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The Battle of Algiers (The Criterion Collection)

4.7 out of 5 stars 207 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

One of the most influential films in the history of political cinema, Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers focuses on the harrowing events of 1957, a key year in Algeria’s struggle for independence from France. Shot in the streets of Algiers in documentary style, the film vividly recreates the tumultuous Algerian uprising against the occupying French in the 1950s. As violence escalates on both sides, the French torture prisoners for information and the Algerians resort to terrorism in their quest for independence. Children shoot soldiers at point-blank range, women plant bombs in cafés. The French win the battle, but ultimately lose the war as the Algerian people demonstrate that they will no longer be suppressed. The Criterion Collection is proud present Gillo Pontecorvo’s tour de force—a film with astonishing relevance today.

Additional Features

What does the Criterion Collection do for the release of one of the greatest and controversial war movies you never heard of? Fill a three-DVD set with more extras than one could imagine and give The Battle of Algiers the attention it deserves. The film itself is gritty, with a neo-realistic, documentary-like look and feel, and the new high-definition digital transfer has done wonders for its quality while retaining its visual integrity. Assuming many have never heard of The Battle of Algiers, this DVD set has provided a series of documentaries to fill in the many unknown gaps. The first two documentaries give a rich background on Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo ("The Dictatorship of Truth," 1992) and an exclusive making of the film ("Marxist Poetry," 2004). "The Making of The Battle of Algiers" is a wonderful documentary filled with current interviews with Pontecorvo, cinematographer Marcello Gatti, composer Ennio Morricone, and various film historians, biographers, and actors. Disc 2 finishes up with a 17-minute documentary of five directors (Lee, Nair, Schnabel, Soderbergh, and Stone) discussing the importance and influence of The Battle of Algiers on their careers and film in general.

The third disc focuses on the history of the French and Algerian conflict. Remembering History (69 minutes, 2004) is another exclusive documentary historically detailing the battle. It is followed by the chilling États d'armes (2002) which documents various French officers on interrogation, torture, and execution techniques used during the conflict. Another interesting extra is "The Battle of Algiers: A Case Study" (2004). This is a 25-minute conversation with Richard Clarke and Michael Sheehan (former State Department coordinator for counterterrorism) shot for ABC News discussing the film and its relevancy to studying terrorism today. Combine this with a 56-page booklet filled with articles, interviews, Saadi Yacef's account of his arrest, and biographies of French-Algerian war participants and you have yourself a full-fledged course in the film and the history surrounding it. The only minor criticism of this package is that the movie itself has no commentary track. However, considering the abundant historical and background material and directorial testimonials, a commentary track hardly seems necessary. The Battle of Algiers is a must-have for film, war, and history buffs alike. --Rob Bracco

Special Features

  • Disc One: The Battle of Algiers
  • New high-definition transfer, supervised by cinematographer Marcello Gratti
  • Theatrical and re-release trailers
  • Production Gallery
  • Disc Two: Pontecorvo and the Film
  • Gillo Pontecorvo: The Dictatorship of Truth: a 37 minute documentary
  • The Making of The Battle of Algiers
  • Directors on The Battle of Algiers featuring Spike Lee, Mira Nair, Julian Schnabel, Steven Soderbergh, and Oliver Stone
  • Disc Three: The Film and History
  • Remembering History (2004)
  • Etats d'armes, a 30-minute excerpt from Patrick Rotman's 3-part documentary, L'ennemi intime
  • A Case Study, a conversation with former National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism, Richard A. Clarke, former State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Michael A. Sheehan, and Chief of Investigative Projects for ABC News, Christopher E. Isham
  • Gillo Pontecorvo's Return to Algiers (1992, 55 minutes)
  • A booklet featuring a new essay by film scholar Peter Matthews, a reprinted interview with writer Franco Solinas, brief biographies on the key figures in the French-Algerian War

Product Details

  • Actors: Brahim Hadjadj, Jean Martin, Yacef Saadi, Samia Kerbash, Ugo Paletti
  • Directors: Gillo Pontecorvo
  • Writers: Gillo Pontecorvo, Franco Solinas
  • Producers: Yacef Saadi, Antonio Musu, Fred Baker
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Anamorphic, Box set, Black & White, Closed-captioned, Special Edition, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC
  • Language: French
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 3
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Criterion
  • DVD Release Date: October 12, 2004
  • Run Time: 125 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (207 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0002JP2OI
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #81,176 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "The Battle of Algiers (The Criterion Collection)" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: VHS Tape Verified Purchase
"The Battle of Algiers" is the story of a revolution. The film--based on real events--begins in 1954 with Ali-La-Pointe--an illiterate, unemployed ex-boxer. He winds up in prison, and it's there that he begins to identify with the F.N.L.--the National Liberation Front. The F.N.L.'s goal is an independent Algeria--free from French occupation--ruled "with a framework of Islamic principles." Once out of prison, Ali joins the F.N.L and begins 'cleansing' the Casbah (the Muslim section of Algiers) of undesirable Algerians who dabble in prostitution, narcotics and alcohol. The film shifts focus from Ali to the uprising against French Occupation. The situation subtly escalates--French police who sit peacefully drinking coffee in street cafes are murdered, and anti-Arab feelings mount. With a momentum of its own, the situation is blown beyond all control--terrorism is rampant--cafes, air terminals, and racetracks are all targets. Naturally, the French respond, but terrorism still increases, and French officials bump up against such bureaucratic necessities as search warrants and paperwork. Soon the French are behind sandbags and barbed wire, and the Muslim population of the Casbah are subject to checkpoints manned by French soldiers. At this point, seasoned warrior French Lieutenant Colonel Mathieu arrives. While the French residents of Algiers welcome his arrival, Mathieu's march though the streets ultimately seems sinister. He's a career soldier, highly principled in his own way--and he's there to win.
Mathieu doesn't mess about. He takes control of the situation and tells his officers "to succumb to humane considerations only leads to hopeless chaos." Strategy dramatically changes as Mathieu methodically rounds up and tortures Algerians.
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Format: Blu-ray
Judge Gordon Sullivan, DVD Verdict-- There are so many obvious places to go when discussing The Battle of Algiers. It's almost certainly an accident (though one never knows) that the film was originally released by Criterion on DVD just as the whole Abu Ghraib torture scandal was heating up. It's easy to talk about the debate between terrorist and "freedom fighter," and how it's easy to look at the French as evil and the NLF as good because the Algerian's won their independence. The film also brings up the issues of acceptable tactics; is it okay to target civilians or use children to conduct urban warfare?

Certainly The Battle of Algiers raises these questions, and more--more than most films in the history of cinema. However, what is truly striking about The Battle of Algiers is not the historical moment it attempts to recreate, nor the ethical questions it raises. The most striking thing about The Battle of Algiers is its cinematic achievements. Viewers who know nothing, and care even less, about Algerian political history or revolutions in general can marvel at the tense plotting and amazing visual of the film. Long before faux documentary became the rage, The Battle of Algiers takes a stark, black-and-white look at the world of Algerian resistance. In the extras we learn that the film was at one time proceeded by the warning that none of the footage was from documentaries or newsreels. Honestly, they could have fooled me. There's an immediacy to the presentation of this film that goes far beyond its "ripped from the headlines" story.

In fact, the immediacy of the visuals and the story go a long way towards deflating the expectations generated by decades of constant praise.
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Comment 34 of 35 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Battle of Algiers displays the occupied Algeria attempt to fight for freedom as they have been under French rule since the 1830's. A little background history would enlighten the audience as the invasion of North Africa, Land of the Berbers, by the French in the 1830's was instigated by 300 years of "pirating" ships in the Mediterranean and raids of southern Europe, which enslaved many Europeans that were brought to Africa. However, the French occupation brought great injustices to the Algerian people as they are treated as second class citizens. In addition, the French controlled the markets, resources, and jobs, which only further the lives of the French citizens.

The injustices forced upon the Algerians to live in poverty, unemployment, societal harassment, and unequal rights. Consequently, the Algerians begin to rise against the injustice, but the unequal military force drives the Algerian freedom fighters to exercise terrorism and other hideous acts of violence. This violence is fed by further aggression from the French police as it escalates the violence from both sides.

The story begins with a man being humanely treated after a rough bout of torture as persecuting soldiers blame the man for the excessive torture, as all he had to do was to tell them what they wanted to know. The tortured man has just revealed the whereabouts of a known terrorist and he is in emotional agony as he is aware of what he has just done. They dress the agonized man in a French camouflage uniform, and depart to capture the freedom fighter.

The freedom fighter, Ali La Pointe (Brahim Haggiag), hides in a secret room behind a wall with three others.
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