In the first of a regular column where we look at DVDs which may be of interest to socialists, we pick up on a DVD reissue of the classic film, Battle of Algiers.
BATTLE OF ALGIERS ( La battaglia di Algeri) Dir: Gillo Pontecorvo.
Made in 1965/6 the film is set in the city of Algiers and covers events surrounding the Algerian War of Independence in the late 1950s. This conflict marked the final days of Algeria as one of France’s most prized colonies. The story concentrates on the recruitment and involvement of a young radical in the ranks of the National Liberation Front (FLN), the main organisation leading the fight against the French settlers. As the conflict becomes bloodier, French paratroopers are sent in to crush the revolt in the Casbah and root out the FLN. The film doesn’t shy away from the brutal methods used by both sides, with the FLN resorting to bombing bars and cafes and the French army to torture and shootings. Indeed it goes out of its way to emphasize the human costs of the conflict on the people involved. However, this does not prevent the film from coming out firmly on the side of the Algerian masses against their colonial oppressors. In the end it is always important to understand the root cause of the bloodshed, the brutal hand of Imperialism.
The film does make a point of depicting the French army commander Lieutenant-Colonel Mathieu as a strangely sympathic man who despises the politicians and wants them to understand the level of violence required to achieve the aim of defeating the FLN. Of course that does not stop him from carrying out those acts of terror without a second thought. In the end although the FLN leadership is either rounded up or killed, a coda to the film showing the people demonstrating and rioting indicates that ultimately the game was up for the French occupiers.
Needless to say the parallels between the events depicted and the current situation in the Arab world are somewhat striking to say the least. No wonder the US Pentagon organised a screening of the film for staff in 2003 with the following advert: "How to win a battle against terrorism and lose the war of ideas. Children shoot soldiers at point-blank range. Women plant bombs in cafes. Soon the entire Arab population builds to a mad fervour. Sound familiar? The French have a plan. It succeeds tactically, but fails strategically. To understand why, come to a rare showing of this film." Those involved with the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan were especially advised to attend.
The film has often been described as a documentary, But in fact everything you see was staged with professional actors and amateurs (some of whom were involved in the real struggle), the director used black and white photography and hand held cameras to give the impression that you were watching actual events unfolding before your eyes, as if it was being filmed by news reporters on the scene.
Despite being banned in France for many years, the film picked up loads of awards and was nominated for three Oscars. But ignore all that, this is a great political film – a great film full stop – which every socialist should make a point of seeing.