It’s hard to imagine the events of the battle for Algiers being portrayed with any greater intensity or brutal honesty, nor with such even-handed compassion. You are reminded constantly that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter – and here both are witnessed, and the cost in lives of the gradual erosion of the French presence and achievement of independence for Algeria over a period of years.
The evil acts committed by both sides in the conflict are portrayed factually and without comment, more as a statement of the spiralling chaos and madness of war, of the desperation driving peace-loving family men and women to place bombs, and of the viciously repressive French response. The innocent die, people are tortured, but in the final analysis nothing can prevent the inexorable momentum towards Algerian independence, not even hard-line groups like the OAS and the increasing bitterness of the pieds-noir.
There is so much to admire here, especially a cast heavy with untrained actors, but if special praise were to be granted for any aspect of the film, the crowd scenes are phenomenal – it is not hard to see how Day of the Locust and others can count upon this film as a massive influence. Watching this movie is often much more like watching a documentary than a movie recreating the real-life events in Algiers.
It’s also worth watching the Battle of Algiers as a companion piece to Day of the Jackal, evidence aplenty of the rift in French society caused by the Algerian war, and indeed City of Life and Death for a comparison of the savagery of war within the confines of one city.
If you have not seen this spellbinding movie, I urge you to watch it. if you were going to watch any film about war, this should be the one. It is truly a cinematic classic.