The film does not view the French as evil and glorify the Algerians as terrorists. The film shows that both sides can do horrible things and supplies rational arguments to justify that each side is not morally wrong. The film begins with the Algerian National Liberation Front (the FLN) fighting against the French government for their independence and calling for the removal of the French government from Algeria. The uprising is followed by a campaign of terror by the FLN around the European quarter of Algiers led by FLN leader Ben M’hidi. The film is told from the perspective of Ali La Pointe who is a small-time criminal who becomes radicalized in prison and finally snaps from the years of growing tensions between the two. As the violence escalates with the murders of numerous policemen at the hands of Algerian perpetrators, a curfew is put in place in the Casbah, the Arab quarter. The French army begins rounding up Algerians and torturing and threatening them in order to gather intelligence in put an end to the insurgency. The French police captain secretly goes into the Casbah with a group of friends at night and detonates a bomb on sleeping Algerian families. The FLN vows to avenge the act and sends Algerian women disguised in European clothing to plant bombs in cafes and at an Air
France office. The aftermath of the bombing leaves a trail of death and destruction that sends the
French population into a panic. The French army responds by deploying military forces (paratroopers) that will take over responsibility for maintaining law and order in Algiers. The elite French paratroopers are led by Colonel Mathieu who implements a strategic plan to track down and stop terrorists by intensifying the use of interrogation and torture to gain intelligence. For Colonel Mathieu, the needs of the French people outweigh any and all those of the Algerian people. This plan presents the French with an ethical dilemma as to whether torture is a justifiable counter measure to terrorism. The film’s view is that there are no real answers. To condemn the actions of the French implies that the acts of the terrorists are just. Likewise, the disapproval of the actions by the terrorists implies that the actions of the French are justified.
The film views the terrorist acts of the FLN as a last resort in response to combat the oppressive colonization of the French. For example, it is suggested in the film that the French raised the stakes when they detonated a bomb in the Casbah, striking sleeping Algerian families. The FLN were forced to retaliate for this bombing by detonating three bombs in the European quarter. The aftermath of death and destruction brought by the bombings appears to defend the necessity of the tactics even though the bombings were just as illegal as the torture.
The films view of terrorism appears to defend the necessity of such terrorist tactics without glorifying them, namely the justification of torture and the reactions to it. It is to encourage us to consider both sides of the issues given the extraordinary conditions. The justification of torture forms an important dialogue within the film between Mathieu and French journalists and also between Mathieu and the top leader at the FLN, Ben M’hidi. Colonel Mathieu asserts that torture or interrogation techniques are a necessary evil in order to defeat the FLN and for the continuation of French rule in Algeria.
The French government viewed counter terrorism as a military necessity. Colonel
Mathieu articulated this view in the film through a series of exchanges with French journalists. The torture of Arabs became a scandal in France as reports spread. “Colonel Mathieu responded to challenges by French reporters of the practices by posing the question to them as to whether France should remain in Algeria. He posed the question to them that if you were to agree with that idea, then you must also accept the counter terrorism tactics as a necessary consequence of remaining in Algeria.” (Pontecorvo 1966)
My evaluation of the terrorism and counter terrorism acts is that each is not simply a method used by those rebelling against oppression but it also used by conventional militaries when it suits their needs. In the film, while the terrorists tactics are expected by the insurgents, the counter terrorism methods by the French of using torture and manipulation is shocking because trained military in civilized societies are not expected to resort to using such unconventional methods. “For example, in the film when Ben M’hidi is in custody and is questioned by reporters and the reporter asks him, “isn’t it cowardly to use your women’s baskets to carry bombs, which have taken so many innocent lives? He responds, “Isn’t it even more cowardly to attack defenseless villages with napalm bombs that kill many thousands of times more? He then tells the reporters that planes would make it easier for them and presents a deal that if the French give them their planes, then they will give them their baskets.”
I agree with the film’s viewpoint because it gives an unbiased description of the war pitting the FLN against the French forces. I think the film captures the real story of the suffering of the people on both sides and the reckless destruction of property and life. For, example, after the curfew is put in place and the French police captain secretly goes to the Casbah at night with his friends and detonates a bomb, the aftermath shows the Algerian people grieving and sobbing as they witness their people dig through the rubble for the dead, among them innocent children. In response to this horrible act, the FLN led by Ali La Pointe vows to avenge the Algerian people and detonate bombs in the European quarter. After these bombs explode at the cafes, the scene was eerily similar to the scene of the bomb blast among the sleeping Algerians. This time, it was the French digging through the rubble and grieving for the dead that were carried out. I think such a viewpoint is important because it allows the viewer to decide whether all of the bloodshed on both sides was really necessary in the struggle for independence. At the end of the movie, I think that the film leaves the question unanswered and it is important to do so because it allows the individual viewer to be guided by their conscience as to whether the unconventional methods that were waged were justified or not. I agree that the film recognizes both arguments and by doing so demonstrates that by one side committing attacks in order to prevent further attacks or in response to previous attacks will only lead to an escalation of violence in a vicious circle. For example, toward the end of the film, after the French military find Ali La Pointe hiding out with family and blow up the house he is in, they believe that they have won the battle, defeated the FLN and restored order as it was before to Algiers. After two years of quiet, there is a new uprising by the Algerian people, because for all of the bloodshed on both sides from the last insurgency, the Algerian people were still oppressed and under French rule. This time the French people had a different view of the demonstrations and there was a sense of not wanting a repeat of before. “For example, in the film on the last day of the demonstrations, the French police officer in charge at the demonstration takes a megaphone and asks “What do you want”. The Algerians reply, “Our freedom… our pride”. (Pontecorvo 1966). The Algerians were granted their independence two years later on July 2, 1962.
Pontecorvo, G. (Director), Musu, A., & Saadi, Y. (Producers), & Solinas, F., & Pontecorvo, G. (Writers).
(1969). The Battle of Algiers Motion picture on Accessed on You Tube 09/28/2018. United States:
Allied Artists Corporation.