The Battle of Algiers (Italy/Algeria, 1966) is a classic of political cinema influential on art-house and popular cinema alike. The film’s complex consideration of the efficacy of torture and terrorism means it is a key text for thinking about the ethics of conflict, and it is studied not only by scholars of cinema but also by political scientists and historians, not to mention the military and revolutionary groups. If The Battle of Algiers is a ‘birth of a nation’ film it is also an ‘end of empire’ film, and looks forward in time to circumstances in postcolonial Europe even as it celebrates the achievement of an African nation.
Monograph: The Battle of Algiers (Mimesis International, 2019)
The Battle of Algiers is a figure for liberation and it can still communicate a sense of euphoria to those who experience and study it. The purpose of this book is to account for this power in terms of the film’s complexity and ambivalence—in terms, that is, of the film’s ‘impure’ means. Building on a large body of scholarship, the book focuses on the key themes of location, address and temporality. What is the precise role of the city of Algiers in the film? What are the consequences of its address to multiple audiences, including those in the old colonizing North? What are the effects of the film’s activity of reenactment and what can these tell us about revolutionary agency? Ultimately, the account here of the power of The Battle of Algiers is intended to shed light on the means and capacities of historical and political cinema as such.
Read the introduction to the book here.
Read an outtake on trauma theory and the film here.
Read an introductory piece written for the 2018 Cult Films DVD/Blu-ray of a restoration of the film here.
This article discusses the film’s anticipation of conditions in France after the liberation of Algeria.
Occupying Time: The Battle of Algiers
‘Occupying Time: The Battle of Algiers‘ is a videoessay published in the journal [in]Transition (6:3, 2019), with my accompanying commentary as well as open peer reviews by Michael Talbott and Nick Warr. It deals with the treatment of temporality in The Battle of Algiers, which is a controversial aspect of the film. Critics have noted the film’s complex sjuzhet but have argued that the film offers ‘an episodic view of history quite alien to the possibility of understanding [history] as an open horizon of possibilities and alternative realities’ (Sainsbury 1971: 7); the film is said to be guilty of an ‘excess of historical teleology’ (Khanna 2006). My own study of The Battle of Algiers has convinced me that the orders of time that fashion the film are not reducible to the teleological (though that dimension is certainly there, and it is registered, wryly I hope, in the videoessay). And so, work on this videoessay was intended to capture something of the complexity of the film’s temporalities and to encapsulate something of the viewer’s experience of these.