The Battle of Algiers, an Italian produced film about an Islamic based colony in Africa seeking freedom from French control, highlights many of the struggles faced by both the Algerians and the French during decolonization. The Algerians are faced with discrimination and segregation due to racial and ethnic stereotypes set by white Europeans. The French are faced with loosing a colony and trying to control the shootings, bombings, and rebellions occurring inside the colony. However, the award-winning movie uses the characters Colonel Mathieu and Ali la pointe to illustrate the Battle of Algiers not as a battle for Algerian independence. The Battle of Algiers uses Colonel Mathieu and Ali La Pointe’s FLN to portray a battle between choosing actions based on nationalistic goals and actions based on human rights, morality, and a good conscience.
Ali La Pointe is one of the first characters introduced to the audience. He’s an Islamic Algerian, former boxer, gambler, and violent in nature with a criminal record. While in prison he witnesses a martyr being executed. It triggers something deep inside him to help the cause of the Algerians; he decides it’s his life’s purpose to help free Algeria from French control even if it kills him.
After being recruited by the FLN, he joins in willingly with their violent actions. He assists in police killings and sneaking weapons across the French-Islamic quarter border. Ali and the FLN fight against the French because the French promises of freedom weren’t all what they cut out to be. Separate quarters for the French population ended up being more modernized with boulevards, automobiles, electricity, and well lit shops and cafes. The French quarters also provided jobs. The Islamic quarters, however, provided housing and narrow streets that resembled alleyways without much lighting. Electricity was sparse and jobs were barely present.
The native Algerians already had the short end of the stick and that end continued to get shorter as tensions increased with the violence. Eventually, barricades were set up and curfew hours were put in place in an attempt to stop the terroristic actions of the FLN. People who wore traditional Islamic clothing were held back and often retained for extra screening before being allowed into the French quarter. Ali and the FLN had to encourage the women to cut their hair and wear European dresses in order to pass through security without being checked. The plan itself worked flawlessly. Each woman managed to pass through the guarded checkpoints with guards never questioning the bomb-loaded baskets. The biggest concern of one of the guards was getting to go to the beach with one of the European dressed FLN bombers. The French were so set on a stereotypical image of an FLN assassin, men wearing traditional Arabic clothing, that they let the enemy walk right through the barricade without screening.
When the French police signaled to France that they needed help to control the Algerians, they called on a French World War II hero named Colonel Mathieu and a band of French Paratroopers. Entering the streets of Algeria with their heads held high with national pride, dark aviators sunglasses covered the colonel’s eyes; his face showed no emotion as the French population cheered for him.
Colonel Mathieu had the task of putting down rebellions led by the FLN. As he completed his job of finding out about the organization and ending it’s rule over the native Algerians, two faces of the colonel were present. As he gave orders and spoke about the nature of interrogations used on Algerians, he wore his dark aviator sunglasses. Wearing the dark sunglasses allowed for the Colonel to represent the French Government. The sunglasses covered up most of his face, hiding any emotion that might suggest he has the ability to feel remotely human. He made all his military decisions so France being could hold on to Algeria, including decisions about torture.
One of the opening scenes in the movie is a scene in which prisoners were being tortured to get answers about the FLN’s leaders. Waterboarding and electrocution were just two of the ways paratroopers sought to get answers. None of the French paratroopers paused to consider their actions for it was all for France. It wasn’t until a press conference that a reporter brought up torture and the actual need for it. It was one of the few times that Colonel Mathieu removed his glasses. Instead of giving a straight answer, the colonel responded with a question for not only the reporters in the press conference but for the entire country of France and the world.
The questions asked by Colonel Mathieu targeted exactly how the public of both the French and Muslim quarters of Algiers felt. The first question he asked after being told that torture was against the law concerned how the public was justifying the bombing and killing of innocent French civilians. He did this to prove that everything was different in times of war; their were no considerations of the enemy being humans. The second concerned how much the people of France were willing to sacrifice for their nation’s control of Algeria. If France truly wanted to remain in Algeria, the torture was a necessary cost and would be continued.
The questions caused a stir within the press conference, the same way that news reports of conditions in other European colonies caused a stir throughout other nations. In the end, the people colonized might have dressed differently and had strange religious beliefs in comparison to the Christian religions of the Europeans. They might have started violent rebellions. However, people usually don’t rebel unless they have a just reason and cause to. For the FLN, the Algerians had a cause; freedom from being pushed into a corner and attempts to change their culture. They wanted to be able to walk down the streets of the French quarter without the entire city pointing out and accusing them falsely of being a crimminal.
In the final scene, Colonel Mathieu located Ali La Pointe and three of the remaining FLN conspirators. After threating to bomb their hideout unless they surrendered, the colonel walked away only to return with the dark glasses off and offerings for a peaceful surrender. He offered them multiple second chances. However, Ali and his companions did not accept any of them. Instead, they chose to die as Martyrs. The colonel walked away with his head hanging down; his glasses in a hand dropped to his side. His thoughts focused not on how foolish it would be to die for independence, but rather on how foolish it is that people have to die in order to prove that despite skin color, ethnicity, and culture, everyone is human.