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The Battle of Algiers at 50


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Fifty years ago this month, Gillo Pontecorvo released his masterful and incendiary film Battle of Algiers. Since then the film has become canonical, treated to countless art-house revivals and assigned in countless undergrad film classes. But as Madeleine Dobie explains in the LA Review Books, the film hasn’t just garnered the acclaim of radical filmmakers and aspiring guerrilla fighters. The US military has also taken a keen interest. Read an excerpt from Dobie’s piece below, or check out the full text here.

Such barbed commentaries did not, however, end the film’s influence on American policy makers. To the contrary, The Battle of Algiers continues to be taught and analyzed in military classrooms and government think tanks. To understand why a film that celebrates the overthrow of a colonial regime also appeals to those charged with containing insurgencies, I reached out to a group of military educators and security analysts who have either taught or lectured on the film.

If cultural historians and film scholars typically dwell on The Battle of Algiers’s Marxist and third-worldist currents, security professionals are drawn to its portrayal of the dynamics of insurgency and counterinsurgency. Pontecorvo learned about these tactics from Saadi Yacef, the former FLN (National Liberation Front) commander who plays a version of himself in the movie, and from French military officers whom he interviewed in Paris. The enduring interest generated by the film’s depiction of war is partly attributable to the iconic status of Algeria as a battlefield of decolonization, but it also stems from the fact that in the early 1960s, the tactics used by the two sides were translated into a systematic theory of modern warfare that continues to influence military strategists.

Still from The Battle of Algiers via kpfa.org.