The Battle of Algiers is a fascinating example of the evocation of thought that can be brought out by a film with such power. Each individual who views the film comes out with a slightly different opinion onto which side the film is skewed. Certainly the film pulls no punches in it’s depiction of the events in which the film represents. However, in all indications, Gillo Pontecorvo sought to make a neutral sided film that showed the futility of oppression and war. While one side may come out as the victor, the end result is not painless.
This is expressed through the different mediums and methods Pontecorvo used to show the action. For one, the film is neorealistic, to the point where it may be confused with documentary footage. Rich, high contrast black and white is a metaphor for the subject matter presented. The entire battle is presented as plain truth, in which real faces and names perish. Even though there is a side with an advantage, there is never a true side that is shown as an overall protagonist. This method is supported by the clever, but subtle use of a soundtrack by Italian composer Ennio Morricone.
In a crucial turning point in the film, the French aggravate the situation with the ALF by placing a bomb well inside a populated portion of the Casbah. The scenes that follow show the Algerians picking up wounded, dead, and the pieces of their changing lives. This is the first place where Morricone introduces the main lietmotif: a soft musical score in a minor key that is reminiscent of the funeral marches and Mozart’s “Requiem. ” At this point, the political leading of the film slides to the side of the Algerians.
It is the start of a series of emotional manipulations by Pontecorvo. As the film moves on the Algerians conduct terrorist attacks on the French quarter of Algeria. After these attacks, the same lietmotif softly plays in the background while the French citizens survey the damage. The viewer manipulation now sways into balance, as it is revealed that the skew is not placed on the side of the Algerians, but that in war, both sides suffer. This tactic is met with visual representation as well. In the moments prior to attack, the faces of each victim are shown in depth, adding personal epth to the loss while creating a bittersweet victory for the other side. While the lietmotif presents a similarity between both sides, there are departures that provide an aural flavor for each as well. When the Algerians start to plan and throughout the implementation of attacks on the French, there is a loud and heavy indigenous drumming sound track which plays onto the tribal nature of the actions. Ennio Morricone was not unfamiliar with this method, being the main composer for many western film at the time.
The track presents the feeling of natives protecting their livelihood. In contrast to this, when the French are in similar situations, it is tracked with sounds of panic, uncertainty and clips of emergency vehicles. Even though the film was presented as a neutral point, there is a tinge of left-wing opinion though this subtle detail. But ultimately this track leads to a new motif at the end of the film, previously unheard, which represents the overall struggle of the subject and leads to a very emotional conclusion to the film.