Analysis of the Documetary Film Battle of Algiers: Depiction of the Horrors of War

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The Italian-Algerian docufilm “Battle of Algiers” was released in 1966, just 4 years after Algeria obtained independence. The newly-independent state was confronting the issue of a inhomogeneous political scene, thus the movie served Algeria’s need of to build a national identity. The docufilm portrays the Battle of Algiers (1956-57) and the previous years in which the NLF (National Liberation Front) secures its power over the Casbah (Ali la Pointe’s execution scene), for example by banning alcohol, drugs and prostitution and by punishing those that deviate from the NLF’s command.

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The guerrilla type of conflict represented such a novelty in warfare that the USA restored the film to screen it to its army to prepare them for Afghanistan. The peculiarity of the urban war was that it involved civilians on both sides, Algerians and pied noirs (French living in Algeria). The fight for independence used Lenin’s approach, it was a revolutionary struggle involving every layer of the population. Women planted bombs all over the European part of Algiers because they could bypass French searches, whereas children were used for communicational purposes.

The movie presents how dreadful the war was, showing that both sides suffered many casualties. Pied noirs were the targets of the bombings (in cafes, shops, police posts), whereas the Algerian fighters were killed by the French paratroopers, which arrived in Algiers in 1957, in various occasions both in and outside the Casbah. The 8-day long general strike initiated by the NLF to attract international attention, took the French military intervention to the next level. The Casbah was subjected to door-to-door searches and the inhabitants were taken to detention camps for interrogations.

This war preludes the end of the French colonial rule and the rise of a new independent state. Colonel Mathieu is a symbolic figure, he embodies France’s reluctance in granting the independence, although he fought in the French Resistance (French Paradox). The importance of Algerian territory is due to many reasons, firstly pied noirs were influential voters and Algeria was considered, because of its geographical proximity, de facto French mainland. In addition to this, due to France’s politically weak post-WWII standpoint, it had a strong impulse to reaffirm its greatness thus avoiding any loss of power. Therefore, fostered by strong nationalistic sentiment, the bitter reminders of the failures in Indo-China and Suez and the discovery of oil wells in 1956, the military was motivated to defeat the NLF. In addition, France’s intelligence and military advantage, were determinant in France’s success over the Algerians.

France’s colonialist attitude and its use of torture during interrogations (electric shocks, water torture, mock-drownings) fostered a disapproving public opinion around the matter, which is addressed in the dialogue between Colonel Mathieu and a journalist. The former invites the latter to do his job (“you have only to write, and well”), because the media had the power to decide the outcome of the war, by influencing public opinion. From the dialogue emerges also the idea that the UN was a weak institution unable to intervene in situations of crisis (“The UN is far away, dear sir. ”)

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