‘The Battle of Algiers’ on Max and Criterion Channel

Gillo Pontecorvo merges documentary and drama in his 1966 masterpiece The Battle of Algiers (France, 1966), his shattering story of Algeria’s struggle for independence from France.

Shot in a second generation neo-realist style on the streets of Algeria with a cast of professionals and non-professionals, it follows the experience of Ali Le Pointe (Brahim Hadjadj), a longtime petty thief in the Casbah who becomes politicized while in jail in 1954 and rises to the top of the resistance. His “nemesis” is Colonel Mathieu (Jean Martin), a French Paratrooper who brings his experience in Indochina (which became America’s Vietnam War) to the fight. He uses torture, coercion and the suspension of civil rights to get the job done and he doesn’t pretend otherwise to supporters and critics alike. “The question you should ask yourself is: should France stay in Algeria? If the answer is yes, then you have condoned my methods.”

Directed with a newsreel immediacy and a documentary seriousness, it could be used by young revolutionary groups as a guide to creating the political structure of a resistance movement. Its unflinching engagement with the realities of the violence and the moral quandaries that such a movement will face is part of the lesson.



But in addition to its searing political statement of resistance against colonial occupation, The Battle of Algiers is a gripping tale of a people’s fight for independence. The film is so effective that the Pentagon used the film as a teaching tool in the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq.

It was nominated for three Academy Awards—in the best foreign language film category in 1967 and then for best director and screenplay two years later—and won three awards at the Venice Film Festival and a BAFTA.

It placed in the number 45 spot in the 2022 Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time poll.

Not rated, in Arabic, French, English, and Spanish with English subtitles.

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
The Battle of Algiers (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
The Battle of Algiers (The Criterion Collection) [DVD]

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The Criterion Collection Blu-ray and DVD releases include numerous documentary features and featurettes. “Gillo Pontecorvo: The Dictatorship of Truth” (1992) narrated by Edward Said, “The Making of the Battle of Algiers” (2004), and the featurette “Five Directors” featuring interviews with Spike Lee, Mira Nair, Julian Schnabel, Steven Soderbergh, and Oliver Stone look at the film itself, while “Remembering History” (2004) featuring interviews with historians and former FLN members, an excerpt from “Etats d’Armes” (2002), ABC News special “The Battle of Algiers: A Case Study” (2004), and “Gillo Pontecorvo’s Return to Algiers” (1992) look at the history behind the film. Also includes galleries, trailers, and a booklet.

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Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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