For these turbulent times, there simply is no other film as influential and as important as Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers. Its black-and-white images are gritty and powerful and uncommonly modern for its 1966 date of production. Its newsreel-like narrative is tightly wound and expertly developed to reveal its political policies of guerrilla warfare and street smarts humanity. Winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and nominated for three Academy Awards in its year of release, The Battle of Algiers has been newly remastered, in both picture and sound, for its Criterion Collection HD debut.
Written by Franco Solinas and based upon the Algerian war, when French colonial armies dominated the streets in North Africa from 1954–1962, The Battle of Algiers depicts the first three years of struggle for the Algerian people with attention paid to both halves of the street-raving battle. Freedom fighters, led by Ali (Brahim Haggiag) and a hand-picked cast of unknowns chosen for their rugged appearance and emotional effect for cameras, take to the streets and ignite an uprising against Col. Mathieu (Jean Martin, the film’s only quasi-professional actor) and the rest of the French occupational forces. Full of piss and vinegar and all sorts of hand-made bombs, the rioters shoot, protest, assonate, and persecute their occupiers until all-out battle is the only recourse for troop survival. And, yes, even the Algerian women join the fray as all is fair rebel factions begin forming the FLN, the National Liberation Front, in their war against occupational control.
There’s no denying that the real stars of the picture are the gripping cinematography of Marcello Gatti, the editing choices of Mario Morra, and the music of Ennio Morricone. Together, this three-part harmony sings this film to trailblazing acclaim and cinematical longevity. The shots are constantly rich and evocative of struggle with focused and unfocused moments of rival and a bit of handheld sprinklings as the men and women plant their bombs and wreak havoc on the streets. Throughout it all, we are drawn in as innocent bystanders in another’s war and we watch with horror and intrigue at the sudden violence and black-and-white bloodshed.
While we never stick with one character for too long, their stories are intriguing and strong throughout as suspense builds. Their drama is written across their faces; the horrors of guerilla warfare are without a victim and even the smiles on the faces of the children are tinged with a fair amount of sorrow. The camera’s point-of-view is always immediate and masterful providing moments of tense suspense in spite of the deplorable amount of terrorism depicted on-screen. In one expert sequence, the camera follows three women in separate parts of the city as they leave bombs in public places and contrasts the westernized women with the joy on the faces of the civilians about to be killed.
Children are ripped from women’s arms and people are marched into the street. Some are beheaded and some are sparred. Violent and very much like a documentary, The Battles of Algiers is a highly influential film that withstands the test of time due to its gritty realism and terroristic tactics.
Guerrilla filmmaking at its finest.
MPAA Rating: This title has not been rated by the MPAA.
Director: Gillo Pontecorvo
Writer: Gillo Pontecorvo; Franco Solinas
Cast: Brahim Hadjadj; Jean Martin; Yacef Saadi; Samia Kerbash; Ugo Paletti; Fusia El Kader
Genre: war | Military | Drama
Tagline: The revolt that stirred the world.
Memorable Movie Quote: "To know them means to eliminate them. Consequently, the military aspect is secondary to the police method."
Distributor: The Criterion Collection
Release Date: September 20, 1967
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: August 9, 2011
Synopsis: This highly political film about the Algerian struggle for independence from France took "Best Film" honors at the 1966 Venice Film Festival. The bulk of the film is shot in flashback, presented as the memories of Ali (Brahim Haggiag), a leading member of the Algerian Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN), when finally captured by the French in 1957. Three years earlier, Ali was a petty thief who joined the secretive organization in order to help rid the Casbah of vice associated with the colonial government. The film traces the rebels' struggle and the increasingly extreme measures taken by the French government to quell what soon becomes a nationwide revolt. After the flashback, Ali and the last of the FLN leaders are killed, and the film takes on a more general focus, leading to the declaration of Algerian independence in 1962. Director Gillo Pontecorvo's careful re-creation of a complicated guerrilla struggle presents a rather partisan view of some complex social and political issues, which got the film banned in France for many years. That should not come as a surprise, for La Battaglia di Algeri was subsidized by the Algerian government and -- with the exception of Jean Martin and Tommaso Neri as French officers -- the cast was entirely Algerian as well.
English SDH, French, Spanish (less)
English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German SDH (less)
Available on Blu-ray - August 9, 2011
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
Subtitles: English, SDH
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; Two-disc set (2 BDs)
Playback: Region A
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1:85:1, the 1080i transfer has been expertly handled, restored, and remastered by Criterion for its HD debut on blu-ray. In fact, the transfer’s restoration was overseen by the film’s cinematographer, Marcello Gatti, himself. All debris, dirt, and grime has been removed from the print and even the flickering issues were manually removed. Rich in black levels and sufficient grain levels, it is safe to say that The Battle of Algiers has never looked better. With a 24-bit remastering of its soundtrack with ProTools HD, neither has the film sounded any better before, too. It is finally free and clicks, pops, and hissing noises.
In addition to a 57-page book about the film’s history, Criterion has loaded this with so much HD supplemental material that two-discs are needed to support the quality and quantity of the collection. On Disc One, you have the film and two documentaries. There is also a series of interviews from directors like Oliver Stone, Steven Soderbergh, and Spike Lee talking about the influences the film has had upon them and their movies. Disc Two features a historical documentary about the war itself, a case study about the film and its use of terrorism put out by ABC News, excerpts from larger documentaries about the subject and the film, and an hour-long documentary about the director making a return trip to Algiers.
- Gillo Pontecorvo: The Dictatorship of Truth (40 min)
- Marxist Poetry: The Making of ‘The Battle of Algiers’ (52 min)
- Five Directors on ‘The Battle of Algiers’ (18 min)
- Theatrical Trailer (4 min)
- Remembering History (70 min)
- Etats d’Armes (30 min)
- ‘The Battle of Algiers’: A Case Study (25 min)
- Gillo Pontecorvo’s Return to Algiers (60 min)
- Production Gallery
- Rerelease Trailer