Italian filmmaker Gillo Pontecorvo sought to tell the story of the end of colonialism in 1965’s The Battle of Algiers. What he ultimately found was a tale which inspires real-life insurgents — and their opponents — to this very day.
The Battle of Algiers dramatizes events in the Algerian War of Independence, which was actually fought in the 1950s. It focuses on revolutionary cells waging guerilla warfare against the French military in the capital city of Algiers. Pontecorvo used a documentary-style technique that was disturbingly realistic in its portrayal of violence. French soldiers capture and torture terror suspects. Algerian citizens retaliate by bombing soft targets like airline terminals and dance clubs.
Scenes from The Battle of Algiers, from the exploding sidewalk cafes to the haunted eyes of the women planting IEDs at civilian gathering places, give a harrowing glimpse into the future of Belfast and Beirut, and more recently, Baghdad and Boston.
Modern filmmakers still stand amazed at authenticity of Pontecorvo’s spare, black-and-white action sequences. Would-be political revolutionaries of the 60s took note of guerilla tactics. So did military and security leaders. A Pentagon panel screened the movie as recently as 2003, making the connection with the war in Iraq.
While the best-remembered war movies of the early 1960s told cautionary tales of world-wide conflict, The Battle of Algiers went straight to the Arab street. It eerily foreshadowed what armed conflict would really look like in the early 21st century.