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«GILLO PONTECORVO'S RIALTO PICTURES PRESSBOOK The Battle of Algiers Rialto Pictures Director Gillo Pontecorvo Producer Saadi Yacef & Antonio Musu ...»

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The Battle of Algiers

Rialto Pictures


Gillo Pontecorvo


Saadi Yacef & Antonio Musu


Franco Solinas & Gillo Pontecorvo

Based on an idea by

Saadi Yacef

Director of Photography

Marcello Gatti


Silvano Mancini


Ennio Morricone & Gillo Pontecorvo

Musical Director

Bruno Nicolai


Mario Serandrei & Mario Morra Assistant Directors Fernando Moranidi & Moussa Haddad Second Unit Director Giuliano Montaldo Sets Sergio Canivari Special Effects Aldo Gasparri Make-up Maurizio Giustini Sound Alberto Bartolomei Costumes Giovanni Axerio The Battle of Algiers Rialto Pictures CAST Ali La Pointe Brahim Haggiag Colonel Mathieu Jean Martin El-hadi Jaffar Saadi Yacef Fatiha Samia Kerbash Hassiba Fusia El Kader The Captain Ugo Paletti Little Omar Mohamed Ben Kassen 1965 black & white Aspect ratio: 1.66:1 running time: 123 minutes

An Italian-Algerian co-production:

Igor Film (Rome) - Casbah Films (Algiers) A Rialto Pictures release In association with Janus Films rialtopictures.com/battle The Battle of Algiers Rialto Pictures


The action begins at dawn on October 7, 1957. An old Algerian nationalist, under torture, reveals to Colonel Mathieu the hiding place of the last surviving guerrilla leader, Ali La Pointe. Mathieu's paratroops surround the house in the Casbah, ready to blow it up unless Ali surrenders. From the pensive faces of the four freedom fighters within, we flash back to November 1, 1954, when a message from the National Liberation Front had launched The Battle of Algiers.

After this prologue, we follow the three-year history of the Battle.

Terrorism escalates on both sides. A harmless Arab worker is accused of killing a policeman and in retaliation the French place a bomb near his home in the Casbah, killing many innocent people. In return, three Arab women disguised as Europeans penetrate the heavily guarded French sector, wreaking havoc with bombs in two cafes and at the Air France office.

But the elite French paratroopers, with their vastly superior resources and training and the ruthless use of torture, systematically destroy the Algerian guerrilla movement, cell by cell. When they finally arrest the intellectual Ben M'Hidi and the key leader El-hadi Jaffar, only Ali La Pointe remains. We return to October 7, 1957. Ali La Pointe dies and the Battle of Algiers ends, a victory for the French. But three years later the revolutionary phoenix rises again in the Casbah, leading to Algeria's independence in 1962.

–  –  –

Venice Film Festival (1966)

• Golden Lion

• FIPRESCI Prize Academy Awards – Oscars (1967)

• Nominated, Best Foreign Language Film Academy Awards - Oscars (1969)

• Nominated, Best Director – Gillo Pontecorvo

• Nominated, Best Writing, Story & Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen – Franco Solinas, Gillo Pontecorvo BAFTA (1972)

• Winner, UN Award

–  –  –

“ASTONISHING! A Political Thriller of Unmatched Realism!” – A.O. Scott, The New York Times


TIMELY! Its anatomy of terror remains unsurpassed!” – Peter Rainer, New York Magazine


IT’S HAPPENING NOW, IT’S IMPORTANT.” – Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times/National Public Radio “A MASTERPIECE! MOVES LIKE A THRILLER! It’s ASTONISHING IMMEDIACY anticipates the artfully raw you-are-there vérité of Bloody Sunday and Black Hawk Down.” – J. Hoberman, The American Prospect “BRILLIANT! UNFORGETTABLE! Mesmerizing Pace and Immediacy!” – Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune “A MASTERPIECE! Surely the Most Harrowing Political Epic Ever!” – Philip Gourevitch, The New Yorker “PULSES WITH ENERGY! As Urgent, Intense, Prescient as Ever!” – Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post


THRILLER!” – David Sterritt, Christian Science Monitor “LEGENDARY! RIVETING! When a re-release combines great artistic power with lasting political interest, celluloid junkies are not the only ones who ought to be excited. A GREAT MOVIE!” – Stuart Klawans, The New York Times “It has a firebrand’s fervor; it carries you with it, and doesn’t give you time to think... Pontecorvo’s inflammatory passion works directly on your feelings. He’s the most dangerous kind of Marxist, a Marxist poet.” – Pauline Kael

–  –  –

Saadi Yacef, the elegant and handsome president of Casbah Films, had fought in the struggle for Algerian liberation as commander for the autonomous zone of Algiers. [After independence,] he went to Italy to set up an Algerian-Italian co-production dealing with that struggle. Of the three Italian directors he approached -- Francesco Rosi, Luchino Visconti and Gillo Pontecorvo -- only Pontecorvo was both willing and able to accept the assignment. He did so on the condition that he be given a very large measure of autonomy and creative freedom. Pontecorvo and screenwriter Franco Solinas then devoted six months to intensive research into the eight years of the campaign, studying everything from newsreels to police archives and interviewing thousands of witnesses --French veterans of the war as well as Algerian revolutionaries. Saadi Yacef contributed his own view from the top. After the research came a further six months of scriptwriting.

Along with this patient pursuit of accuracy of content went a determination to achieve unparalleled verisimilitude in presentation. With the cooperation of the Boumedienne government, Pontecorvo was able to shoot on location in Algiers, both in what had been the European section and in the Casbah, where the streets were so narrow that only hand-held cameras could be used. He arrived there with nine Italian technicians, making up the remainder of his crew from local workers with no previous film experience, patiently trained by his cinematographer Marcello Gatti and others.

Brahim Haggiag, an illiterate peasant whom Pontecorvo discovered in the Algiers market, was cast as Ali La Pointe, a petty criminal who winds up as a rebel leader and martyr. Saadi Yacef recreated for the cameras the role he had played in life as the Algiers military commander. Only one major role was assigned to a professional actor -- that of the French paratroop commander Colonel Mathieu -- played by Jean Martin; primarily a stage actor, he was blacklisted for signing a manifesto against the Algerian war.

What Pontecorvo called his "choral protagonist" were the 80,000 men, women, and children of the Casbah, the film's true "hero."

Pontecorvo and Gatti achieved greater control over their effects through laboratory experiments. Telephoto lenses were used in crowd scenes to intensify the impression of a television newsreel and to "emphasize collective effort rather than individual heroism." In his interview with Joan Mellen, Pontecorvo said that for these extraordinary crowd scenes "we drew all the movements of the crowd with chalk on the actual pavement, 'action 1, 2, or 3, this group goes around,' etc. This is how we did the great crowd scene, the demonstration down the stairs. When this became automatic, I no longer looked at it and my assistant controlled it when we shot.... I took the five, ten, fifteen people who were nearest to the camera and worked only with them. I didn't even look at the others. I looked to see if the expression on their faces was right. A crowd scene can be spoiled if the expression of The Battle of Algiers Rialto Pictures only one person is not exactly what you want." So completely convincing were these techniques that the original U.S. distributor added this disclaimer "Not one foot of newsreel has been used in this reconstruction of The Battle of Algiers."

Many critics noted the effectiveness of the film's musical score, written by Pontecorvo and Ennio Morricone. Jan Dawson wrote that Battle was shot and cut to the rhythms of the score which, "to the crew's amusement, Pontecorvo whistled throughout the filming so as not to 'lose the rhythm of the film.' The same music (in which the percussion is dominant and which finds its human equivalent in the eerie formalized wailing of the Casbah women) accompanies the atrocities on both sides, stressing the drama and the urgency of the action yet also underlining the similarities that link the opposing forces."

Of the much discussed use of a Bach chorale to accompany the dreadful torture scenes, Pontecorvo says that "the torture used by the French as their basic counter-guerrilla tactic is the low point of human degradation caused by the war. It seemed to me that the religious music I used in those sequences emphasized with even greater authority the gravity of that degradation. But at the same time torture creates a sort of relationship between those who do it and those who undergo it. With human pity the common bond, the music served to transcend the particular situation, making them symbols of an all encompassing characteristic -- that of giving and enduring pain."

Some critics, especially in France, regarded the film as a blatantly pro-Arab, anti-French work of propaganda, pointing out that it was, after all, sponsored by the Algerian revolutionary leader Saadi Yacef. The French delegation at the 1966 Venice film festival boycotted the screening, and also the ceremony at which it was awarded the Golden Lion as best film. Battle was banned by the French government until 1971, and even then screenings were postponed because of threats to exhibitors and actual bombings of theaters. The film was only widely shown in France, Pontecorvo says, due to the efforts of director Louis Malle.

However, this primarily right-wing view of Battle as Arab propaganda was

rejected by many, and was remote from the stated intention of Saadi Yacef:

"The idea of reliving those days and arousing the emotions I felt moved me greatly. But there is no rancor in my memories. Together with our Italian friends, we desired to make an objective, equilibrated film that is not a trial of a people or of a nation, but a heartful act of accusation against violence and war."

This is an accurate description of the film, in the opinion of its champions.

Most frequently cited in support of this view is the scene in which the Arab women, having placed their lethal bombs in crowded places, sadly scrutinize The Battle of Algiers Rialto Pictures the faces of those who will die. Again, the young paratroopers, having horribly tortured the old peasant into betraying Ali, congratulate him on holding out for so long and offer him cigarettes, as if hungry for his forgiveness. Colonel Mathieu, the nemesis of the Algerian guerrillas, is neither an ogre nor a psychopath but a highly intelligent professional who recognizes that if he is to win the war for France there is simply no alternative to torture. It’s worth noting that Lieutenant Colonel Roger Trinquier, veteran of the Tenth Division of Paratroopers and author of Modern Warfare (1964), believed that the film was an accurate representation of the battle and, in a sense, a tribute to the French army.

-- John J. Michalczyk, excerpted from World Film Directors 1945-1985, edited by John Wakeman (1988, The H.W. Wilson Company, New York)


On May 16, 1830, a fleet of 500 French ships headed from Toulon to Algiers. In less than two months, on July 5, 1830, the dey of Algiers signed the act of surrender to France, thus beginning over a century of French colonialism in Algeria.

The Algerian War of Independence (1954 - 1962) was a period of guerilla strikes, terrorism, counter-terrorism and riots between the French army and colonists in Algeria and pro-independence Algerians, the latter led by the Front de Libération Nationale (or FLN)1. By 1954, when the FLN became active in Algeria, France had already lost the colonies of Tunisia and Morocco, and only months before had liquidated its empire in Indochina.

Beginning of Hostilities In the early morning hours of November 1, 1954, FLN guerrillas launched attacks in various parts of Algeria against military installations, police posts, warehouses, communications facilities, and public utilities. From their base in Cairo, the FLN broadcast a proclamation calling on Muslims in Algeria to join in a national struggle for the "restoration of the Algerian state, sovereign, democratic, and social, within the framework of the principles of Islam." The French Minister of the Interior, socialist François Mitterrand, responded sharply that "the only possible negotiation is war." It was the reaction of Premier Pierre Mendès-France that set the tone of French policy for the next five years. He declared in the National Assembly: "One does not compromise when it comes to defending the internal peace of the nation, the unity and integrity of the Republic. The Algerian departments are part of the French Republic. They have been French for a long time, and they are irrevocably French … Between them and metropolitan France there can be FLN's main rival – with the same goal of Algerian independence – was the Mouvement National Algérien (MNA) who mainly gained support with Algerian workers in France.

FLN and MNA fought against each other both in France and Algeria for the full duration of the conflict. There were a number of smaller pro-independence factions.

The Battle of Algiers Rialto Pictures no conceivable secession."

On the political front, the FLN worked to persuade the Algerian masses to support the aims of the independence movement. FLN-oriented labor unions, professional associations, and students' and women's organizations were organized to rally diverse segments of the population. The FLN's leading political theorists provided sophisticated intellectual justification for the use of violence in achieving liberation.

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