One of the cinema’s great political masterpieces, as important as Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin 40 years earlier, The Battle of Algiers charts the history of Algeria’s national liberation movement from its inception in 1954 to the country’s independence in 1962.
The film is no dry, detached documentary, however much the grainy black-and-white cinematography makes it look like a newsreel. Individual set-pieces are as gripping as any ever filmed, with Gillo Pontecorvo’s determination to give both sides a fair hearing leading to constant moral ambiguity when both sides commit tit-for-tat atrocities. Although there’s no doubt where the film itself stands (it was independent Algeria’s first production), the most richly drawn character is the French Colonel Mathieu (Jean Martin), aware that he’s on history’s losing side but still required to go through the motions.
Initially banned in France, Pontecorvo’s film has been used as a morale-booster by both the Black Panther movement and the 2010 Algerian World Cup team.
“Unquestionably the greatest political film ever made, and by such a wide margin that it’s hard to think of an obvious runner-up. Riveting as a suspense thriller and rigorously clear-eyed in its presentation of atrocities committed by both sides. It’s uncannily relevant to this day in its forensically detailed explanation not merely of the reasons why Western occupation of the Middle East is always doomed to failure but also exactly how terrorist cells operate, both then and now.” Michael Brooke