La Bataille d'Alger is probably one of the great films of the Twentieth Century, and certainly a must for devoted cinema-goers with more than a passing interest in history. The film is two hours long, it only depicts real-life events, and the dialogue alternates wildly between French and Algerian. It is, for all that, one of the most engrossing films ever made. Although filmed in black and white, the photography is mesmerising, and there is a real sense that we are witnessing real events as they unfold.
One remarkable feature of the film is its non-partisan approach to the subject. The Arabs and the French are shown in the same colours. The atrocities committed by one side are matched equally by those on the other. The French soldiers are shown torturing prisoners in graphic detail, whilst later we see innocent French civilians being slaughtered by Arab bombs. Whilst there is some pretty vivid demonstrations of violence and cruelty, this is probably less shocking than the attitudes of the French and FLN terrorists.
The Algerian war was a terrible period of history and this film relates just part of that conflict, centred on the town of Algiers, to coldly inform us, not to shock, not to entertain. Few films which retell real historical events are this objective and this powerful. It is a film which says so much, not just about the Algerian war, but also about human nature at its worst.