Thu. Jun 13th, 2024

NLF, Italian Neorealism, and Pontecorvo

Gillo Pontecorvo filmed The Battle of Algiers in 1965 as filmmaking about terrorism. The National Liberation Front and the Italian creative team produced the film as a co-production. It stars the character of Saadi Yacef, an Algerian revolutionary leader who fights for his country’s liberation from French colonial rule. He died on September 10, 2021, becoming one of the Algerian resistance fighters that people are more familiar with because of his role in making the film. On the other hand, the film is one of the most extraordinary films a director has ever made. It becomes an emotionally devastating story about the anticolonial struggle of the Algerian people. In addition to its struggles, it brutally reveals the French colonial mindset.

Therefore, many French people were not happy with representing their country and army in the film. Not officially censored in France, all cinemas and the general public boycotted the film, seen as anti-French propaganda. Pontecorvo screened the film for revolutionary and terrorist groups in the following years, becoming a documentary guide in the Palestinian struggle. On the other hand, organizations such as the Black Panthers examine detailed representations of guerrilla tactics in the films. In 2003, Mike Sheehan and his henchmen of counterterrorism experts suggested that the film shows how a country can win militarily but lose a battle in the middle of the Iraq War.

The Relevance

After all, The Battle of Algiers is more than filmmaking relevant to current US terrorism in Afghanistan and Iran. By being an important primary source, the interpretation of the legacy of Western colonialism can serve as a stimulus for thinking about the roots of discontent with the West in the Islamic world. The cause, i.e., the film, should have a place in the history curriculum of schools and universities. Because of its usefulness in connecting the past and the present, it tells the colonialism’s story from the historical actors’ perspective. The film became Pontecorvo’s product of the global anti-imperialist response in the 1960s. It connects struggles in Latin America, Angola, and Vietnam, not only Algeria.

In addition, the rebellion identified many young Westerners against colonialism and capitalism. Many of the young people also immediately joined radical organizations. An alliance between students in 1968 and workers almost toppled the government in France. In the same year, spring occurred in Czechoslovakia after opposing the Soviet Union. The empire, which many radicals consider too reactionary to imperialism, seems to be changing. With such a gift and modern era, it is easy to overlook young people as naive. People always hoped that a world revolution could be achieved in the 1960s. However, most of them are also caught up in worldly joys and believe that radical change is possible.


Pontecorvo contrasts the film from the aspect of war, apart from a historical point of view. One side is proven right, the other is wrong, but both do horrendous things while fighting. In addition, the film also refuses to condemn one of the agents in such a conflict, as the director said as well. However, the relevance of The Battle of Algiers after more than 50 years and after its first cinema release justified one of hope. The message is that the oppressed people will eventually win because of a just cause. In such a representation, the image of the revolutionary masses is reminiscent of a crude image.

In such decades, it emerged from waves of protest from white supremacy to Black Lives Matter. Thrillingly, Pontecorvo won the power of large community gatherings, gathered to demand rights, to put such bodies at risk in creating social change. Simply put, the film is a contrast to the black-and-white frame. It is hard for people to classify style, military action sequences, and tactical montages. The film also inspires many styles, from montage to military tactics like most Oliver Stone’s and Kathryn Bigelow’s films. It is almost impossible to film a politically motivated torture scene without making the film an explicit or implicit point of reference.


The collective aspects from creating The Battle of Algiers to its ideals inspired the “terrorism” to connect revolutionary filmmaking or Third Cinema. Third Cinema is a Latin American film movement that started in the 60s to 70s. It denounces the Hollywood cinema model, the capitalist system, and neocolonialism as mere entertainment to make money. In essence, the Third Cinema is here to overthrow the system of capitalism and colonialism. In addition to Third Cinema, the film is an example of Italian neorealism, a major film movement in Italy in the mid-twentieth century. Young neorealists made films against Mussolini’s fascist regime.

They focused on the difficulties of the working class in Italy. Neorealism is an aesthetic and moral system. It brings together politics and the arts in exposing society’s ills under social change. Pontecorvo shot the entire film in an Algerian location. He chose other actors from the locals based on the expressions and faces of each actor. As mentioned in the first place, another element of the neorealist style is the use of the technique. The technique creates a documentary aesthetic like a handheld camera. Therefore, Pontecorvo uses stock newsreel to add the impression of the notion propositions in the film. Regardless of which, he believes that Algeria causes justice. He as well wants to make a fair and nuanced war report.

The Purge

The aim of young Italian neorealism and Pontecorvo is to show how the FLN acts as a freedom fighter who uses terrorist tactics. It became the only way to fight the oppression of French colonialism. To prepare the masses for the struggle against the French, the FLN also started a purification program to clean the Casbah. Such purges were useful for getting rid of prostitution and drugs, tolerated and encouraged by French politics. After the purification campaign, the FLN turned to the assassination of the French police. The most visible targets of oppression in the daily lives of Algerians become the point in the film. Pontecorvo cautiously suggested that revolutionary violence did not refer to French civilians.

France only increased its stakes by placing a bomb in the Casbah, attacking the Algerian family while sleeping. In response to such atrocities, the FLN gave three Muslim women a basket bomb and wore European clothing. The women placed the bombs in ice cream bars, cafes, and Air France offices. In describing the destruction and effects of the bomb, the director defends his need for terrorist tactics without glorifying the violence. In a reaction to the bombing, the French government sent paratroopers under Mathieu’s command to Algeria. After crushing the general strike, he launched a campaign of torture until the FLN leadership in Algeria was crushed. Briefly, he was confident to declare victory in the film, ending in 1957.

Colonel Mathieu

Ennio Morricone is also present in the original musical score. At a specific moment, a group of French soldiers rampaged through military trumpets and the joyful sound of drums. The flute theme haunts and accompanies the sequence featuring Algerian civilians. Despite the apparent contrast in the use of shadows and light, the strong effect of reflecting the themes of right and wrong in the film the director uses to highlight Algerian covert operations. Such space provides another important contrast in depicting the colonial world as a world divided in two. The stark contrast between the colonizer and the colonized juxtaposes the meandering narrow alleys of the Casbah.

The wide streets of Europe divide the space horizontally and vertically at an angle, steep but flat. Therefore, space opposition highlights the gap between poor and rich or victims and perpetrators. There is also a great contrast in the film between Algeria and France. The embodiment of European and French values in the film is Mathieu. In addition to being a friendly and confident figure, his stylish sunglasses have more dialogue than other characters in the film. People do not describe his character as an angel above all. He embodied common sense, saying that if France had to live in Algeria, it would have to accept such consequences. Regardless of persuasive, the logical argument for wanting Algeria or France should accept the action that resulted in the result is torture.


Every character in The Battle of Algiers has raw yet deep emotions. At the end of the film, the victory is a mass victory, embodied in two characters, namely the martyr Ali La Pointe and an Algerian woman. At such a point, the Algerians have each side that is the power of historical rights. When the audience sees through the chronology of the director, the narrative always continues and acts as a flashback. As the audience leaps forward in time to euphoria, the revolutionaries’ victory highlights a fact. The Algerians beat the film and continue to jump into the future, the ultimate victory in the war.

At such a moment, it is the director’s way of looking at the historical process, the masses, and the moral right to victory. Of course, the film omitted many historical details by focusing solely on the FLN’s opposition to France. From the beginning, it ignores issues related to the governance of Algeria after independence. However, the film serves as a valuable teaching tool and provides a useful vehicle for discussion of contemporary issues. The film also studies leftist politics, wars of national liberation, and colonialism. On the other hand, Pontecorvo views the film as a proponent of the revolutionary FLN cause. He notes that many young people view the film as more balanced and deplore the FLN and French terrorist tactics.


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