The Battle of Algiers is a cinematic examination of the Algerian struggle for independence from French colonialism in the years 1956 to 1962. The film portrayed the struggle and anti-imperialist resistance of Algeria’s FLN against the French’s counterinsurgency tactics, most prominently the use torture from both sides.
Pontecorvo was a member of the Italian communist party and thus was on the side of the independence movement. The producer, Yacef Saadi, was a leader of the FLN. The message of the film is indeed anti-imperialist but this must not affect the equal portrayal of violence in the film. The first sight of violence in the film was of the FLN guerrilla warfare tactics. The guerrilla leader of the FLN is asked to kill one French informer; this is set in the year 1954. The first attacks of the war did take place on November 1, 1954 where roughly ten French soldiers and two pieds noirs were murdered as a result of FLN guerilla tactics.
After a time jump of two years (1956) there are scenes where Algerian civilians kill French officers to take their arms. They hide the arms in boxes and vegetable stands. The two year time jump creates a discontinuity in the actual timeline of the growth of the FLN. The FLN used violent tactics to gain mass support of the Algerians. What is omitted from the movie is that the FLN battled itself and other Algerians. The FLN assured the loyalty of the Algerian population by marking1 them, thus intimidating any future collaborators. During these two years, guerrillas killed around 6000 Muslim Algerians, with multiple massacres and torture of civilians, excluded from the film. Paul’s interview supports this claim, where he explains that the FLN was involved in a savage terrorist movement involving disembowelment and decapitation of women, children chopped up and throats being slit2, none of which are shown in the film. In fact, such horrific forms of torture are only used by the French in the film. Abdelkader Hammou was a collaborator with the French, claims he joined the French after the FLN tried to kill his father. He continues saying neither side had a monopoly on savagery. There is a scene in the movie where FLN violence is admitted, “Terrorism is useful as a start” said by FLN leader Nevertheless, the exclusion of this aspect is a distortion of the reality of events.
The Algerian’s motives/forms of torture could have been justified, but instead where omitted as a whole. There were two main motives, as previously explained: gaining mass support and ruling out traitors, but also defending the Algerian population, the tortured, and the killed. People grew impatient and conceived the idea of putting an end to the advantage the enemy derived by pursuing the path of terror.3 Furthermore, and as the film depicts, the Algerian civilians have undergone numerous forms of abasement and humiliation as the French
1 Cutting the ears and noses.
2 Aussaresses, Paul, Le Monde Afrique Interview, 2000.
3 Fanon, F. (1958) p. 57