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The Battle Of Algiers Movie Analysis Film Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 3005 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The movie is set as a reflection of the struggle in the North African country to gain independence. The film is set in Algiers, the capital of Algeria, a French colony. The year is 1957, and the Algerian war is at its peak as the insurgents, the FLN fight against the French paratroopers, an elite team of ruthless soldiers. The film is a depiction of the Battle for Algiers, a segment of the Algerian war that charted the course for freedom. The movie starts with a scene where French paratroopers have just used torture to extract information from an old man. They now know where the last of the leaders of the freedom fighters, Ali Pointe is hiding and the French commander gives him thirty seconds to surrender.

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A large portion of the movie is shot as the flashbacks of Ali Pointe, a cornered leader of the insurgency. The flashbacks show him, three years before, as a hoodlum with a tainted past of theft and drug-dealing. He joins the militants to help rid Algeria of vice and problems associated with the French. Through the flashbacks, the movie follows the insurgents struggles and the French government s determination to end the war… It then traces the metamorphosis of the insurgency into a national revolution. For the larger part of the 117 minutes the movie runs, it sees the war through Ali Pointe s eyes as it traces his struggles as a leader of the insurgency.

The flashbacks end and the timeline returns to the present. Ali Pointe and all other captured FLN leaders are guillotined. The FLN retaliate and it becomes a national revolution as the insurgency grows in numbers and support. The movie then adapts a general focus and ends as Algeria attains independence in 1962.

The theme

The issues addressed by this movie are varied and universal. The violence evident in the movie is sickening, but it must be taken for its thematic content. It centers on terrorism as a method of war employed where conventional means are not applicable. It also tries to depict the issues brought about by imperialism and colonization and the endless struggle of people to achieve their independence at whatever cost.

It also shows that terrorism is not a method merely used by insurgents but also by conventional militaries when it suits them. The French military is depicted as using unconventional methods such as torture and manipulation. While the ruthlessness of the insurgents is expected, the counter insurgency is a shocker. It is not expected that any trained military would use such methods, but this movies main theme centre on unmasking them.


The movie adapts a quasi-documentary approach during the flashback scenes. Te viewer learns of how the war turned viral as it spread. It uses Ali Pointe s view as a starting point for the story, the flow of information is detailed and impossible for a 30 second flashback, but it is informative. The visual style used in this film was convincing with the initial recording being done in black and white due to the infant nature of color technology at the time.

The last segment of the movie that has general focus on the story of the Algerian war adapts the omnipresent invisible narrator method. The transition is flawless and remarkable, and it enhances the overall effect of the story.

Rising action

The flashbacks in the story mean that the movie has rising action for only the first segment. The flow from the torture scene, to Ali Pointe s flashbacks marks the foundation of the action. It is centered on Ali s memories, the calmness and lack of any violence as he reminisces of his former life and the woes of his urgent life. The bloody, grizzly movie scenes also add to the action of the movie. The flashback approach, however, give the story very little raise in action because it is a war movie.


It is impossible to centre on any part of the Battle of Algiers as the only climax in the movie. It is riddled with multiple tense and explosive scenes, all centered on the flashbacks. This film provides a deeper insight and understanding of the dynamics of conflicts; this is done in the way it provides a detailed arm race between the warring factions that normally accompany conflicts. In short the idea of reciprocity in conflict which describes how each side attempts to outflank and outmaneuver the other help us tremendously understand the dynamics of the real world conflicts (Rainer, 10).

A memorable scene is where several female NLF remove their veils and dress like Europeans in order to penetrate the enemy territory to plant bombs. Another scene shows businessmen relaxing in a bar, people waiting for a bus, teenagers having fun and a child who enjoying her ice cream and suddenly, a bomb explodes. Another bombing occurs in a coffee house at around the Casbah area. The scenes of the French Legion s torture cells, the deliberations of the Algerian resistance organization (National Liberation Front) top brass in the Casbah meeting room, their battle hardened and fearless soldiers on the rooftops, cafes, checkpoints as they detonate bombs, are all a product of a breathtaking casting

Falling Action

The second part of the movie signifies the start of falling action. The escalation of the insurgency into a full scale revolution indicates that while the French might have won the battle for the city of Algiers they lost the Algerian war. In a way, this compensates for the bloody action scenes as one is compelled to ponder on whether such bloodshed and death was necessary to gain independence.

Although circumstances forced the locals were to start the war, the script is quick to show that they did not support terrorism as those who engage in it in the film have their reckoning moments (Ebert 123).They did not sanction the methods employed by the militants, but they were part and parcel of the gains. This is a true indication of a group that is formed with genuine reasons of freeing their society from some of the things that kept them exploited for centuries. Just when one would have thought that the war is over, bombs leaving hundreds of people dead and others injured.


The producer, Pontecorvo used special filming techniques that gave the movie somewhat of a documentary-like grainy look. The movies plot also follows the documentary approach .In the scenes after Ali Pointe and other leaders are killed, it is clear that the French have shot themselves in the leg. Their actions against the insurgents have solidified the people s resolve and they have no choice but to grant them freedom

The end

The year is 1962 and Algeria is in a euphoric state. The scenes shift from happiness to the defeat of the French. The movie ends on a positive high, as the deaths of all those killed in the course of the war seem worthwhile. The dying scenes of the movie show the victory on the faces of the Algerian people.

The characters

The cast included only one professional actor, Jean Martin. The movie engages composite characters. The character Colonel Mathieu is a composite character meant to show the top leadership of the actual French regiments in Algeria at the time. It also seems likely that the producer and the actor attempted to show the colonel as an honest man merely doing his job, as opposed to a villain and emotionless leader of a ruthless military. Jean Martin plays the character well, but it still ends up depicting him as a villain.

Other characters are real but have their names changed to fit in the story. The largely unprofessional cast was picked because of their appearance and expression. They therefore fit in with their role in the film, giving it the feel of a real time recording.


Battle of Algiers was released in 1966, 4 years after the end of the Algerian war. It is a movie that rebuilds the events that were witnessed in Algeria in 1954-1962. Its content clearly brings out the unbiased story in the war. It is not propaganda as it shows the detailed happenings of the war without showing an apparent bias. It is a political movie that concentrates on the war aspects of the Algerian War for independence and has indiscriminate depiction of the occurrences.

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One of the most notable things from the beginning is the lack of bias; the movie shows the atrocities committed by both sides despite the fact that its budget was partly footed by the Algerian government. The events in the movie are a true reflection of the War of independence in Algeria. It also shows how the insurgency crept into the Algerian society. The people rose in defiance of colonialism and eventually defeated the French. It represents a time when a wave of nationalism was spreading through Africa (Augends, 121).

One can not help having to remind himself or herself that each and every frame of this frame has been staged (Solinas, et al, 124). The scenes of a bombing of civilian not only in cafes but also in the dance halls and hit and run assassinations of police officers from the French side, provides the few who witnessed the gruesome experience or those who have read the descriptive narrative of the resistance movement with a feeling of sorrow at the experiences. It creates a sort of nostalgic disgust, but it is unbiased because both sides are depicted for having committed atrocities.

The superior script is further demonstrated by the fact that the several military organizations that are involved in one way or the other with terrorist organizations operating like National Liberation Front (NLF) have found this film a starting point in their military strategy. It has been used as they plan how to confront and defeat such organizations while keeping the casualties at a minimum. For instance, Pentagon has been screening it to its staff headed for terrorist hot spots like Iraq and Afghanistan. The aim is to show them the two sides of the war and what will happen if they do not take care of the natives. (Solinas, et al, 154).

The flow of events in the film also adds to its finesse, which improves the degree of reality in it tremendously. One important thing about this is that it lays the background of why the (National Resistance Front) NLF had to take up arms against the French forces. This is normally the important part of any work of art, to achieve its primary aim. If this movie had no achieved this, there would be no convincing reason why they are fighting in the first place and it would make the movie pathetically hollow and amateurish. This further reinforces the fact that the film is devoid of any propagandist stuff despite the fact that it was subsidized by the Algerian government. It was tailored to guard and respect the real happenings of the Battle of Algiers and to tell the real story of the war.

The choice of the characters in the film is another feature that further set it apart from a majority of the films in the same genre. The role of Ali la Pointe, played by Brahim Haggiag, is one such choice that fits into the part he is supposed to play. His prole-hero features are so riveting that no one can dispute that he was the real FNL actual leader. By portraying Ali as a down trodden Muslim in dire need of liberation from the French occupation, the directors of the film again match the cast with situations (Gilbert, 10). Ali is not only the perfect embodiment of the downtrodden Muslim clamoring for emancipation but also a representation of the ordinary Algerian. His eyes are the fervid center of this movie as the vivid flashbacks explain his story.

Just like the majority of movies of this genre, there are a number of lessons that one can learn from film. The first such lesson is the amount to reciprocity in this conflict (Zuhur, 231). Reciprocity means both sides to the conflict are responsible to the conflict. That each side attacks or defends in retaliation to the other side implying in the absence of either of the two there would be no conflict. The same applies to the likes of trade and so many other endeavors in life that requires two to tango (Burr, 10). This reciprocity is normally what identifies one party to the dispute as a villain or aggressor and the other a victim. For instance, it is tempting to view the Algerians as victims while the French forces as the aggressors. This is a fallacious conclusion; if anything the French who annexed Algeria in 1800 and it is only a century and a half later that the revolutionary war begins.

Nonetheless, as is made clear by the film, the French also have their fair share of victimization and revenge, primarily brought about by the need for resources that would enable them to dispel insurgencies of that nature not only in Algeria but in all colonies that were in the French sphere of influence. It is obvious that the Algerian would not have taken up arms had the French agreed to meet their legitimate demands. Given that the French policy of assimilation had made the Algerians second class French citizens. As observed, conflicts are reciprocal in that any of the competing side has an option of discontinuing the conflict by restraining itself from any retaliation. This means that surrender is hardly ever considered an option. However, in most of the cases there would never be a side that would be wiling to do such a thing, until of course, the situation demands it or they are defeated in war. That is the reason why both sides are to blame itself for any undesirable consequences of the conflict that they were part of.

The second lesson which this film teaches us and which is also related to reciprocity in conflict that we have talked of is the significance of normative analysis (Burr, 10). The film sequentially illustrates the successful decisive events of this conflict between the Algerian insurgency and the French forces in the 1950s, without appearing to side with any of the protagonists. This neutral and detached approach is precisely the reason that explains why the film is so powerful, thought provoking and authentic. This makes anybody alluding that the film is a propaganda tool appear utterly ignorant of the glaring description to the contrary. The same can be viewed as the reason why the film is so enriching and compelling. The visual presentation of important events in the struggle for independence and especially the entire colonial rule is so neutral that it can easily pass for a documentary. The hardened French soldiers in the first scene ruthlessly torturing an Algerian insurgent together with the Algerian children and women who we are shown planting bombs in military checkpoint shows that both sides engaged in inhumane, immoral, and illegal behaviors (Rainer, 10). They are both ready to engage whatever means necessary to meet their respective ends, which is the reason there are no heroes in this film (Pujol, 3). In short, what the author wishes to communicate is laying the exposure of all the human tragedies that happen amongst us but people do not seem to pay a lot of attention on them (Ebert, 67). The movie reveals the realities of the atrocities of the war between the army of the French and the soldiers of the National Liberation Front. However, it may superficially seem justified for the FLN insurgents to use such methods to fight against the French rule; their struggles and methods are crude and inhumane. They have caused suffering by killing and maiming people in cold blood as a result of the bombs they plant targeting the Europeans. The attacks by the FLN were reciprocated by the French military in a much more treacherous way due to superior training and weaponry (Evans & Morgan, 234). This brutality has affected all those involved. These people live in fear of being ganged down and this explains why they were never at peace (Ebert 87). The development of this movie was superb and indeed it led to the realization of the goal that the producers intended. The movie was developed so many years ago but till today it remains relevant. This is because it shows the effects of any war on the natives and what both sides lose when they go to war. The film is indicative of a thorough choreography and splendid script. These are sure indications that there was thorough input by the assisting crew to live up to the original script.


In summary, at every stage of this conflict we get a clear illustration of how the two sides of the conflict change their tactics in a bid to get an upper hand in the conflict; we also see a slow but unstoppable escalation of fighting into war. The Battle of Algeria is a good and unbiased description of the revolutionary battle pitting the insurgents against the French forces; a war that escalates until one party emerges the victor. It tries to bring out the suffering of the people, the wanton destruction of property and life. This is important and can be applied to almost all competitive situations that can be modeled in a war with an enemy with better weaponry and training.

The makers of the story created a fictional script that captures the real story. The unbiased approach might have been refuted later by some parties to the war but the real story is there for all to see. It is also up to the viewer to decide whether such bloodshed was really necessary in the struggle for independence. It is a remarkable lesson in history and the injustices in war. At the end of the movie, it is left to the conscience of the viewer to decide which side he or she feels was justified to fight with such unconventional methods. This question is left unanswered because the movie shows such a remarkable balance in the depiction that it is almost impossible to pick sides with justified reasons. It also shows how the French lost the battle of Algiers but ultimately lost the Algerian War. Algeria gained independence in 1962, the same year the Algerian war ended.


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