The film is a remarkably balanced portrayal of the initiation and development of a street thug Ali La Pointe as he is taken up into the FLN movement.We see the terror on both sides,of the State's institutional aggression-guillotine,torture,bombs,curfews,checkpoints,searches, and the random bombing of civilian areas,the random shootings of civilans and police in the streets by the FLN recruits. The mobilization of crowd scenes is very effective,the documentary approach to the subject matter where key moments,e.g. `the milk-bar killings',the quelling of popular uprisings, are reconstructed or there is insertion of documentary news footage,make this film a vital historical document by a major film maker.
Mathieu,the Colonel of the paratroopers, uses methods he learned in the Resistamce of France against the Nazis. He fails to see that the Germans occupied France as the French are occupying Algeria,the FLN (the Algerian National Liberation Front) are similarly a resistance movement designed to overcome the unjust occupation of Algeria by a colonial power.Both sides use equally cruel methods,but rebellion leading to popular uprisings on a national scale are hard to overcome. The decline of colonialism is on the rise and the French have already met their Waterloo at Dien Bien Phu.The French have in the name of civilization exploited Algeria for 150 years but without benefitting the native Arabs,who do not gain access to jobs or education.The time has come for Algeria to become an independent nation.
This black and white film using people involved in the Algerian resistance,non acting natives and one or two professional actors made a timeless template for the growth of resistance movements,the rise of terrorism,the attack against civilians in modern warfare in 20th century.This ranks as one of the 2 or 3 best black and white films of all time,including The Gospel According to St.Matthew and Paths of Glory.The vividly realistic dramatization of political events in the actual locations where they occurred in the Casbah, and the avenues of the French quarter,with such intimate immediacy has never been bettered.The acting of Mathieu(Martin)as a hero of charismatic proportions, gives a rational voice to French colonialists and is superbly done and gives a balance to the film,only the system he represents is of a power now ebbing away.This film still speaks with an amazing force, 35 years after I first saw it.You could say the French won this battle but they did not win the war.
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