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March 5, 2007 | by  | in Film |
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The Battle of Algiers

I decided to look at a film that relates to the biggest issue in the world right now, the war in Iraq. The best film to demonstrate an understanding of the Iraq war is The Battle of Algiers. While the Iraq war is often compared to Vietnam, the Algerian war of Liberation in the 1950’s is a more accurate precedent. So much so, that the Pentagon has studied this war in the hope of gaining insights for victory in Iraq, showing screenings of The Battle of Algiers to military personal.The main character is Ali, a young petty criminal from the Kasbah (the slum area of Algiers).

While doing a short stint in jail, he encounters the National Liberation Front (NLF), the organization leading the fight for independence from French colonization. He joins and soon becomes an important leader.

Eventually the French send in elite paratroopers under the command of Colonel Mathieu, a former member of the French resistance, now taking on the role of his fascist enemies.

As the revolution gains momentum, violence from each side increases, with both using terrorism as a tactic. The NLF target French civilians while the French use brutal torture on suspected resistance supporters, a method which backfires and galvanizes popular support around the NLF. We follow urban guerilla units launching attacks from the Kasbah against the oppressors; we see many of these freedom fighters hunted down by the merciless French paratroopers. The film’s gritty realism makes the scenes of torture and misery inflicted by the French hard to watch, while the scenes of mass uprising are inspirational. Unsurprisingly, it was banned in France for five years following its initial release. Directed by Gillo Pontecorvo (a radical Italian filmmaker and former WWII anti-fascist resistance member), The Battle of Algiers will take you on a journey into a Muslim country resisting the occupation of an imperialist army. Filmed in Algeria only a few years after the war, the film has a documentary feel. The only professional actor in the film plays the French colonel in charge of crushing the resistance fighters. Many of the Algerians in the film went though the actual events portrayed.

The most important lesson that The Battle of Algiers can teach the American military (or anyone) is that they can never win in Iraq. The resistance can take many forms and be so underground that it is barely noticed, but wherever there are people being exploited and oppressed by imperialism, there will always be resistance.

GILLO PONTEVORCO

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