Since its release in 1966, Gillo Pontecorvo's The Battle of Algiers has divided critical opinion. The film which depicts the Algerian struggle for independence, was awarded the Lion d'Or at the 1966 Venice Film Festival and nominated a year later for an Oscar as Best Foreign Film. Despite this acclaim, the inherently controversial film was banned in France until 1971 due to its graphic portrayal of torture and repression during the war. Heavily influenced by the distinctive film style Neorealism, the politically engaged director sought to make a film which was produced and shot within a 'dictatorship of truth.' These neorealist aesthetics (hand-held camera, non professional actors) rendered such an extraordinarily accurate reflection of social reality that the film's original U.S. distributor inserted the disclaimer: "Not one foot of newsreel or documentary film has been used."
This analysis will explore these cinematic techniques employed by Pontecorvo within a short sequence and examine their effects on our understanding of the issues and themes raised within the film.
The sequence chosen comes moments after the revelation by an old Algerian nationalist of the whereabouts of the last FLN member Ali La Pointe. The French Military, determined to suppress the Independent Movement have stormed the Casbah and have finally located 'la tête du ténia' behind a tiled wall. This sequence therefore effectively begins at the end of the story in the year 1957, the complex temporal structure is evident as we regress to the year 1954, here the film traces the transformation of Ali La Pointe from petty criminal to nationalist martyr.
Film of contrasts/Simplicity of France against Algeria
In the opening shot, the FLN and the French military are cinematically pitched against each other through the use of long and close shots. As the camera pans in close shot, both left to right and then right to left, all four faces of the revolutionaries are fixed into our consciousness. This close-up thus creates a collective protagonist which in turn becomes an embodiment of the Algerian people. In contrast, the two French paratroopers on the other side of the wall, are shot in side profile through a long lens with their backs turned to the audience, whilst the machine gun which holds connotations of the violence and brutality employed by the French army is incorporated into the left hand side of the wide frame. The simplification of Algeria against France is further signified through the interplay of dark and light elements. Whilst Pontecorvo employs a chiaroscuro image of Ali La Pointe's hideout in order to highlight the faces of the FLN members against the dark background, the visual expressions of the French soldiers are obscured by shadows. The spectatorship is consequently denied the same intimacy that they are permitted to experience with Ali La Pointe and his collaborators. Through a variety of camera angles shot in monochrome and the iconic image of the...