels more like a documentary than a piece of fiction.
Just to give you an idea of how serious this film is – the Pentegon apparently screened it in 2003 to get some insight into how the insugency works. And if you were looking for parralles to Iraq – they abound!
There are two things that I have to talk about in relation to the film. The first is that at one point in the film the French government escalates the confrontation by bringing in the French military to supress the rebels. The press asks the Col. in charge about the methods he is using to get information out of the rebels. Those methods include serious forms of torture.
The word “torture” doesn’t appear in our orders. We’ve always spoken of interrogation as the only valid method in a police operation directed against unknown enemies. As for the NLF, they request that their members, in the event of capture, should maintain silence for twenty-four hours, and then they may talk. So, the organization has already had the time it needs to render any information useless. What type of interrogation should we choose, the one the courts use for a murder case, that drags on for months?
In the end he says that the question is not about his methods but whether they should be in Algeria. If the answer is yes – then “all” consequences of that choice must be accepted. This is amazing straight forward thinking and unfortunately echos many of the news reports that come out of Iraq. That is the most basic question every democracy must ask itself when it engages in war and suppression – there will be consequences – by seeking the goal you must accept them as you go.
The thing that really gives the film such amazing authenticity is that no one is without sin in the film. The rebel/terrorist and the military soldiers both do good and bad things. It is complicated to say who is ultimately right or wrong. The film is obviously sympathetic to the rebels. And I was supprised at how well that sympathy got me to feel for them. The problem is that when you fight a a-symetric war – where one side has rocks and IED and the other side has tanks and military forces – they out come is sure to be most terrible for those people who are simply present but not actually involved.
Bottom Line: 41 years later – this film has a resonance that makes it amazing to watch. It is gripping and tense, and leaves you with a feeling that you have looked into the darkness of men’s souls. It should be seen by everyone who lives in a “Post 9/11 world”.