Textual Analysis: The Batttle of Algiers- Opening Sequence.

This is a textual analysis that relates to the opening of the film The Battle of Algiers directed by Pontecorvo in 1966, or the first 6-7 minutes of the film.

To summarize the film briefly, it is a Italo-Algerian production war film centered around events happening during the Algerian War of 1954-62 of rebellion against the French government in North Africa and has often been considered by many to be an important commentary on urban guerrilla warfare. It’s had a fair amount of sociopolitical controversy, particularly in France where it wasn’t screened for five years until it was later released in 1971.

In the opening of The Battle of Algiers, much like later imagery in the film, inverts the imagery of encirclement by first placing the spectators within the point of view of the French soldiers with their Algerian prisoner, whom they appear to be treating somewhat decently until it is implied that they had been torturing him into revealing the whereabouts of his compatriots, politically positioning the audience on behalf of the colonialists perspective (the French soldiers) leaving the spectators largely indifferent to the fate of the “othered” (the Algerian prisoner) on the opposite end.

The inversion of the political positioning happens when the point of view shot is shifted from the point of view of the soldiers, whom are storming the streets and buildings soon after, to that of the Algerians, particularly poignant when the spectator’s point of view is suddenly squashed, like an invisible participant, among all the gathered Algerians that have been pulled out of their homes and made to stand huddled in the center of the apartment building. Then the point of view shifts back to that of the soldier point of view as the leader of the raid is talking through a wall to some hidden rebels, though before the flashback happens, there is a close up of the rebel’s faces and the sound of the commander talking through the wall at them, putting the spectator back into sympathizing with the Algerians again.

There is a sense of constructed identification in the tail end of the opening before the flashback with particular focus on the fact that the ones hidden in the wall are a family. From an audience that has a cultural stress on the importance and/or sanctity of family, the sympathies of the spectators will lie in that of the Algerians hidden in the wall going into the flashback, though an aberrant reading could be taken from this opening, in that the soldiers have not killed the Algiers, despite the aggressive nature in taking the building. They were seen cleaning a prisoner up and offering him a uniform to protect him from retaliation despite his earlier treatment, and the leader of the unit trying to reason with the rebel in the wall, giving him a chance to surrender and save his family, though perhaps that is a bit of a stretch in interpretation. Still, someone who comes from a culture that might look more favorably on duty above comfort of others might look at this sequence and see it as the French soldiers trying to do their jobs reasonably, though from a Westerner perspective in particular it would not likely be read as such. The fact that the soldiers didn’t kill anyone, just getting the Algiers out of their way while doing their duty, could work against the anti-colonialist agenda somewhat, though the oppressive logic of colonialism (absorb those who are willing to cooperate) is still displayed regardless with the scene in which the prisoner is forced to wear his oppressor’s military uniform.

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