December 2018, arsenal cinema

LA BATAILLE D’ALGER – A Film in History


LA BATTAGLIA DI ALGERI (Gillo Pontecorvo, Algeria/Italy 1966, 18.12.) tells the story of the 1957 military and political clashes between the French paratroopers under General Massu and the networks of the Algerian independent front FLN. The film is based on the book by prominent FLN leader Yacef Saadi about the battle for Algiers, which was published in 1962. While Italian filmmaker Gillo Pontecorvo started shooting his film on June 19th, 1965, three years after independence, colonel Houari Boumédiène toppled President Ahmed Ben Bella. Several months later, the film, which was shot in the black and white of Italian neorealismo, hit the Venice Film Festival like a bomb and was awarded the Golden Lion. The French delegation left the award ceremony as a protest. The film remained banned in France until 1971.

50 years later, Malek Bensmaïl’s documentary LA BATAILLE D’ALGER, UN FILM DANS L’HISTOIRE(France/Switzerland/Algeria 2017, 19.12., with guest Malek Bensmaïl) reconstructs the histories, debates, and controversies surrounding this legendary work, which lie somewhere between the military campaign that inspired it, its role as an object of censorship in France and immense mythologization in Algeria, stretching from the heart of the Kasbah in Algiers all way to the United States, taking in Rome and Pairs along the way, based on numerous reports and previously unpublished archive material. Bensmaïl’s film was produced by the Institut national de l’audiovisuel and is a piercing return to the resonance, actualities, and secrets of this famous worldwide blockbuster in post- and de-colonial discussion, that was co-opted both by revolutionary stakeholders such as the Black Panther Party as well as by counter-guerilla strategists or the Pentagon during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a source of military knowledge.

An event in collaboration with the Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient and the Institute for Culture Studies at the HU. (bk)