french films > Battle of Algiers

Battle of Algiers

Battle of Algiers

Battle of Algiers

Review score: * * * * *

cast: Yacef Saadi, Jean Martin

year: 1966

colour: no

certificate: 15

director: Gillo Pontecorvo

runtime: 135

Battle of Algiers was inspired by Souvenirs de la Bataille d'Alger, by Saadi Yacef, the campaign account of an FLN military commander. The book, written by Yacef, while a prisoner of the French, was FLN morale-boosting propaganda for militants. After independence, Yacef was released and became part of the new government. The Algerian government backed a film of Yacef’s memoir; exiled FLN man Salash Baazi approached the Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo and screenwriter Franco Solinas with the project.

Solinas’s first draft screenplay, titled Parà, is the story told from the perspective of a disenchanted French paratrooper. The filmmakers initially developed their project with Paul Newman in mind. Baazi rejected that idea, because it relegates Algerian suffering to the backdrop. Moreover, Yacef wrote his own screenplay, which the Italians producers rejected as too-biased towards the Algerians. Although sympathetic to Algerian nationalism, the Italian businessmen insisted on dealing with events from a neutral perspective. The final screenplay of Battle of Algiers has an Algerian protagonist, and depicts the cruelty and suffering of French and Algerian. Apocryphally, Solinas began the script with jotted-down “flashes of ideas” on a blackboard, which became scenes, thus, the episodic feel.

Despite its base in true events, The Battle of Algiers uses composite characters, and changes the names of certain persons, e.g. “Colonel Mathieu” is a composite of several French counterinsurgency officers, especially Jacques Massu. Saadi Yacef has stated that Mathieu was actually more based on Marcel Bigeard, although the character is also reminiscent of Roger Trinquier.Accused of portraying him too elegant and noble, screenplay writer Solinas denied it is intentional; the Colonel is “elegant and cultured, because Western civilization is neither inelegant nor uncultured”. Actor Jean Martin later explained the character had been conceived from the start as a decent man doing his job, and that he himself had done his best to make him as sympathetic as possible.

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