The Battle of Algiers 9788869770791

The film The Battle of Algiers (Italy/Algeria, 1966) is a figure for liberation and it can still communicate a sense of

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The Phenomenon of Mobility, a Development Challenge for the City Of Algiers
The Phenomenon of Mobility, a Development Challenge for the City Of Algiers

Urban displacements are a major challenge for the economic and social development of the city and are a sign of quality of life. They are defined by less congestion, less pollution, congestion and urban sprawl. In Algeria, the new urban policies are seen as the beginning of a positive transformation of the city's situation, which degradation seems to have origin in a lack of coordination between planning, the deregulation of the transport sector and the urban planning of cities. Therefore, it is necessary to develop a transportation policy based on a logic of sustainable development of the urban area where the optimization of mobility is required. In Algiers, transport and urban planning have been the subject of many debates that have shown that the city suffers from several problems, in terms of transport, mobility, traffic and parking. This makes it a perfect example of a city affected by urban sprawl generating a series of other problems that come together to cause an imbalance in the layout of spaces. In attempting to address these problems in order, the first would be the increase in the various displacements due to the metropolisation and centralization of human activities. These displacements are not only in continuous increase but are experiencing a real imbalance where the quantity dominates on the quality, which leads to a remarkable saturation of the transport networks, and thus to a dense traffic notably during the peak hours. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate the importance of developing the most adequate operating policies for the various modes of transport that are the most appropriate in the capital city of Algiers, and to implement an investment program in the management of mobility in order to transform the city. JOURNAL OF CONTEMPORARY URBAN AFFAIRS (2019), 3(1), 144-155. https://doi.org/10.25034/ijcua.2018.4711

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The Battle of Algiers
 9788869770791

Table of contents :
Acknowledgements 7

1. InterstItIAl populAr cInemA 9
2. Into AlgIers 23
3. out of AlgerIA 47
4. tIme And AgAIn 83
5. the poetIcs of the contAct Zone 111
BIBlIogrAphy 117

Citation preview

MIMESIS INTERNATIONAL

ITALIAN FRAME n. 5 Directed by Andrea Minuz (Sapienza Università di Roma) and Christian Uva (Università Roma Tre) Editorial Board: Pierpaolo Antonello (University of Cambridge), Luca Caminati (Concordia University), Giulia Carluccio (Università di Torino), Francesco Casetti (Yale University), Roberto Cavallini (Yaşar University), Roberto De Gaetano (Università della Calabria), Giovanna De Luca (College of Charleston), Stephen Gundle (University of Warwick), Giancarlo Lombardi (City University of New York), Giacomo Manzoli (Università di Bologna), Millicent Marcus (Yale University), Nicoletta Marini-Maio (Dickinson College), Alan O’Leary (University of Leeds), Catherine O’Rawe (University of Bristol), Francesco Pitassio (Università di Udine), Veronica Pravadelli (Università Roma Tre), Dana Renga (The Ohio State University), Paolo Russo (Oxford Brookes University), Suzanne Stewart-Steinberg (Brown University), Antonio Vitti (Indiana University), Vito Zagarrio (Università Roma Tre)

THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS Alan O’Leary

MIMESIS INTERNATIONAL

© 2019 – Mimesis International www.mimesisinternational.com e-mail: [email protected]m Book series: Italian Frame, n. 5 isbn 9788869770791 © MIM Edizioni Srl P.I. C.F. 02419370305

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Acknowledgements7 Chapters 1. Interstitial Popular Cinema9 2. Into Algiers23 3. Out of Algeria47 4. Time and Again83 5. The Poetics of the Contact Zone111 Bibliography117

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

This is a short book, but it has been a long time in development. I would firstly like to thank series editors Andrea Minuz and Christian Uva, and Lorenza Novelli at Mimesis International for their patience. Very many people have helped with my research about The Battle of Algiers, with the drafting of the book itself, or with opportunities to think about and discuss the film. Thank you to all the following, which cannot be an exhaustive list: Laura Ager, Salim Aggar, Mads Kristian Andersen, Luca Antoniazzi, Jamal Bahmad, Ferzina Banaji (and ‘The Butterfly’), Zyg Barański, Nesroun Bouhil, Robert Burgoyne, Luca Caminati, Enrico Carocci, Francesco Caviglia, Carla Ceresa and Mauro Genovese and their colleagues at the archives of the Museo del Cinema in Turin, Leonardo Cecchini, Clarissa Clò, Jonathan CombsSchilling, Paul Cooke, Allison Cooper, Sheila Crane, Silvia Cravero, Amanda Crawley Jackson, Benoit Vincens de Tapol, John Davidson, Derek Duncan, Claire Eldridge, Martin Evans, Austin Fisher, Maggie Flinn, David Forgacs, Shoba Venkatesh Ghosh, Robert Gordon and the members of the Cambridge Italian Research Network, Shelleen Greene, Nicholas Harrison, Alex Hastie, Chris Homewood, Giulio Idone, Tajul Islam, Beatrice Ivey, Rachel Johnson, Robert W. Jones, Angelos Koutsourakis, Boukhalfa Laouari, his wonderful family and his students and colleagues at the Mouloud Mammeri University of Tizi-Ouzou, Chuck Leavitt, Cristina Lombardi-Diop, Regina Longo, Father Guillaume Michel and the staff of the Glycines Centre d’Etudes Diocésain in Algiers, John Mowitt, Jonathan Mullins, Paolo Noto, Áine O’Healy, Elizabeth A. Papazian, Ivelise Perniola, Erin Pickles, Alice Potter, Leo Rafolt, Shomikho Raha, Marianne Rasmussen,

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B. Ruby Rich, Kamal Salhi, Richard Samuels, Andrea Sartori, S. Sayyid, Mustapha Sheikh, Neelam Srivastava, Rob Stone, Vlad Strukov, Cheikh Thiam, Matthew Treherne, Vidya Vencatesan, Carl Vincent, Lucie Vrsovska. I am grateful to the following colleagues and friends who read and commented on draft chapters: Fozia Bora, Denis Flannery, Catherine O’Rawe, Luca Peretti, Dana Renga, Martin Thomas. My very special thanks to Jim House, my colleague at Leeds, for sharing his research and knowledge about Algiers in 1960, and to Ahmed Bedjaoui (Algeria’s ‘Monsieur Cinéma’) and artist Amina Menia, both of whom showed me exceptional kindness and generosity when I visited Algiers. Special thanks also to Niels Andersen and Kirsten Hallager for always making their home in Horsens a congenial place to study and write. And finally, love and thanks to my partner Marie Hallager Andersen, who always asks the right questions, and to our daughter Lisa, who knows exactly when to interrupt. All images are taken from The Battle of Algiers unless otherwise stated. Frame grabs from The Battle of Algiers have been taken with permission from the DVD/Blu-ray issue of the 4K restoration released by Cult Films, January 2018, copyright Casbah Entertainment. The photographs in figures 6 and 17 are used by permission of Getty Images and Reuters Pictures respectively. Every effort has been made to trace the copyright holders and obtain permission for the use of other visual materials. Chapter 2 contains material published in an earlier form as ‘The Battle of Algiers at 50: The End of Empire and Start of Banlieue Cinema’, Film Quarterly 17: 2 (2016), 17-29. This book is dedicated with respect and gratitude to the memory of two pioneers of Italian film studies, Peter Bondanella and Christopher Wagstaff.

­­­­ 1 INTERSTITIAL POPULAR CINEMA

I don’t think I need to begin this book by arguing the significance of its subject. The importance of The Battle of Algiers (Italy/Algeria, 1966) is attested, among other things, by the fact that it may be one of the most discussed films in the history of political cinema, and it has inspired some excellent scholarship1. Still, such an imposing body of criticism means that this book comes late, and so I do have to begin by asking the question: why study The Battle of Algiers, once again? 1

Among the works that have especially informed this study, I will immediately mention the following. I have found an early book-length study of Battle by Joan Mellen (1973) still to be useful. In various writings, sometimes co-authored, Robert Stam has considered Battle in relation to discourses of imperialism and postcoloniality (among these, Spence and Stam 1983, Stam 2003, Shohat and Stam 2014). An important piece by Murray Smith (2005), originally published in 1997, raises the crucial question of the film’s address. Emily Tomlinson (2004) has written on the ethics and temporalities of the film’s portrayal of torture. Nicholas Harrison’s invaluable 2007 special issue on Battle of the journal Interventions reconsidered a range of topics from the film’s ‘documentary’ style to the place of women in it, and it hosts an indispensible article by David Forgacs (2007) on Battle’s production history. (Harrison is also the author of an excellent annotated bibliography on The Battle of Algiers, available from Oxford Bibliographies at [accessed 10 September 2017].) Antioco Floris (2010) has analysed the screenplay, while Guy Austin (2012) and Ahmed Bedjaoui (2014, 2016) have discussed Algerian cinema in terms of its national themes and in relation to the Algerian war. Nancy Virtue (2014) has examined the rhetoric of the film in terms of how its hybrid style serves its political ends. More recently still, Ivelise Perniola (2016) has given an attentive analysis of Battle as part of an auteurist study of director Gillo Pontecorvo that corrects some of the excesses of Carlo Celli’s politically hostile interpretation in his earlier book on the director (Celli 2005). Notwithstanding the aggressive tone of Celli’s book, I have found his material on the carnivalesque in Battle to be particularly suggestive.

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An answer often given by previous writers to this question concerns the ‘relevance’ of the film for contemporary conditions and its ‘resonance’ across time and space. Prochaska (2003: 135) talks of how events leave one with a sense of ‘déjà-vu, déjà vécu’ in relation to the film. Celli (2005: v) writes that Battle ‘has attained new relevance due to the rise of Islamic terrorism’, and again that it has ‘gained a renewed relevance due to the persistent plague of politically motivated terrorism worldwide’ (ibid.: 67). Srivastava (2005a: 98) talks of the film’s ‘disquieting topicality’ in relation to the Iraq war, while for Haspel (2006: 33), Battle ‘remains one of the most relevant and contemporary films ever to examine terrorism’. Harrison (2007a: 337) speaks of the film’s ‘endlessly renewed contemporary resonance’. Likewise, for Shapiro (2008: 182), quoting Michael Chanan, Battle ‘is especially relevant now when the use of torture and “the dividing line between the ‘resistance fighter’ and the ‘terrorist’” have become contentious issues’, hence the film’s ‘strong contemporary resonance’ (ibid.: 191). Other writers emphasize the film’s exemplarity. Slocum (2005), in a piece entitled ‘The Recurrent Return to Algiers’, refers to Battle to illustrate a whole range of points about the mediation of terrorism. The ‘relevance’ and ‘exemplarity’ of the film and the events it recounts are combined as the explicit motive for Daulatzai’s recent book on Battle, which begins by stating that ‘the Battle of Algiers is still being waged, only now on a planetary scale. […] Though The Battle of Algiers […] was made fifty years ago, it’s as if it never ended’ (Daulatzai 2016: xi). What are the effects of this routine assertion of the relevance of The Battle of Algiers (hereafter ‘Battle’) and the exemplarity of the film itself and the events it depicts? One possible effect is to ‘flatten’ the film as it comes to be deployed in political debates. This is perhaps especially the case with those accounts sympathetic to the film’s anti-imperialism, in which (as in Daulatzai 2016) good political intentions distil the film to the approximation of a plot summary and overlook its ambiguous status in left-wing film theory. Such accounts adduce the film as holy writ, allusion to which is enough to signal a set of values we are all assumed or enjoined to share, and they ignore what Battle does not represent – the voice (or at least the speech) of Algerian women, for example (see Khanna 1998, 2006; see also Chapter 3 here).

Interstitial Popular Cinema 11

A second effect can be observed in some of the reaction to the film’s re-release in 2004 in the wake of the invasion of Iraq and a notorious screening of the film at the Pentagon (Kaufman 2003, O’Reilly 2010). The distribution of Battle in 2004 was marked by uneasy ruminations on the film’s argument for urban terrorism in the service of national liberation. Commentators put a new emphasis on the film’s picturing of Islam, a dimension of Battle which (for some) came to the fore only in the light of the attacks of 11 September 2001. ‘What does it mean that in today’s context The Battle of Algiers has begun to look like a recruiting film for Al-Qaeda?’ asked the distinguished critic B. Ruby Rich (2004: 111). Certainly (to give one answer to her question), it meant that commentators found in the film features that reflected the news, whatever their objective presence in the film itself. Meddeb (in Frodon et al. 2004: 68) inaccurately characterized as suicide bombers the three women in the film who disguise themselves in order to plant explosive devices in the European part of the city. Stone (2003) wrote of the same female characters: ‘Watching them today, it seems clear that Islamic faith, not revolutionary solidarity, made their mission sacred.’ Director Gillo Pontecorvo’s ‘artistry’, Stone continued, ‘reveals the holy-war horror of the Casbah uprising against the decadent West.’ If discourse like this reflected the news, it is also the case, as O’Reilly (2010) has argued, that criticism situating Battle in relation to contemporary Islamist or Islamist-inspired violence partook of an old-fashioned Orientalism based on the idea of a clash of civilizations. For some commentators writing after 9-11 and the invasion of Iraq, the portrayal of Islam in Battle comes ‘to symbolize terror, devastation, the demonic hordes of hated barbarians’, just as Edward Said, in his classic Orientalism (2003 [1978]: 59), had shown Islam had been made to do for centuries in the West2. Much of the writing on Battle is most usefully considered as part of its history of reception. As Shohat and Stam (2014: 404) suggest, Battle ‘offers a particularly vivid example of the ways that films are received differently over time as they are interpreted through different national contexts and changing ideological 2

The ‘Islamic elements’ in Battle are persuasively analysed in Harrison (2014) along with the problems in critical discourse concerning these.

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grids’. Is there something in the film itself that invites this awareness of what Shohat and Stam (ibid.) dub the ‘historicity of spectatorship’? To what extent is the perception of its exemplarity invited by the film itself? Pontecorvo (in Srivastava 2005b: 108) spoke of the film ‘as a homage to a struggle that was emblematic of all the liberation struggles taking place in the world’. In Battle, ‘a “local” struggle […] becomes a universal battle for the redemption of the oppressed’ (Srivastava 2005a: 98); the film presents the Algerian war of independence ‘as an inspirational exemplum for other colonized peoples’ (Stam 2003: 25). Battle is, then, an exemplary film about an exemplary set of events – the historical battle of Algiers – that itself stands for the liberation of Algeria, which in turn comes to represent anti-colonial struggle around the world. The film is a figure for the achievement of freedom. Moore (2008: 41) has written that Battle ‘is indicative of a “euphoric” period in anti-colonial cinema’, and it still communicates this euphoria to many who experience the film. Such euphoria can be deplored as ersatz, seen to substitute for political engagement and activism, or merely to console for political failure or disappointment, but it is what I hope to interrogate and also to celebrate in this book. The purpose of my study is to account for the power of The Battle of Algiers, and to locate this power in a description of the film’s complexity and ambivalence. Ecology and agency It has been argued that a national cinema is comprised of those films recognized abroad as the cinema through which a country speaks (Nowell-Smith 1999). By this definition, Battle is quintessentially national Algerian cinema. Advertised (inaccurately) on its international release as the first Algerian film, it is ‘a political film for international festivals and art-house circuits’ (Forgacs 2007: 354) that nonetheless came to have a quasiofficial status in the young country whose birth it recounts. This national status, already qualified as international in terms of the film’s address to audiences beyond Algeria, might be seen to be contradicted by the fact of the film’s transnational co-production,

Interstitial Popular Cinema 13

and this prefix ‘trans-’ can be taken to signal something of the way Battle occupies an uncertain place in film studies, despite the attention devoted to it. As transnational cinema that celebrates the birth of a nation, is Battle best considered an Algerian or Italian film, or is it somehow ‘stateless’? Is it Third Cinema or postcolonial cinema, docudrama, melodrama or political thriller? What audiences (from which regions and political constituencies) does the film address, and on whose behalf? Is it an auteurist film best understood in terms of its director’s, or scriptwriter’s, or even its composer’s oeuvre, or is the Algerian producer its true ‘author’? Certainly, the default auteurist assumptions of cinephilia (a mode of explanation that privileges sensibility over history) contribute to the uncertain status of Battle in film studies. In that strand of cinephilia which still disposes of the greatest sum of cultural capital, cinema remains a story of great films by great directors. Battle is excluded from such a story because Kapò (1960), the film on the Holocaust directed by Pontecorvo before he made Battle, has passed into cinephile dogma as an object of disdain; Battle itself has come to be tainted by association. In a piece for the Cahiers du Cinéma that was to become a cornerstone of cinephile lore, Jacques Rivette (1961) denounced Pontecorvo’s formal choices in Kapò, and Pontecorvo himself was deemed by the French critic and filmmaker to deserve ‘nothing but the most profound contempt’ (ibid.: 54)3. As Perniola reminds us, cinephilia was forged in the Cahiers tradition, and so Pontecorvo has come to be excluded from the pantheon of auteurs, has come, indeed, to be transformed ‘into the very emblem of abjection’ (Perniola 2016: 8)4. 3

4

Antoine de Baeque (2012: 70), former editor of Cahiers du Cinéma and a historian of cinephilia, has written that Kapò ‘revolted a generation of [French] critics, who were therefore incapable of seeing and supporting the director’s following film [The Battle of Algiers]’. See also the very useful history of the French reception of Battle given in Caillé (2007), which discusses Pontecorvo’s status in film culture in France. There is a kind of irony in the fact that the auteurist conception perseveres even into prescriptive political criticism. See for instance how Mike Wayne’s re-articulation of Third Cinema theory invokes The Battle of Algiers as the abject example par excellence of a compromised political cinema in part because ‘the film’s key cultural worker, the director’ was

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Rivette’s denunciation of Kapò – and the later dismissal of the film, sight unseen, in another piece of cinephile scripture by Serge Daney (2004 [1992]) – is motivated at root by a distaste, dressed up as ethics, for the film’s aesthetic impurity5. This impurity has been noted too by Brunetta, the great historian of Italian cinema, who has compared Pontecorvo unfavourably to Roberto Rossellini, Pontecorvo’s hero, in terms of Pontecorvo’s tendency to compromise on the artistic level for purposes of communication and in order to reach an audience (Brunetta 2007: 253). Let me provisionally give the label of ‘popular filmmaking’ to this poetics of compromise, and propose that popular cinema’s elaboration of political and historical circumstances and events is characterized by a contradictory structure of engagement. Popular cinema may confront and denounce historical crimes and exploitation, but will do so in a seductive or exhilarating and exportable aesthetic. It is itself exploitative, even voyeuristic, at the same time as it is engagé, in other words – and necessarily so. This is its very means of knowing as well as its means of communicating. Paternalistic criticism ritually deplores this fact, characterized as it is by a conviction that the popular audience lacks appropriate discernment. Battle itself has been deplored in these terms. Comolli (2004: 593), for example, notes the voyeurism of the film and argues that it takes, and encourages, pleasure in the spectacle of death6. But Rivette’s and Daney’s and Comolli’s disdain is a didacticism that cannot quite declare itself, one ill-equipped to account for the contradictory structure of engagement of a film like Battle, to which we can give the name of ‘ambivalence’. As mentioned above, ambivalence will be the principle of my analysis, the orientation of the film from which its power emerges. It is not my purpose here to rescue or to recuperate the reputation of Gillo Pontecorvo (a task undertaken in Perniola 2016), and I will be concerned in this study to avoid ascribing

5 6

a European, not an Algerian (see Wayne 2001: 8, and passim in his first chapter, pp. 5-24). See Bisoni (2013) for an attentive reconsideration of Kapò both in terms of its place in the history of cultural processing of the Holocaust (especially in Italy) and in terms of its place in criticism and cinephile dogma. See Perniola (2016: 94) for one response to Comolli’s criticisms.

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Battle solely to its director, even as a matter of convention. (The reader will not find phrasing like ‘Pontecorvo’s Battle of Algiers…’, otherwise ubiquitous in the writing on the film.) Following Brunetta, I am interested instead in approaching Battle as a ‘compromise’, and I try to grasp this dimension of the film by conceptualizing and treating it as an ecology in which individuals, groups, discourses and circumstances enact their agency with greater or lesser degrees of influence and effect. Among these individuals are Pontecorvo himself, but also Franco Solinas, co-writer of the script (see Olla 1997, and Floris 2010), Ennio Morricone who wrote most of the music, director of photography Marcello Gatti, editor Mario Serandrei, and so on. They include Saadi Yacef, the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) leader who commissioned and co-produced the film and played a version of himself in it, and of course the other actors: Jean Martin, the only professional actor with a protagonist role7, along with nonprofessionals like Brahim Hadjadj, Mohamed Ben Kassen and Fusia El Kader, and the dozens of ‘extras’ in uncredited roles. And they include the many people consulted during the preparation and production of the film in order to guarantee its historical authenticity8. I am not interested here in calibrating the agency of these different individuals or groups – in measuring them against each other to discern which had the determining influence9. A 7 8

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Materials held at the Pontecorvo archive in the library of the Museo del Cinema, Turin, suggest that some of the smaller roles were played by professional actors. Pontecorvo (in Solinas 1973: 181) described these consultations: ‘We met with Algerian partisans, talked with Sala Bazi, who had been a member of the [FLN]. He explained step by step how the organization functioned, how they made their bombs, placed them, etc.’ To conceptualize Battle as an ecology in which persons and entities enact their agency allows us to deal better with unresolvable questions like the degree of influence that Frantz Fanon had on Battle and its filmmakers. Many have assumed that the makers of Battle must have been directly familiar with essays by Fanon that have come to be well known in the intervening years (see for example Khanna 1998) – especially the much-discussed ‘Algeria Unveiled’. Stam (2003: 27) writes that Battle is ‘thoroughly imbued with a Fanonian spirit’ to the extent that ‘sequence after sequence provides audiovisual glosses on key passages from The Wretched of the Earth’; ‘At times, it seems as if Fanon had written the script for

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historian may justly ask questions like the following (posed in Forgacs 2007: 350): Why did Saadi Yacef decide to go to Italy in 1964 to find a director to make a film based on his memoirs of the Battle of Algiers? How far was the resulting film shaped by its Algerian producer and how far by the Italians who worked on it […]? How far did it differ on the one hand from Yacef’s original story idea and on the other from the film called Parà that Pontecorvo and Solinas had originally intended to make in Algiers and for which they already had a complete script ready?

These are excellent, concrete questions. But I am interested in more elusive, perhaps even mystical themes like the agency of history, the agency of the city, and the agency of the crowd. Khanna (1998: 18) has described the employment of non-professionals in Battle as ‘a device which stresses the importance of community over particular heroic protagonists’. With this in mind, I hope Battle of Algiers’ (ibid.: 28). Srivastava (2005a: 102) points out that the words of the captured Ben M’Hidi spoken in the film during a press conference paraphrase a statement of Fanon’s: ‘machine-gunning from aeroplanes and bombardments from the fleet go far beyond in horror and magnitude any answer the natives can make’ (Fanon 2004: 47). However, Pontecorvo himself denied the influence of Fanon’s writings, except in the most general terms (see his exasperated responses to repeated inquiry in Srivastava 2005b). Instead of the historian’s questions (How much Fanon had Pontecorvo or Solinas read? How much of Fanon’s direct influence can be traced in the film?), the idea of ecology allows us to apprehend something more diffuse but pervasive – what Srivastava (2005a: 103) may have in mind when she suggests that the ‘striking intertextuality’ between Battle and the work of Fanon ‘may reveal the common ideologies that circulated among the FLN’ of which Fanon was a member. In the ecology model, the agent (the author; Fanon) becomes itself a dynamic system that cannot be reified but is traced through its diffractive effects. The idea of ecology allows us to see how the excavation of Fanon’s ‘presence’, of his ideas or of ‘the common ideologies that circulated among the FLN’, must imply an attention to address in or by the film – in particular to its receivability beyond a given political constituency, perhaps especially in Europe, the ‘West’ or the ‘North’. Moore (2008: 41) points out Fanon is not named in the film, despite the ‘striking intertextuality’ with his works, but Jean-Paul Sartre is. Why? Because Sartre was the world-famous, Nobel-prize-refusing public intellectual, while Fanon (who had died in 1961) was a ‘niche’ writer for the already politically engaged.

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the model of ecology will allow me to perceive the testimonial agency (figured as reenactment) of the many non-professionals who worked as extras in Battle, so as to address Khanna’s concerns about the ‘representability of a “community in crisis”’ (ibid.: 17) and to answer in the affirmative her question: ‘Can testimony be given to the trauma of revolution?’ I am also interested in the question of address in Battle – in the agency of the addressee, in other words: a film takes the form it does in implicit collaboration with the audiences it seeks. And this theme of address implies attention to the agency of genre, conceptualized here as ‘genre memory’, Bakhtin’s term for how a particular generic or modal tradition (in this case, realism) transmits itself through individual works, authors or filmmakers (see Emerson & Morson 1990: 2957). Relatedly, I will investigate the agency, in the sense of the tenacity and persistence, of colonial and Orientalist discourse as it traverses Battle, enables it to communicate, and encounters postcolonial conditions. I do not mean the idea of an ecology of agencies to be a watertight theoretical model10. It is employed as a heuristic, a strategy of interpretation, even as I recognize that the image of ecology reveals nothing essential about Battle itself (all texts, present book included, can be thought of in this way). The image pictures a method rather than anything unique about the film. What is particular about Battle can be indicated, instead, with the term ‘interstitial cinema’. This label is usually applied to the cinema of filmmakers in exile, or the ‘accented’ cinema of directors with hyphenated identities, like the Turkish-German Fatih Akih or the Turkish-Italian Ferzan Özpetek (see Naficy 10 By agency, I have in mind the standard dictionary sense of ‘ability or capacity to act or exert power’, but I want to bear in mind also the Marxist account of agency in Callinicos (2004), who tries to reconcile a belief in ‘human powers’ with a recognition of the agency-giving and limiting (though not determining) capacity of social structures. I discuss a political theory of agency derived from Homi Bhabha and based on work by Ilan Kapoor (2003) in Chapter 4. I recognize my use of the term goes beyond these meanings, however, and I am not sure that the sentimental humanism some readers will find in my celebration of the Algerian crowd is strictly compatible with, say, the evolutionist conception of a genre’s ability to reproduce itself across time, texts and political circumstances, though both are indicated in my use of the term ‘agency’.

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2001). This is not quite what I have in mind here, not only because I avoid the auteurist approach; I mean instead to indicate the liminal character of Battle. Of course, Battle itself, as a film between nations, can be said to have a hyphenated identity. But it is also a film in the interstices between geographies, genres and registers – stylistically between ‘West’ and ‘East’ (at least on the soundtrack), realism and melodrama, between action-adventure and tragedy. It is a film between peoples and constituencies: if it is a speaking for Algeria, it is also a speaking to – to the Algerians themselves, to the old and new colonial powers, as well as to anticolonial sentiment internationally. It is a film between times: Battle pictures the end of an empire even as it celebrates the birth of a nation; it looks forward to the future though the bulk of the story is told in flashback. It is a film that divines a third space beyond Casbah and European city in the threshold chronotope of its powerful coda. That six-minute coda, showing popular protest against the French occupation, will be my key exhibit throughout this book. The threshold character of the coda encapsulates the interstitiality of Battle, and the coda exhibits and (for many) generates a sense of exhilaration that speaks the moment of the film, the ‘euphoric’ period in anti-colonial cinema and of liberation and possibility in the global South. The content of the chapters In the central chapters of this book, I attend again to three aspects of Battle that emerge, implicitly and sometimes explicitly, as key themes in the scholarship on the film but which seemed to me to need further study if the power of the film is better to be understood. These themes are location, address and temporality. Tomlinson (2004: 362) has written that ‘it is place, not person, which assumes “star status”’ in The Battle of Algiers, something signalled in the title’s naming of the city. In fact, the historical ‘battle’ (1956-7) was a relatively minor affair in the overall achievement of Algerian independence, and the phrase ‘Battle of Algiers’ may have been coined by the French military to dignify the ugly counter-insurgency operation forensically recorded

Interstitial Popular Cinema 19

in the film11. But it is due to the film itself that the phrase has become a lieu de memoire in which understanding not just of the Algerian independence struggle but of anti-colonial struggle as such has coalesced. The film’s focus on the struggle in Algiers (rather than, say, in the Algerian mountains or rural areas) allows an illustrative and symbolic opposition to be set up between Ottoman Casbah and European city, standing for what Fanon called the ‘colonial world cut in two’ (see Stam 2003: 27). It also registers the status of Algiers as ‘showcase’ city where ‘what occurred in one district […] could have significant repercussions on the international stage for various political audiences’ (House 2018: 201). The character of the individual districts in Battle have not been sufficiently described, however. Using ideas of ‘third space’ from Edward Soja and Homi Bhabha, Chapter 2 dwells especially on the meaning and hybrid character of the locations (neither Casbah nor European city) that appear in the film’s coda, housing projects constructed during the period of the historical Battle of Algiers itself. My theme in Chapter 3 is address. How could a film about the liberation of an African country be receivable and legible in the colonizing North? Commissioned by a veteran of the liberation struggle, Battle reprises a longstanding strategic policy by the revolutionary and then governing FLN to represent itself and Algerian nationalism at the international level (see Connelly 2001). Battle had to engage an antagonistic audience: Pontecorvo spoke of ‘wanting to secure the support of a public not inclined to favour the struggle of the Algerian people for their liberty’ (quoted in Khanna 1998: 17)12. The rhetorical employment of the tropes of realism was one way of engaging this antagonistic audience. I will discuss these tropes in terms of their origin – beyond the postwar Italian neorealism to which they are usually traced – in Italian fascism’s ‘empire cinema’ (Ben-Ghiat 2015). Analysis of Battle in these terms suggests how a particular means to know and to naturalize the colonial scene retains its power to 11 This was suggested to me by Ahmed Bedjaoui. As House (2018: 175n) writes: ‘the asymmetry of the violence deployed by the French state in relation to that of the FLN suggests that [the term] “battle” is inadequate.’ 12 Pontecorvo is quoted in French in Khanna’s text. Unless otherwise indicated, all translations given in this book are my own.

20

The Battle of Algiers

picture the postcolonial scene. By analogy with Homi Bhabha’s argument that the colonial stereotype retains its ‘reality effect’ even after the demise of the colonial era (Bhabha 1994: 66-84), I will suggest that the colonial representational mode retains its power to picture because that is the mode in which cinema came to know the colonial condition in the first place. I will therefore demur from the assessment that Battle ‘undermines the myths and topoi of “colonialist discourse”’ (Smith 2005: 94). My argument will be that Battle re-articulates Orientalism even as it uses this language to speak of new conditions. In Chapter 4, I list and analyse the modes of temporality that are thematized in Battle or that infuse the film and emerge from it. This question of the orders of time in Battle has been raised before. Harrison (2007b: 400) has noted the paradox that ‘Algerian independence, the inevitability that lies at the story’s end, falls outside the film’s main narrative arc’, and many have dwelled on the film’s long flashback/coda structure. Still, while some have explicitly couched their analysis of Battle in terms of temporalities (Khanna 1998 and 2006, Tomlinson 2004, Chabot 2015), none has quite traced the complex operation of temporalities in the film, and regretful phrases about the film’s ‘excess of historical teleology’ (Khanna 2006) are common. Against this, I foreground the film’s account of the ‘rhetorical’ deployment of temporality by the Algerians in their struggle for independence. I consider the film in terms of practices of reenactment and reenactment’s peculiar ‘folding’ temporality (Schneider 2011: 57). The iterative character of reenactment leads me to consider the temporal character of political agency (carnivalesque, contingent and performative) as it is evinced in the film’s coda. I conclude that the question of temporality is crucial to a sympathetic understanding of the character of Battle as a historical film and as a political film. In Chapter 5, the short conclusion to the book, I conceptualize the interstitiality of Battle in terms of what Mary Louise Pratt (2008: 7, 8) has called ‘contact zones’, sites of cultural encounter characterized by asymmetrical relations of power. Following Pratt, I describe Battle as an ‘autoethnographic’ text in which the Algerians present themselves ‘in ways that engage with the colonizer’s terms’ (ibid.: 9; Pratt’s italics). In using Pratt’s terms, I am writing against those who denounce the film’s impurity of

Interstitial Popular Cinema 21

means and against a certain ‘aspirational’ strain of political film criticism – the sort that starts from what Bhabha (1994: 67) calls a ‘prior political normativity’, meaning a set of prescriptions about the kind of content that should be contained in an appropriately political film and the kind of form in which to express it. My account of Battle as autoethnography assumes that the political is not illustrated but is instantiated as an inflection of extant modes and perspectives and as a negotiation of existing relations of power. This book is not an introduction to The Battle of Algiers. Other texts provide such an introduction, and I assume familiarity with the film and some with the scholarship devoted to it. The content of the chapters overlaps, and themes are reprised and developed across the book, so that I hope it can be assessed as a whole. My argument is made discursively and to some extent in digressive fashion. This is because the book is not intended to be the report of a project of research; it is the enactment of an investigation into the sources of the film’s power. The book ends with one final restatement of that power by returning to the theme of the film’s ‘resonance’, its afterlife as a figure for radical hope, with which I began this chapter. I have asked: why study The Battle of Algiers, once again? Because, I hope, my account of the sources of the film’s power will shed light on the means and capacities of historical and political cinema beyond this or beyond any individual film, whatever its undoubted significance.

2 INTO ALGIERS

In his important book on the Roman films of Pierpaolo Pasolini, John David Rhodes writes as follows: Pasolini’s first two films, Accattone (1961) and Mamma Roma (1962), are as much ‘about’ Rome as they are about anything else, and the power of their specific historical, political and aesthetic interventions remains inaccessible without some knowledge of the Roman urban and architectural context out of which they emerged and to which they respond. (Rhodes 2007: ix)

Similarly, one may say that The Battle of Algiers is as much about Algiers as anything else and that our understanding of the power of the film is enriched by knowledge of the urban and architectural context from which it emerges and to which it responds. Surveying critical approaches to film and the city, Rhodes makes the point that the city often appears in such accounts as an ‘imaginary city – a fabrication of set design and cinematography’; against this, Rhodes proclaims his ‘belief that each instance of interaction between a city and a cinematic practice is entirely specific and unique to itself’ (ibid.: xv). The precise character of this interaction in Battle is my concern in this chapter. To pay attention to the specific and unique interaction between city and cinematic practice in Battle is to notice that the presence of the Casbah has been overstated in many descriptions of the film (see for example Austin 2012: 37). This may seem an absurd assertion when fully thirty-five of the fifty-six sequences in Battle (to follow the arguable division given in Crispino 1998) are set in the Casbah, and all seem to have been made on location, including interior scenes. The film itself encourages a perception

The Battle of Algiers

24

of the Casbah as the authentic space of resistance and indigeneity (and also, as I will suggest in Chapter 3, of otherness) when a dichotomy-within-continuity is established between European city and Casbah in a pan-and-zoom shot six minutes into the film (fig. 1 splits a continuous shot). For Khanna (2006), this dichotomy-within-continuity figures the ‘intimacy’ of the battle (of which torture is the carnal expression), even as the Casbah ‘in true modernist binary opposition, is shown to function as an organ, in contrast to the modern French city. […] The modern part of the city is never depicted as an organic whole, and never appears to be of the people (the settlers) who live there’.

Figure 1

The spatial dichotomy between Casbah and European city posited by the film (only later to be contravened, as I will show) is in part a narrative expedient whereby the tale of two cities can figure the relationship of colonizer and colonized throughout Algeria and throughout the colonized world (Shapiro 2008: 194-5). Battle shows colonial domination to be a ‘spatial ideology predicated upon the delineation and control of borders and boundaries’ (Sharpe 2014: 191). As such, the film inverts the spatial paradigm found in the Western (seen too in The Birth of a Nation (D. W. Griffith, 2015), the racist history film that inaugurates a tradition to which Battle is ambivalent heir) in which the colonizers are surrounded by those who are being colonized, offering post hoc justification for genocide. In Battle, ‘it is with them [the colonized] that we are made to feel at home’ (Stam 2003: 27), a reversal of the usual Eurocentric structure of identification. Stam (2003: 25) points to how Battle had to reckon with powerful tropes inherited from earlier cinema, in which North

Into Algiers 25

African culture and topography ‘form a passive backdrop for the exploits of European heroes and heroines’. This is the colonial Maghrebi city as it was imagined in Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942), with its cast of opportunists, refugees and predatory locals or, more pertinently, in the French colonial film Pépé le Moko (Julien Duvivier, 1937). As Green (2007) has shown, Battle is replete with allusions to the 1937 film, in which Jean Gabin plays the titular charismatic gangster who makes the Algerian Casbah his domain, with a few scenes filmed on location in Algiers itself (fig. 2).

Figure 2 – Gazing from the Casbah in Pépé le Moko (1937)

The Casbah in Pépé le Moko is described in voiceover as a ‘teeming anthill’, and shown to be an unpoliceable labyrinth populated from a rogues gallery identified as ‘traditionalist Barbarians who are a mystery to us’, ‘Kabyles, Chinese, Gypsies, stateless people, Slavs, Maltese, negroes [sic], Sicilians, Spaniards’, not to mention prostitutes, ‘girls of all nations, shapes and sizes’. An early sequence in Battle contends with this inherited version of the Casbah by

26

The Battle of Algiers

showing its construction as a ‘moral’ space from which the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) banish drunkenness, drug use and prostitution (the sequence ends with a dignified Muslim marriage ceremony in a Casbah interior). But the film also ‘cleans up’ the Casbah ethnically, so that it becomes exclusively an Arab and Muslim space (Arabs are conspicuous by their absence in the voiceover to the Pépé Le Moko montage), counterposed as uniform, temperate and authentic to a European city characterized by its leisure spaces (even the French military operation to defeat the FLN in Algiers is glibly christened ‘Operation Champagne’)1. The use of real locations in The Battle of Algiers is part of the film’s rhetoric of actuality, of a piece with the realist chic of its artfully distressed film stock and with the film’s didactic setting out of the ‘how’ of insurgency and counter-insurgency. The film makes very clear the strategy versus tactics spatial division of means (to use terms familiar from Michel de Certeau) available to oppressor and resistor, corresponding to the ‘overview’ of the city granted to the French by altitude (high buildings, helicopters), information and surveillance, and the street-level perspective and evasiveness of the Algerian revolutionaries2. Movement though the dichotomous spaces of the city is key to the film’s emotional power, so that the euphoric release of the coda is in part derived 1

2

Shapiro (2008: 192) writes of ‘a self-indulgent and privileged settler community’ contrasted with a ‘bio-political mise-en-scène’ of surveilled and impoverished Casbah inhabitants. See also Khanna (2006): ‘there is never any suggestion of [the] griminess [of the European city]. Most shots of the new town are of interiors in which pleasure – food, drink, dance, travel and access to public space – are foregrounded.’ Perniola (2016: 101) contrasts the European garden party scene before the planting of the Casbah bomb, with its light-jazz diegetic music, to the indoor scene when the three Algerian women prepare for their mission in an atmosphere of seriousness, with non-diegetic drumming on the soundtrack. Shohat and Stam (2014: 252) write that the ‘repeated pans linking the native medina and the French city contrast the settler’s brightly lit town, in Fanon’s words a “well-fed town, an easygoing town; its belly … full of good things”, with the native town as a “place of ill fame, peopled by men of ill repute”.’ Forgacs’ analysis (building on Certeau) of the vertical and horizontal dimensions of the city in Roma città aperta (Rome, Open City, Roberto Rossellini, 1945) has obvious applications to Battle, as Forgacs himself hints in his article on the latter film (see Forgacs 2004 and 2007).

Into Algiers 27

from the sense of transgression as the Algerian crowd invades the boulevards of a European city previously marked as foreign territory3. The opposition between Casbah and European city is itself best considered in terms of rhetoric, as a means to efficiently narrate the story while making the argument for anti-colonial struggle in terms (described in Chapter 3) that are legible at home and abroad. But in failing to account for ‘third’ spaces in the film that are neither European city nor Casbah, Battle scholarship has been seduced by the film’s own rhetoric. The rest of this chapter will be concerned especially with such third spaces: locations, in the six-minute coda to the film, which speak of the film’s interstitiality as at once birth of a nation film and end of empire film, and from which emerge the film’s celebration of the moment of revolutionary possibility. The battle for housing The six-minute coda to Battle shows street protests and confrontations with soldiers and police, as well as the journalists that report them (see Chapter 3), taking place in December 1960, three years after the events (the ‘battle’) that constitute the bulk of the film storyline4. The historical protests shown in the coda took place in response to rallies by pro-French hardliners against the visit of the French president Charles de Gaulle to Algeria in December 1960. In the previous month, de Gaulle had stated in a televised speech that an Algerian republic would 3

4

Sharpe (2014: 191) points to the scene where Ali La Pointe is chased by police at the beginning of the flashback as indication of the racial division of the city. It seems not to be Ali’s street gambling but his presence in the colonial zone that is ‘tantamount to transgression’. The same is true for the old street cleaner jeered at later by the colons and picked up by police: ‘the man is guilty of transgressing the underlying socio-spatial codes of the colonial city, irrespective of whether he has committed any actual crime.’ Several commentators erroneously speak of the coda events occurring two years after the death of Ali and his companions that ends the main body of the film, but Ali was actually killed in October 1957 and the coda takes place in 1960. Battle opens with an onscreen title with the place and year ‘Alger 1957’ and circles back to this date via the long flashback that constitutes the bulk of the film.

28

The Battle of Algiers

‘one day exist’ and with its own government. The violence of the European settler protests against de Gaulle and his promise of independence generated counter-demonstrations by the Algerians that came then to assume their own momentum – the demonstrations shown in the coda to Battle. This context is not acknowledged in the film: there is no glimpse of de Gaulle or of the pro-European settler violence and neither are mentioned in the voiceover to the sequence; instead the words spoken by a journalist emphasize the spontaneous character of the uprising by the people that surprises even the FLN, who had for some years monopolized (often through brutal means) opposition to the French. This uprising is even implied to conduct to Algerian independence a further two years later. Many critics have complained about the lack of historical context provided in the coda, considering the film to have ‘mystified’ the revolutionary process (see for example, Oshima 1992: 140; Sainsbury 1971: 7; Smith 2005: 106-8), and I will return to this complaint later in the book. One could instead commend the film’s historical perspicacity in asserting the significance of the demonstrations. It is true that some historians of Algeria barely mention the December 1960 protests with regard to the achievement of independence, placing the emphasis instead on high-level negotiations and deGaullian realpolitik (Ruedy 2005: 175-80). Others, however, do seem to echo the film’s interpretation. Evans (2011: 288-9) quotes one French officer who dubbed the protests ‘a veritable psychological Dien Bien Phu’, referring to the decisive defeat in battle in 1954 that led to French withdrawal from its colony in Indochina, an event mentioned in Battle itself by Colonel Mathieu in conversation with journalists. Evans (ibid.:) writes (with informal syntax): ‘By occupying urban public space and expressing Algerian nationalism in such an audacious manner, the slogans and symbols were the climax of a politicization process that had begun in the 1920s […]. “Algerian Algeria”, long denied by France but now recognized by de Gaulle, was a reality […]’5. 5

Evans, an admirer of Battle, may well be writing under the influence of the film itself. He has curated a batch of articles and interviews devoted to the film for the online platform OpenDemocracy, available at [accessed 10 September 2017]. House (2018: 200) shares the film’s assessment of the historical importance of the protests: ‘Since 1958, public space in Algiers had been dominated by pro-French Algeria Europeans [sic]: much to the surprise of some SAU officers [see note 11] and the dismay of many Europeans, the December 1960 protests radically changed this dynamic.’ I have placed the word ‘flow’ in inverted commas because in this context it is a term that bespeaks Orientalism (see Connelly 2002: xi; see also my discussion in Chapter 3). Tomlinson’s metaphor of ‘swarm’ for the movement of the French soldiers suggests an extension – a rendering ambivalent – rather than a refusal of Orientalist discourse by the film.

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The Battle of Algiers

the coda only at night and only from outside and above.) The fact that the film shows the historical locations is important because, as House (2018: 173) puts it, ‘the urban landscape was not a “neutral”, blank slate or backdrop against which these events occurred’: the history and character of these places made them rich with meaning for the protesters and, one suspects, also for those who reenacted the events half a decade later for the making of Battle. To clarify the character of these locations it is useful to take a detour though the urban history of Algiers itself. From the 1920s on, the city experienced inward migration on a large scale so that, according to one set of figures, the (Muslim) Algerian population grew in greater Algiers from about 73,000 in 1926 to nearly 300,000 by 1954, the year when the Algerian war of independence began8. The Algerian medina, the Casbah itself, became impossibly overcrowded and newcomers were forced into shanty-towns (bidonvilles), seen by city and colonial authorities as incubators of criminality and nationalist sentiment. In response to the perceived demographic and security threat, Jacques Chevallier, mayor of Algiers from 1953 to 1958, initiated a project of welfare colonialism that constituted the first real effort to build mass social housing for Algerians (Djiar 2007). The mayor himself dubbed it the ‘battle for housing’, a battle that overlapped with the military battle of Algiers itself and which, like it, was intended to ensure that Algeria stayed French: ‘the mayor’s self-described “battle for housing” actively reframed architecture as a mechanism of appeasement’ (Crane 2017: 190). Chevallier himself declared at the ground-breaking ceremony for the Diar El-Mahçoul housing project, described below, that ‘France [has] to build in Algeria day and night, as much as possible, so that she [will] not have to worry any more about the political problem’ (quoted in Çelik 1997: 143). Ultimately, Chevallier would be forced to resign and both his battle for housing and preference for prestige developments would be supplanted by temporary complexes of prefabricated buildings associated with the military 8

This information is taken from a 1961 volume published in Paris, L’Algérie des bidonvilles, by Robert Descloîtres, Claudine Descloîtres and Jean-Claude Reverdy (cited in House 2018: 177). Lower figures are given in Crane (2017: 210), based on a text from 1959, but the pattern of growth is similar.

Into Algiers 31

control of the city, but not before impacting impressively on the Algiers urban environment (Crane 2017: 199). The man chosen by Chevallier as his chief architect was Fernand Pouillon, known for large scale housing projects in Marseilles, the port city on mainland France seen to be the metropolitan ‘twin’ to Algiers across the Mediterranean. Pouillon built in a stripped-down classicist modernism that recalled Italian rationalist architecture of the fascist period but was open to local influences9. He was commissioned by Chevallier to create three major housing projects in Algiers in the 1950s, two of which, Diar El-Mahçoul (1954-’55) and Climat de France (1954-’57), feature in the coda to Battle because both were historical sites of protests (figs. 3, 4). Both Diar El-Mahçoul (1954-’55) and Climat de France (1954-’57), were intended to house a mix of European and Algerian inhabitants10. In the case of Diar El-Mahçoul, the development was divided into two sections: a more luxurious side of the development looked down over the city towards the sea, while more Spartan and smaller accommodations across the road housed the Muslim occupants. During the December 1960 protests, these occupants, along with residents of the nearby complex of prefabricated housing known as the Cité des Accacias (pictured at the beginning of the coda; fig. 5)11, would try to Pinkus (2003) has argued that Italian fascist-period architecture in L’Eclisse (Eclipse, Michelangelo Antonioni, 1962) is employed in Antonioni’s film to figure the incomplete process of decolonization on the territory of Italy itself. The use of Pouillon’s designs in Battle suggest to me an awareness of the Antonioni model (Battle also contains a telling allusion to Red Desert, 1964). As I will argue in Chapter 3, this indicates that Battle, as well as being a film on the end of the French empire, is also in some sense a film on the consequences and legacy of the Italian colonial experience. 10 The first Pouillon development, Diar Es-Saada (1953-’54), located not far from Diar El-Mahçoul, was intended to house Europeans only and does not seem to have been a site for protest. If my conversations with artists and others in Algiers are an indication, both Pouillon and Chevallier (described by Crane (2017: 192) as a ‘liberal humanist’) are recalled in the city with a certain sympathy and admiration. Diar Es-Saada came to be pictured on a bank note issued by the new Algerian state in 1964 (Crane 2008: 117-19). 11 Crane (2017: 194-205) describes the building of the Cité des Accacias and other such cités de transit (transitional housing) as part of the increasing militarization of urban life in Algiers and as a manifestation of the state of emergency established in Algeria by the Special Powers Acts passed by 9

The Battle of Algiers

32

Figure 3

Figure 4

Figure 5

Into Algiers 33

cross the road to enter the European section. They would also move down into the city towards the European quarter known as Belcourt, where photographs from the period (fig. 6 reproduces the most famous), visually alluded to by the film (fig. 7), record them being opposed by police and paratroopers12. Climat de France is the best known of Pouillon’s Algiers projects, renowned for the edifice at its centre known as the 200 Columns, a vast rectangular housing block on a sloping site, with shops and facilities along the interior perimeter of a monumental agora (fig. 8). Pouillon talks in his memoirs of designing a ‘monument to be lived in’ that would ennoble Muslim inhabitants who before him had been subject in Algeria only to disdain and prejudice (Pouillon 1968: 205). However, historians of colonial architecture have insisted that his designs were intended to effect a cultural change on the native population. Djiar argues that Pouillon’s designs ‘targeted the pillars of traditional social structure’ (Djiar 2007: 38), especially gender separation and patriarchal family organization, and that they were ‘an attempt to cut the roots of native resistance’ (39). Certainly, Pouillon’s designs were a form of what was called at the time ‘evolutionary’ housing, a term that communicated the aim of recreating the rural Algerian migrants as modern Europeanized city dwellers13. The irony is that it is precisely from within a housing project that was intended to pacify and acculturate the Algerians that the nationalist protests of the French National Assembly in March 1956. Such ‘transitional housing’ developments were seen as an intermediate stage between the bidonvilles and ‘evolutionary housing’ like the Pouillon projects, but they were under the direct control of the Sections administratives urbaines (SAU), a military bureau responsible for the provision of limited social services to Muslim Algerians. The commission and construction by the SAU of schemes like the Cité des Accacias confirmed and extended a process described by Crane (2017: 198): ‘new housing estates shifted from sites of symbolic battle [as in Chevallier’s “battle for housing”] to mechanisms of direct surveillance.’ 12 The scenes in the coda show protestors being beaten and shot rather than arrested: this is historically accurate, as the object of the police, army and paratroopers was to stop and disperse demonstrators, and to get them to return to their homes (House 2018: 191). 13 ‘Evolutionary housing was built on the universalist assumption that all French subjects could become French citizens, even though the very notion of the “évolué” paradoxically fixed a rigid hierarchy defined by racial difference’ (Crane 2011: 963).

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Figure 6 – Protests in Belcourt. Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma Keystone courtesy Getty Images.

December 1960 emerged. The Algerians may have lived in the buildings of the Climat de France, but they rejected the designs that the buildings had upon them. An entire people It is remarkable that the distinctiveness of the locations in the coda to Battle has so often been misconstrued. Even commentators who proclaim their familiarity with the film in other ways

Into Algiers 35

Figure 7

Figure 8 – Postcard showing Climat De France under construction, with the 200 Columns building at the centre

are prone to mistake the Pouillon projects for the Casbah. Prochaska, for example, recounts having taught Battle for many years, but describes the coda protests in terms of ‘the Algerians cascading out of the Casbah, wave on jujuing wave, during the December 1960 demonstrations, irrepressible’ (Prochaska 2003: 134). I will speculate in Chapter 3 about the Orientalist tone and implications of remarks like these about the protest scenes and the ululation chanting of the protesters. But my question for now, paraphrasing the words of Rhodes quoted at the beginning of this chapter, is to what extent the power of the specific historical,

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The Battle of Algiers

Figure 9 – Still from Omar Gatlato (1976) showing the 200 Columns building

political and aesthetic intervention made by Battle in these closing scenes remains inaccessible without some knowledge of the Algerian urban and architectural context. I think I can say that the sense of euphoria communicated in the closing sequences is not necessarily impeded by a lack of specific knowledge, but it may be that some critics on the left have exaggerated the ‘vagueness’ of the coda based on their own unfamiliarity with the urban and architectural context of colonial Algiers. Those who live in Algiers itself would, of course, likely be aware that the coda scenes are set in locations with a very particular character and history14. Indeed, Climat de France (latterly renamed Oeud Koriche) has been featured in very knowing fashion in Omar Gatlato (1976), the first film directed by the important Algerian filmmaker Merzak Allouache (fig. 9)15, and has seen confrontations between locals, police and army 14 Walking around the Climat de France with my camera on a visit to Algiers in December 2015, I was shouted at in Arabic by a group of local kids: ‘Built by the French, lived in by Algerians, photographed by foreigners.’ My sincere thanks to Algerian artist Amina Menia for showing me round the Pouillon developments. 15 Bab El-Oued City, a film Allouache directed in 1994, has been read in relation to Battle (see Green 2007).

Into Algiers 37

during the period of the Algerian ‘civil war’ of the 1990s and more recently still, in 2011, when shanty dwellings were threatened with demolition (fig. 10). For some viewers, then, the locations in the Battle coda scenes are a palimpsest rich with cultural and historical traces. Still, I repeat that the experience of the power of these scenes does not rely on being able to identify such traces, but instead derives from a number of filmic elements working together and representing the culmination of different audio, visual and thematic strands developed throughout the film. I have already mentioned the sense of release expressed in the flow of the people after their domination and containment in the rest of the film16. The element I will now examine is the manner in which the cinematography of the Climat de France buildings echoes with variation the mise-en-scène and framing of other buildings and elevations earlier in the film. The first thing to notice in the Climat de France scenes from the coda is what is not provided. The edifice shown in figures 4 and 11 is the 200 Columns building, the top edges of which are sometimes glimpsed, but what might seem an irresistible image of the 200 Columns from above, or even of its famous courtyard, is not given. The scenes play out, instead, at and near the bottom of the immense flight of steps at the eastern corner of the building. The camera looks up at, rather than down on, the massive staircase crowded with demonstrators, and up at the fortress-like exterior walls of the 200 Columns17. I will give three examples of how the depiction of the 200 Columns recalls the picturing of other buildings and elevations in Battle. Working backwards in the film, my first example (fig. 12) is a low-angle image (the culmination of a nine-second pan from left to right) showing a steep flight of steps in the Casbah – the tops of the buildings are not shown – with a line of Algerians, all but a little boy facing away from the camera and against the walls 16 Smith (2005), though sceptical of the film’s ‘Romantic-Marxist ending’ (107), sees the coda as the culmination of the film’s narrative construction of a ‘choral protagonist’ (101) or ‘collective hero’ (107). I take up the theme of the choral protagonist in the next chapter. 17 There are no doors in the exterior walls of the 200 Columns – only windows, flights of stairs and monumental entrances to the courtyard; there is no individual access to apartments from the outside of the building.

The Battle of Algiers

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Figure 10 – Still from a 2011 news report showing police at the eastern corner of the 200 Columns building.

Figure 11

and doors with their arms raised. French soldiers observe them as one soldier in centre-shot searches a dead Algerian man’s pockets. The film cuts to a medium close-up of the Algerian boy gazing at the search of the dead man (maybe the boy’s father or brother?), then returns to the low shot of the tableau in the street, held for a further four seconds as the French soldier occupies the

Into Algiers 39

Figure 12

centre vertical of the space. Windows and doors are shuttered and barred in these images and those that precede it: the houses of the Casbah present a sealed aspect that we take to be at once a sign of resistance and of occupation as the French repossess homes and shops associated with the FLN and the general strike. The low viewpoint up the flight of steps will be retained in the Climat de France scenes of the coda, but in that case the 200 Columns building has disgorged its occupants in exuberant movement, no longer fearful of the guns of their oppressors. My second example is a tilt of the camera down the exterior of a tower block that straddles a road – the elevation fills the frame so that sky and building edges are not shown – to reveal one of a series of actions when the FLN target police and soldiers over the course of a day (fig. 13). The building shown is the tallest part of the Aéro-Habitat (1950-’55), a private residential development for Europeans designed by followers of the great French architect Le Corbusier and modelled according to his Unité d’habitation design principle. The film’s brief glance at the Aéro-Habitat prizes opens another historical prospect onto the architectural history of twentieth century Algiers18. Corbusier had spent several years 18 Incidentally, Gillo Pontecorvo himself lived with his family in the AéroHabitat while working on Battle (Bignardi 1999: 124).

The Battle of Algiers

40

designing unbuilt visionary schemes for the colonial city, seen as the appropriate place for radical experimentation to mark the centennial of French occupation in 1930 (Avermaete and Loeckx 2010: 173-4). Eventually a version of Corbusier’s ideas for Algiers would find built expression in the housing projects of the French banlieues, and Battle anticipates some of the ways in which colonial conditions would be replicated on the territory of the metropole19. But it is enough, here, to notice that the action of a military avant-garde pictured before a modernist edifice will be consummated in the coda by a collective protest-celebration that takes place before the equally imposing elevations of the north and east walls of the 200 Columns.

Figure 13

My final example is of a series of images of the Barberousse prison built by the French in the 1850s and located at the top of the hill across from the entrance to the south side of Casbah. It is pictured in an early scene that telegraphically narrates the politicization of Ali La Pointe, the film’s Algerian protagonist. In this scene, the imprisoned Ali is shown peering at the execution of an FLN militant through the barred slit in the thick exterior wall of his overcrowded cell (it holds perhaps fifteen men). A high-angle shot implied to be from Ali’s perspective looks down 19 One finds a hint of this in Shohat and Stam’s remark that the ‘visible official checkpoints of The Battle of Algiers have turned into the invisible and unofficial barriers between banlieue and city center in the France of Mathieu Kassovitz’s La Haine (1995) and Mahmoud Zemmouri’s 100% Arabica (1997). The footage of Parisian rebellions at the beginning of La Haine seems like a direct continuation of the demonstrations at the end of The Battle of Algiers’ (Shohat and Stam 2014: 406).

Into Algiers 41

into the prison courtyard that contains the guillotine. The camera then switches to a frontal framing and zoom onto the condemned man, followed by a panning shot that continues the previous shot from Ali’s perspective. An extreme close up of Ali’s gazing eyes is then followed by a cut-in to the guillotine and the activity of fixing the condemned man in place by hooded functionaries. I am particularly interested in the three shots that succeed this view of the guillotine: three static framings (fig. 14) each lasting two seconds and each taken from a different position but all looking upwards at the prison walls and windows, from which the viewer assumes that many other prisoners are staring out just as Ali and his cellmates are shown to be. The third of these framings is accompanied by the clatter of the guillotine, and followed by the famous crash-zoom into another extreme close-up of Ali’s gaze which is taken to signal the moment of his political awakening. The camera is static rather than shaky and hand-held in the three two-second shots of the exterior yard walls of the Barberousse prison, but these elevations with their small regular apertures (the barred windows) anticipate the thick walls and rhythmic fenestration of the 200 Columns building. Both buildings have been in different senses designed to ‘contain’ the Algerians, and we assume them both to house hundreds of people. The difference is that while the prison scene closes on the image of an individual still trapped behind barred windows, in the coda sequence the Algerians as a social body emerge from the fortresslike Climat de France, dancing and chanting in carnivalesque protest. Though the allusion is to newsreel photography, the erratic camera movement and disjunctive editing in the Climat de France scenes function as an equivalent for the dance: the form itself is carnivalesque. These coda scenes are, then, the culmination of a process of politicization and the assumption of historical agency by what is felt to be an entire people, a process conveyed also in visual and formal terms20. 20 It is also communicated in terms of voice, and an analysis of Battle could be made in the light of a very interesting study by Elizabeth Alsop (2014) of choral voices in Italian neorealism (see Chapter 3 for more on this). Alsop shows that a key neorealist technique for enacting the polis is to distribute chants and shouts of protest across a crowd so that voice is not associated with any individual. This technique is prominent in the

The Battle of Algiers

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Figure 14

Third space ‘An entire people’, I have just written; yet, in positing an opposition between Casbah and European city, Battle proffers a kind of essentialism, one that ignores the diversity of the groups that constituted colonizer and colonized in French Algeria. Stam (2003: 31) writes that Battle ‘elides the gender, class, and religious tensions that fractured the revolutionary process’. The film also erases the particularity and variety of Mediterranean migrants (including Italians, Spanish, Maltese, Portuguese and Greeks as well as French) who settled in Algeria; it ignores those native Algerians who fought for the French (the ‘Harkis’), or those of the settler population who supported independence; it conflates different ethnicities and identities among the native population, implying all Algerians to be ‘Arab’, thereby effacing Berbers and others, including a native Algerian Jewish population subject to attack in Algiers at the time of the very events celebrated in the film’s coda (Evans 2011: 287-8)21. The film’s essentialism, coda to Battle and its development can usefully be traced (and gendered) earlier in the film. 21 The use of term ‘Arab’ in the Battle script follows an ‘inclusive’ use found, for example, in Fanon. It is clear from Fanon’s powerful ‘Letter to a Frenchman’ that he uses the term to mimic an already racist homogenizing of populations on the part of the colonizer, as in the following extract (Fanon 1969: 48): ‘For there is not a European who is not revolted, indignant, alarmed at everything, except at the fate to which the Arab is subjected. / Unperceived Arabs. / Ignored Arabs. / Arabs passed over in silence. / Arabs spirited away, dissimulated. / Arabs daily denied, transformed into the Saharan stage set. And you mingling with those: / Who have never shaken hands with an Arab. / Never drunk coffee. / Never, exchanged commonplaces about the weather with an Arab. / By your side the Arabs. / Pushed aside the Arabs. / Without effort rejected the Arabs. / Confined the Arabs.’ Still, it is significant that the film follows – at least up to a point or, rather, up to the point of the

Into Algiers 43

consistent with the fact it is a commissioned text presenting an FLN account of events, is functional to its narrative economy and rhetorical power; but it is violated in the coda when Battle pushes beyond the space of authenticity (the Casbah) and of occupation (the European city) to a third space that is hybrid and other to both. Notions of third space which retrospectively cast light on the coda of Battle have been set out in distinct but related ways by Edward Soja and Homi Bhabha (Rutherford 1990, Bhabha 1994, Soja 1996). The geographer and urbanist Soja intended what he called ‘thirdspace’ to refer to a combination of real and imagined spaces where it is possible to: respond to all binaries, to any attempt to confine thought and political action to only two alternatives […]. In this critical thirding, the original binary choice is not dismissed entirely but is subjected to a creative process of restructuring that draws selectively and strategically from the two opposing categories to open new alternatives. (Soja 1996: 5)

Soja’s ‘thirdspace’, though conceptually elusive, can be used to suggest how the coda sequences in Battle, located temporally but also spatially beyond the main story, evince something new, unpredictable, hybrid. For Homi Bhabha, on the other hand, all culture and all identity is hybrid, irreducible to an essence, and hybridity itself ‘is the “third space” which enables other positions to emerge’ (Bhabha in Rutherford 1990: 211). Bhabha’s third space is a space of potential: ‘[It] displaces the histories that constitute it, and sets up new structures of authority, new political initiatives, which are inadequately understood through received wisdom’ (ibid.: 211). In the context of Battle, received wisdom might refer to the power-knowledge that underpins the colonial system and its structural violence. But it also refers to any restrictive or prescriptive vision of a mono-ethnic, single-identity Algeria, as in the official FLN take on Algerian national identity encapsulated coda – an equally homogenizing conception of Algerian national identity as Arab, such that the term ‘Kabyle’ is used just once in the script (to describe the character of Hassiba; see Solinas 1973: 8).

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in the credo ‘Islam is our religion, Arabic is our language, Algeria is our fatherland’22. As Ruedy (2005: 224) writes: ‘[This] credo reflected in broad terms a sense of cultural identity shared by a great majority of Algerians. But it left unsaid the ways in which each of its statements was true. […] Did the Algerian fatherland have room for non-Arabs? For non-Muslims?’ My point is that the coda to Battle describes this ‘room’ – it opens it as a third space. The coda to Battle posits something that eludes and exceeds the colonial ‘wisdom’ and what might be called its reflecting double. This something, implicit in the interpellation of the viewer of Battle as witness to, even participant in, a history being played out (this is the rhetoric of the film’s realism and of the engagement it invites with the Algerians as a community), might be described, following Bhabha (1994: 38), as an ‘international culture, based […] on the inscription and articulation of culture’s hybridity’. He goes on: ‘we should remember that it is the “inter” – the cutting edge of translation and negotiation, the in-between space – that carries the burden of the meaning of culture. It makes it possible to begin envisaging national, anti-nationalist histories of the “people”’ (ibid.: 38-9). The scenes in the coda (the in-between chronotope), located in a third space beyond the dichotomous settings of the bulk of the film, show an oppressed people discovering a power that had been previously denied to them by the colonial occupier, but also, and crucially, a people moving beyond mere ‘representation’ by the FLN – as the political/ military organization that had come to monopolize leadership of the struggle – to a sense of agency held in common23. 22 This saying is ascribed to Abdal-Hamid Ben Badis (1889-1940), a leader of the Algerian Islamic reform movement that argued for a return to what it saw as Algeria’s cultural and historical distinctness, rooted in its Arab ancestry, against those who argued for greater integration with France. 23 My argument here is built on the architectural and historical character of spaces in the coda to Battle, and the manner in which the camera registers them, but it can be reinforced (even as it will be complicated) by attention to gender in the protest scenes. I have in mind especially the foregrounded presence of women, some wearing veils and some not, accompanied by a shift in register from the realist to the symbolic as the coda and film itself closes. This aspect of the coda will be discussed in Chapter 3, but I want to note here the argument that women in Battle have already caused a rupture in its realistic mode earlier in the film. For Khanna (1998: 25), speaking of

Into Algiers 45

Dynamism and optimism, firing the imagination, happiness As the dates of the publications by Soja and Bhabha referred to above suggest, hybridity is a term that enjoyed some time ago its spot-lit moment on the stage of theory. Talk these days of third space and hybridity will tend to raise a sigh from critics of postcolonial studies and even from certain of its practitioners. Priyamvada Gopal (quoted in Lazarus 2011: 210) has lamented the ‘talismanic reiteration of privileged conceptual categories such as “hybridity” and “ambivalence”’ – both key terms in the present book. My goal, though, is not to revive conceptual categories that may or may not have exhausted their heuristic utility, it is to suggest that Battle anticipates in material sound and pictures what scholars of the postcolonial will later celebrate and theorize. In other words, whatever one’s objections to the fetishization in critical/theoretical discourse of terms like hybridity and to the cosmopolitan disdain it may imply for nationalist projects, the film itself envisages (and is) an in-between space for an avant-lalettre version of Bhabha’s ‘national, anti-nationalist histories of the “people”’24. Lest this seem sentimental and unhistorical, consider this statement by the resolutely unsentimental and materialist the manner in which the dressing scene, when the three women disguise themselves as Europeans, is filmed: ‘Women’s presence in The Battle of Algiers causes a stylistic shift that questions the value of the documentary style.’ She continues, using vocabulary from Bhabha: ‘this stylistic shift could be referred to as a “third space of enunciation” that dramatizes the rupture between an official nationalism that privileges the masculine in filmic representation, and the people apparently represented by those signifiers. The representation of women […] causes this rupture between sign and referent to question the overriding discourse of new national image.’ Khanna, then, anticipates the moment when the third space emerges in the film, even if her use has more to do with a metaphorical space from which the ‘nation’ might be spoken (‘enounced’ in Bhabha’s idiom borrowed from semiotics) than with an actual location. 24 As such, I want to nuance Shohat and Stam’s (2014: 406) astute account of Battle, when they discuss how the film seems to change meaning over time: ‘When The Battle of Algiers was released in 1966, one category – the nation – wielded overweening authority; everything else was subordinated to it.’ The articulation of a third space in the coda of the film, I am suggesting, is/was already pointing beyond that unitary category of the nation.

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Neil Lazarus (2006: 13): ‘it seems to me important to recollect the energy, dynamism and optimism of the decolonizing and immediate post-independence era both for the sake of the historical record, and also to enable us to register the successes of this period, however slender, partial, provisional or unsustainable they proved to be in the longer term.’ Lazarus gives a list of these successes (he doesn’t mention Algerian liberation but it can be assumed here), ‘all events which fired the imaginations of millions of people worldwide, placing onto the world stage, perhaps for the first time, the principal and resolute figure of “Third World” self-determination’ (ibid.: 13). The hardboiled Lazarus even allows himself to speak of happiness: ‘“The world became a larger and happier place”, as [historian of Africa] Basil Davidson writes of the decolonizing years – not “seemed to become a larger and happier place”, note, but actively became such’ (ibid.: 12). Dynamism and optimism, the firing of the imagination, happiness: these are the sensations communicated in the closing minutes of The Battle of Algiers. It is no simple act of nostalgia to allow oneself to feel again this joyful range of sensations. I want to suggest that the coda sequences of Battle predicate a viewer, whoever s/he is and wherever or whenever s/he is watching, invited to join the third space of utopian possibility, a space that emerges, for Bhabha as for Soja, in the ‘in-between’, in the interstices or in the liminal. The coda to Battle is just such a space, a ‘beyond’ to the story narrated in the film and the threshold to the future for an ideally invigorated spectator poised to leave the cinema.

3 OUT OF ALGERIA

Not much has been written about the portrayal of the press corps in The Battle of Algiers, despite the fact that the press corps contains the only individuated characters who appear in both the body of the film and in its six-minute coda. The corps comprises both French and English speakers, with one journalist clearly marked by his accent as American, and visually the journalists always appear as a group. Significantly, the corps first appears during the sequence on the general strike, timed to coincide with the debate on the Algerian question at the UN. We see the bustling press room and then the journalists’ encounter with Mathieu on the staircase of the commissioner’s office. Later, they crowd the space at the two parallel and didactically scripted press conferences (fig. 15), and the corps appears again in the coda when, in voiceover and telephone calls from the press room to their newspapers, the journalists describe the popular protests (fig. 16). The tone of the portrayal of the press in Battle may seem distinctly neutral in our media-sceptical times, particularly when one compares the characterization of the photojournalist protagonist of Parà, Gillo Pontecorvo and Franco Solinas’ unproduced script on the Algerian conflict (1962-’64), and the portrayal of the press corps in État de siege (State of Siege, Costa-Gavras, 1972), a later film also written by Solinas. Paul, the protagonist of Parà, is a cynic and accomplice in murder (he engineers the killing of an Algerian girl so that he can document the incident), and he has previously performed torture while serving in the French army (he comes face to face with a former victim in the closing scenes of the script). There is no equivalent moral condemnation of the press corps in Battle, no hint or censure of any voyeurism or complicity in the ugly circumstances shown, even as the film ‘depicts the

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Figure 15

fascination with violence in the court of world opinion’ (Celli 2005: 62). État de siege is a text, like Battle, based on actual events, the kidnapping of an American military advisor by Tupamaros guerrillas in Uruguay. In this later film, the press investigation guides the viewer through the facts behind the kidnapping, and the film privileges the ironic perspective of a ‘canny old leftist journalist who takes the director’s [sic] place as the viewer’s Virgil in this journey into the Uruguayan inferno’ (Danner 2015)1. This guide function of the press corps is present in Battle, though far less evolved, and more significant is how the function of the corps shifts between the body of film and the coda, as its members move from asking questions of Mathieu and Ben M’Hidi – that is, of occupier and revolutionary – on behalf of the film’s viewer, to bearing witness and testimony to an inevitable historical process, as the Algerian people take to the streets2. 1

2

The old journalist’s irony in État de siege is of a piece with the droller tone of a film that is, nonetheless, very much in the mode of Battle, in that it is the didactic account of the mechanisms of a set of historical events. Viewing Battle in the light of État de siege tends to reveal some of the earlier film’s latent comedy and playful aspects. The changing role of the journalists is an analogue for the experience of the viewer. Part of the exhilaration that a viewer may feel derives from the movement, between body and coda, from questioning to witnessing, when one comes to feel oneself carried away by the inevitability of the

Out of Algeria 49

Figure 16

The presence and portrayal of the journalists in Battle confirm the film as an instance of a longstanding strategic policy by the revolutionary and then governing Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) to represent Algerian nationalism at the international level. Commissioned and co-produced by a veteran of the liberation struggle, Battle addresses the world beyond Algeria on behalf of the nation even as, in its content, it recounts a chapter in the history of that address. The film restricts itself to the local context (the one scene in the script that takes place outside Algiers, and Algeria, is eliminated in the film)3 but thematizes the FLN strategy of defeating the French at the level of international opinion. Connelly (2001: 225) describes how effective the FLN became at deploying cold war anxieties and rivalries to gain attention for the question algérienne at the United Nations and in the United States itself, ‘the most fiercely contested terrain’. The killings and bombings recounted in Battle were part of this

3

historical process (the voiceover that closes the film is not associated with a journalist but offered as the masculine and authoritative ‘voice of history’ itself). The scene (numbered ‘10’ in the script; Solinas 1973: 13-14) shows the beginning of the transport of a guillotine from Paris to Algiers, and was presumably intended to emphasize the metropolitan responsibility for the local repression in Algiers.

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international address; as Ramdane Abbane, an FLN leader who would later fall victim to internecine rivalries, put it: ‘Is it preferable for our cause to kill ten enemies in some riverbed in Telergma [sic]4, which no one will talk about, or rather a single one in Algiers, which the American press will report the next day?’ (quoted in Connelly 2001: 228)5. Clearly, the press corps in Battle represents the perspective of the international community or, to be more precise – as none of the corps, certainly none with a speaking part, seems to be from African or Arab countries – it represents the perspective of the old colonizer and that of the new imperium, the United States. That the journalists of the press corps are shown to be tardy in their grasp of the justice of the Algerian cause is record and rebuke of the colonizing North’s continued reluctance to recognize the agency of the (formerly) colonized peoples. That is, the attitude of the corps stands for that of the old North, and that of the ‘European’ spectator. Of course, Battle was directed at other territories and viewers apart from the so-called First World and its film-going publics – primary among them Algeria and the Algerians themselves. Part of the complexity of the film derives from the fact that it was designed to address a range of constituencies of feeling, from the anti-colonial to the Third Worldist, and from the non-aligned to the defiantly imperialist. One purpose of the film was to ‘inspire oppressed people in seeking independence’ (Mellen 1973: 60), and so it addressed itself to those likely to identify or sympathize with the Algerian cause. But the film also had to engage an indifferent or antagonistic audience,

4 5

This may refer to Teleghma, a small town and locality about 300 miles east of Algiers, although the French maintained an airbase known as Telergma located not far to the northeast, a dozen kilometres south of Constantine. As I discuss in Chapter 4, the general strike in early 1957, which occupies a large portion of Battle, was timed to coincide with the debate on the Algerian question at the UN. Connelly (2001: 228) quotes Larbi Ben M’Hidi, the historical FLN leader who is captured and shown to the press in the film, as saying about this strike: ‘it is necessary to demonstrate that all the people are behind us and obey our orders to the letter’, and leaflets were distributed explaining to the people that the strike was aimed at the UN. A montage sequence of smiling Algerians in the film illustrates forthrightly and crudely this broad and shared support.

Out of Algeria 51

one unsympathetic or opposed to the Algerian struggle for independence (Khanna 1998: 17)6. My theme in this chapter is address, the manner in which Battle orientates itself to an implied spectator or audience, and more specifically the engagement with a potentially indifferent, antagonistic or Eurocentric audience. I have begun the chapter with mention of the press corps in the film because the sceptical or agnostic spectator finds his avatar among its number (the gender of the possessive pronoun is chosen deliberately, for reasons set out below, even if one of the speaking journalists is female). The question I ask is how The Battle of Algiers, a film about the liberation of an African country from its European colonizer, could be receivable and legible in the colonizing North. Let me repeat, immediately, that I am well aware that Battle was not only addressed to the colonizing North – and indeed that there were many shades of opinion, including vehement anti-colonial feeling, even in the metropole. What I am assuming is that, in the film’s continuation of an FLN policy of international address, and in the fact of the Algerians’ commission of the film from European filmmakers, there is a de facto recognition of a continuing global division of power, even a recognition of what W. E. B. Du Bois famously identified as the global ‘colour line’, the racial division of the world into ‘white’ and ‘darker’. I will trace the means by which the film spoke persuasively across this global colour line to those who were its beneficiaries, but whose power and privilege were under threat. The theme of address in Battle has previously been taken up by Murray Smith (2005), who identifies the hybrid means employed by the film to foster allegiance with the Algerian cause7: these 6

7

The use of the film as a didactic text for the teaching of counter-insurgency techniques might be queasy demonstration of its success in this latter respect (see Riegler 2009, Dobie 2016). In another interview, Pontecorvo talks of rejecting the working title of the film (the biblical ‘Thou Shalt Deliver in Pain’) in favour of ‘The Battle of Algiers’ ‘as the event was already well known in Europe’ (Solinas 1973: 165). ‘Allegiance’ is a technical term in Smith, who developed in his book Engaging Characters (Smith 1995) an influential schema to describe how films can elicit and encourage attitudes and emotions in the viewer through three ‘levels of engagement’. The first level is recognition, concerned with the individuation of characters; the second is alignment, concerned with

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include the construction of a ‘collective protagonist’ on the model of Soviet revolutionary cinema, the mix of European and North African music and instrumentation, the depiction of social rituals common to both Christian and Islamic traditions, and so on. For Smith, Battle is ‘an attempt to rewrite the colonial, Orientalist narrative’ (ibid.: 95), and Smith’s remains one of the really essential analyses of the film. Still, I will demur from his assessment that the film forges ‘a narrative that undermines the myths and topoi of “colonialist discourse”’ (ibid.: 94); or rather, I will give a different emphasis to his, even as (like him) I foreground the relationship of the film to Orientalism and colonial discourse. My argument will be that Battle articulates and inflects Orientalism even as it uses this discourse to speak of new conditions. The complexity and ambivalence of Battle lead in multiple directions, and my account in this chapter takes a digressive route. I begin by considering the portrayal of women in the film as part of a longer visual tradition that makes the female body the symbol of a cause or idea, and as part of a parallel tradition that sees the ‘Oriental’ woman as at once alluring and treacherous. I am not performing what used to be called ‘images of women’ criticism in these opening sections; that is, I am not searching for progressive or retrograde images and commending or denouncing them as such. Instead, I am thinking in terms of accounts of the Orientalist stereotype that put the emphasis on its ‘reality effect’ (see the essay ‘The Other Question’ in Bhabha 1994: 66-84), and therefore its indispensability for certain purposes of address. I go on to consider the narrative pairing and opposing of the illiterate Ali La Pointe and the hyper-rational Colonel Mathieu as itself characteristic of Orientalism. And finally, I discern one origin for the documentary realist mode of Battle in a specific moment of colonial discourse: using Bakhtin’s concept of ‘genre memory’ (see Emerson & Morson 1990: 2957), I describe how the ‘fictional documentary’ approach of fascist how access to the perspective of a given character is organized by film technique; allegiance is the third, and describes how viewer sympathy is elicited on the basis of a character’s emotional states and of moral evaluations by the viewer of the character’s actions and personality. (This schema is summarized in Smith 2005: 97.)

Out of Algeria 53

empire cinema – a cinema designed to celebrate and naturalize Italy’s imperial project under Mussolini (Ben-Ghiat 2015) – retained its epistemic charge into the postcolonial period. Battle is able to be receivable and legible in the colonizing North because of its inheritances from Orientalism and colonial discourse. On my reading, Battle confirms what Edward Said (2003: 222) has described as Orientalism’s ability ‘to survive revolutions, world wars, and the literal dismemberment of empires’. Said characterized Orientalism as a system of truth about the ‘Orient’ (taken here to include the Maghreb): how could a film addressed to the colonizing North not speak this ‘truth’ to the old power? Odalisque and terrorist I want to start, not with Battle, but with a more recent, still image: the photograph by Jonathan Bachman of the African American Ieshia Evans standing her ground against riot police, taken during a Black Lives Matter protest in Baton Rouge on 9 July 2016 (fig. 17)8. The analogies and contrasts of this image with those of the protesting women that close Battle are illuminating. The images share a relationship to the tradition of the allegorical representation of women, and the photograph from Baton Rouge has something to tell us about the character of the film and its connection to colonial discourse. The image of Ieshia Evans was immediately spoken of as a classic icon of protest, and is worth describing at a little length. Commanding the right half of the photograph, Evans seems at once powerful and vulnerable as she stands with chin raised and face impassive, slim and upright in bare shoulders, spectacles and pumps. The wind that billows her sundress accentuates her 8

Black Lives Matter is an activist movement originating in the United States that protests against state-sanctioned and systemic violence and racism. The Baton Rouge protest was organized especially to protest the death of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge itself. Sterling had been held down by two police and then shot several times, with the event being captured on video. Iesha Evans, who prefers to describe herself as an ‘African living in America’, recounted her experience and perspective in an article for the British newspaper The Guardian (Evans 2016).

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Figure 17 – Ieshia Evans in Baton Rouge. Photo by Jonathan Bachman courtesy Reuters Pictures.

calm even as her arms are crossed before her waist in a defensive gesture or one of simple visibility (she might be shot, after all, if suspected of being armed or resisting). She holds what appears to be a phone along with one or two other small objects, while a watch hangs loosely from her left wrist, its colour matching the phone. Evans is not dressed for confrontation, but her coordinated costume and sober hairstyle underwrite a placid defiance and resolution. The contrast with the Louisiana state troopers who menace her is almost absurd. The two white men, one stout and one slender like a comedy odd couple, are clad in black, cartoon-bulky body armour accessorized with pistols and holsters, visored helmets that strap over the chin, schoolboyish backpacks and white restraint cuffs that rhyme with Evans’ watch strap. The two men seem to dance towards Evans, leaning back and off-balance as they prepare to ‘detain’ the young black woman. They are flanked by a chorus line of identically clad troopers arrayed in a soft-focus diagonal behind them, while a sparse crowd watches from a pavement or traffic island in the middle background. The surroundings are anonymous: a glazed

Out of Algeria 55

generic office building, some trees, the cracked asphalt of the highway. No other protestors are shown. Why did this image instantly become so popular? Firstly, of course, because of the poise of its subject. For some, Ieshia Evan’s defiance recalled that of the unknown man famously pictured facing a line of tanks during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing. Some found the comparison to the so-called ‘Tank Man’ hyperbolic, but it points to how part of the appeal of the Baton Rouge image derives from its place in an iconography of protest, one that stretches back through Battle. The image’s relation to an allegorical visual tradition of women was also discerned, for example in the vignette rendition of Evans as the Statue of Liberty by Stefan Simanowitz (fig. 18)9. The allusion to the solid neoclassical bulk of Liberty points up a contrast to Evans’ svelte figure and buffeted sundress, but it can also indicate a telling difference with the scenes of the dancing women that close Battle, even as the motif of the woman facing armed police is shared between the images. It seems important, I mean to say, that it is the police that dance in the Baton Rouge photograph, and not the woman. If this role reversal, where the armoured men seem to perform for the impassive woman, lends a tinge of satire to the image, it is also notable that Evans is visually divorced from the community of protest, and located moreover in anonymous surroundings. There is a very American or Western ideology of individual agency at work in the image (at work too in the popularity of the photographs of the ‘Tank Man’), arguably stigmatizing communal activism as mob instinct. This is a difference from the closing moments of Battle, where the women are shown to be of and to emerge from the crowd, to be part of a community of protest and national feeling (not one, as usually suggested, but two women are individuated by the camera as they dance forward from the crowd; fig. 19). And yet, why should 9

Cole (2016) analyses the photograph of Ieshia Evans along with other images of the Black Lives Matter movement in terms of their relationship with superhero iconography, but also points out how her posture and billowing dress marks her as a nymph figure familiar from works by painters like Botticelli and Raphael as well as from Roman bas-reliefs: ‘The immediate legibility of images like those of Evans cannot be separated from the way their dynamism, evocative of ancient painting and sculpture, honours the black body.’

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Figure 18 – Cartoon by Stefan Simanowitz showing Ieshia Evans as the Statue of Liberty

those women be seen from the perspective of the police, on whose side the camera is placed? Why too, given what I have argued in Chapter 2 about the particularity of location in the Battle coda, should these final moments of the film take place in a location made anonymous by smoke, close framing and shallow focus? The answer to both these questions concerns the film’s place in Orientalism. Most obviously, the abstraction of place in the final scenes of Battle allows the women waving their makeshift flags to carry ‘the allegory of the “birth” of the [Algerian] nation’ (Stam 2003: 32). In these closing moments, the film makes frank use of a visual tradition of gendered symbolism that reaches forward to include the image of Ieshia Evans and back to Eugène Delacroix’s Marianne in ‘Liberty leading the People’ (1830), painted to commemorate the ‘second’ French revolution of July 1830 (fig. 20)10. (It is a 10 It is notable that Delacroix is careful to depict a range of social classes among his revolutionaries. The crowds in the protests in the coda to Battle

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Figure 19

tradition that passes through one the acknowledged precursors of Battle: the famous scene of the running Pina shot down by an unseen executioner in Roma città aperta (Rome Open City, Roberto Rossellini, 1945).) The deployment in Battle of this gendered and particular visual symbolism has complex implications in the colonial Algerian context, to the extent that director Pontecorvo worried that the images of the dancing women that closed the film risked breaking the illusion of realism (Solinas 1973: 714; Crowdus & Said 2000: 25). Just as the figuring of Liberty as black in the cartoon of Ieshia Evans cannot be a neutral gesture, so the transport of Marianne to Algiers changes her meaning. A ‘French’ allegorical figure is made to stand for the liberation of a colony from France (the old motif of Enlightenment ideas being deployed against their begetters), but as such it comes to be relocated in a different order of discourse: Orientalism. Though such echoes are disguised by the film’s black and white and mimicry of newsreel, the images of the dancing women that close the film recall the fantasy scenes of Orientalist painting. However distantly, they recall harem scenes like those by the Italian Giulio Rosati (fig. 21) which show exoticized women dancing, implicitly for the pleasure of a male European gaze even if no Europeans appear in the paintings themselves. These images that close Battle represent the culmination of a visual strand, having to do with the Orientalist imagery of women, developed over the course of the film. Again, Delacroix is a key presence, as is colonial French cinema. In both, Algerian women had been conceived in terms of their sexual allure and restriction likewise feature a variety of distinguishable types, including women who wear veils or headscarves and some who do not.

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Figure 20 – Eugène Delacroix, ‘Liberty leading the People’ (1830)

Figure 21 – Harem dance scenes by Italian Orientalist painter Giulio Rosati (1858-1917)

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Figure 22

to interior and Casbah spaces. This tradition is alluded to in Battle when Ali La Pointe visits two brothels in search of a local souteneur, scenes (fig. 22) which recall imagery from Pépé le Moko (fig. 23), the 1937 colonial film already discussed in Chapter 2. The same tradition is deployed for its meaning to be inverted in the famous scene of the three Algerian women disguising themselves in a mirror-adorned Casbah interior in order to plant bombs in the European city (fig. 24). Austin (2012: 37) has pointed out how this scene alludes to Delacroix’s painting ‘Women of Algiers in their Apartment’ (1834; fig. 25), a fantasy depiction from the years following the initial French invasion of Algeria11; but where Delacroix’s vision was of ‘incarcerated, passive femininity’, Battle pictures the women as ‘active revolutionary fighters’. The meaning of the women bombers is suggested, then, by their evocation of and difference from an Orientalist model – though their de-individualization into allegory may be implied in the same process. 11 There are actually two paintings of this title: the second, from 1849, amplifies the fantasy eroticism. In both paintings, the three women are attended by a fourth, a standing black woman. Such a figure (of the so-called ‘blackamoor’ type and usually identified as a ‘slave’) is absent in Battle.

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Figure 23 – Prostitutes in Pépé le Moko (1937)

Figure 24

Figure 25 – Eugène Delacroix, ‘Women of Algiers in their Apartment’ (1834)

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It is worth considering Marina Warner’s discussion of, once again, Delacroix’s ‘Liberty Leading the People’ in the light of this process. Warner (2000: 277) writes: ‘Above all, Liberty’s exposed breast [in Delacroix’s painting] stands for freedom because thereby a primary erotic zone is liberated from eroticism. As eroticism is a condition of the depicted female body, a seminaked figure, who is no longer constrained by it, becomes free.’ The power and meaning of Delacroix’s Marianne, Warner is suggesting, comes from the specific refusal of a conventional cultural offer of eroticism. Moore (2008: 39) makes a related point when she talks of how the three women in Battle are desexualized in the dressing scene, characterized not by languor but by facial impassivity and a purposeful economy of movement. To some extent, this must be a matter of interpretation: after all, the physical attractiveness of the two younger women (played by Samia Kerbash and Fusia El Kader and based on real figures Zohra Drif and Hassiba Ben Bouali)12 in their ‘strategically unveiled’ state is key to their success at passing the Casbah checkpoints and planting the bombs, and other commentators insist on the eroticism and voyeurism of the dressing sequence (see Virtue 2014, whose take on the scene is discussed below)13. Warner (2000: 277) suggests that the de-eroticized nudity of Marianne in Delacroix’s painting is a ‘sign that we are being pressed to accept an ulterior significance, not being introduced to the body as person’; Marianne is not an individual, in other words, she is the allegory of liberty. The transposition, in Battle, of the traditional harem scene into the key of insurrection is likewise a stage in the distillation of the Algerian woman to allegorical symbol, a process that culminates in the film’s closing moments. 12 The names of the two actors have also been recorded as Michele Kerbash and Fawsia El Kader (or El-Kader). 13 The film critically frames the construction of the two younger women as physically attractive: firstly, when a young male assistant who accompanies FLN leader Djafar into the room where the women have finished dressing regards the women with a look of shy appreciation; secondly, when the ‘cupidity’ of the soldiers is highlighted at the checkpoints (Bélot 2017: 179); when a middle-aged man flirts unaggressively with Hassiba in the café she is about to bomb; and again, when Mathieu comments on the surveillance footage showing the women at the checkpoints.

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The conversion to symbol of the Algerian woman is advanced by an aspect of the film often remarked upon: the fact that the female characters, whatever the degree of revolutionary agency they are allowed to demonstrate, are effectively denied a voice – or denied speech, at any rate (Amrane Minne 2007, Roberts 2007). Pontecorvo describes how he replaced the scripted dialogue between the women in the dressing scene with what the filmmakers refer to as ‘baba-salem’, that is, Maghrebi percussive music played on dundun drum and krakebs (metal castanets), music reprised in the film’s closing moments (see Bignardi 2000: 18; see also Solinas 1973: 174). In the film as a whole, the characteristic sound associated with women is one of wordless ululation, ‘the “ju-jus” of the women’, in the words of the script, which revealingly describes them as ‘dense like the cries of birds, shrill, metallic, angry’ (Solinas 1973: 18). If the three women are successful as bombers because of their uncanny ability to pass as female colons, there is, nonetheless, a degree to which they and the rest of the film’s Algerian women are still connoted by their otherness14. Other to whom? Well, the ululation cries of the women in the film are described by one (male) critic as ‘unearthly to foreign ears’ (Mark Parker in Sawers 2014: 93; my italics); such cries might seem anything but ‘shrill, metallic, angry’ to a Maghrebi audience, to whom they might well connote warmth and community. But let me again make a digression in order to approach a more precise answer to this question (‘other to whom?’), this time to consider a sequence from The Sheltering Sky (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1990), the adaptation of the 1949 novel by Paul Bowles about an American couple experiencing marital crisis and still worse perils on travels through the Maghreb and Sahara. In the episode I discuss, the male American protagonist, Port, visits a Nomad woman, Marhnia, for sex in one of a group of tents located outside the old walls of the Mediterranean city (probably Oran in the novel, though unnamed there and in the film) where he and his wife, 14 See Bélot (2017) for a contrary and subtle (though problematic) argument on the Algerian cultural ethos of the ‘secret’ as exemplified by the depiction and behaviour of the women in the film, and the eloquence of their silence.

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Figure 26 – Marhnia in The Sheltering Sky (1990)

Kit, have disembarked in Africa (the sequence is intercut with scenes of Kit in their hotel). The episode interests me because of its brazen use of gendered Orientalist tropes of difference and threat, and because Battle is an intertext whether or not an allusion is intended. Drum and krakeb rhythms that recall the non-diegetic music in the dressing scene in Battle are first heard on the soundtrack (then suspended in favour of dialogue) as Port descends the walls and steep hill that edge the old city. Port and his guide avoid a group of Nomad men shown under a tarpaulin drumming and playing a flute, music that becomes the diegetic soundtrack to the encounter as the woman reveals her breasts and initiates sexual contact with Port in the tent. The interior of the tent, described in squalid terms in Bowles, is instead luxuriously lit with a mise-en-scène of red and gold. Marhnia purloins Port’s wallet while whispering to him soporifically (and unsubtitled) as they idle after sex, but he notices and retrieves it, unwisely showing it to her as he makes to leave. The ‘baba salem’ percussion begins again – threatening now whereas it had seemed to connote Port’s desire, as well as the Nomads’ otherness, earlier in the sequence – as Marhnia raises herself and shouts at Port in agitation (her words again go unsubtitled; fig. 26). She follows him out of the tent, pausing at the entrance where she ululates

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Figure 27 – Postcard from colonial period (Source: Alloula 1986: 80)

to alert her male companions, a gang of whom rush to camera. The rhythmic music is suspended as they exchange urgent words (again, unsubtitled), and reprised as Port is pursued up the hill and caught at the old city wall. In this sequence, a combination of unsubtitled speech, ululation and Maghrebi percussion is used to signify, at once, sensuality and threat. Root (1992) notes that ‘Bertolucci selected an actress [Tunisian Amina Annabi] with enormous breasts to play Marhnia’, and makes a link with Alloula’s identification of the European obsession with the ‘Moorish bosom’ in the latter’s influential analysis of French colonial postcards from Algeria and the Maghreb (Alloula 1986; see for example fig. 27). Marhnia emerges, then, directly from the Orientalist image-bank: she is alluring but treacherous, while her male companions are unalloyed hostility. The ambivalent fantasy, the desirous yet fearful exoticizing of the Moorish other in The Sheltering Sky illuminates the extent to which the Algerian women (and, as I will discuss below, the Algerian men) in Battle are themselves emanations of Orientalist fantasy. It is not so much that the odalisque turns terrorist in Battle, but rather that she was terrorist all along. The

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invocation of the odalisque in a film on the Algerian war ensures that the film can be received and understood, because it speaks the familiar language of Orientalism. Interpellating Mathieu I recognize that there is something perverse in my argument that Battle is an Orientalist text. On several accounts, it is precisely the opposite of that – a refusal rather than a precursor of the Orientalist tropes exemplified in the sequence from The Sheltering Sky. Shohat and Stam (2014: 251), for example, argue that Battle ‘offers a marked contrast to the French and American films set in North Africa where the Arabs form a passive backdrop to the heroic exploits of European heroes and heroines’. They continue: In most European features set in North Africa, Arabic exists only as a background murmur, an incomprehensible babble. In The Battle of Algiers, in contrast, the Algerian characters, although bilingual, generally speak in Arabic (with subtitles for European audiences); they are granted linguistic and cultural dignity. Instead of being shadowy background figures, picturesquely backward at best and hostile and menacing at worst, they are foregrounded. Neither exotic enigmas nor imitation Frenchmen, they exist as people with agency. […] It is from within the casbah that we see and hear the French troops and helicopters. Counter to the [paradigm found in the genre of the Western], this time it is the colonized who are encircled and menaced and with whom we are made to empathize. (ibid.: 252)

Note that the contrast made with other cinema by Shohat and Stam points to how Battle must be seen in relation to prior or dominant representations, even as it refuses their values. In that light, it is hardly a novelty to suggest that Battle is a version, or inversion, of Orientalist discourse. One recalls that the manner in which literature from former colonies has cleared a space for itself by rewriting the imperial literary canon was already theorized in the early texts of postcolonial studies (Ashcroft et al. 1989). Even prescriptive accounts of political cinema acknowledge that a revolutionary Third Cinema can only be created in dialectic with

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a mainstream (and imperialist) First Cinema and an artistic and authorial Second Cinema (Wayne 2001). To some extent, then, my argument only takes the form of a greater emphasis – greater than that found, say, in Shohat and Stam – on the intensity of the film’s relationship with Orientalism. I am saying that this relationship with Orientalist discourse is essential to how the film communicates across the global colour line and addresses the colonizing North. Said (2003: 333) has written that Orientalism is ‘system of thought [that] approaches a heterogeneous, dynamic and complex human reality from an uncritically essentialist standpoint’. Battle is plainly no ‘uncritically essentialist’ text, but the paradox of the film is that it is constrained to use the language of Orientalism to hymn a dynamic reality. My argument concerns, then, an appraisal of the agency of colonial discourse – a tracing of its capacity to communicate and the tenacity of its epistemic charge even in texts explicitly at odds with the ideology it expresses and reproduces. I have asked, above, the question ‘other to whom?’ about the female characters in Battle and indicated an answer by glancing across at a film which shows the ‘Oriental’ woman to be at once sexually alluring, incomprehensible and treacherous – to a white American man. Consideration of the episode in The Sheltering Sky, I argue, can reveal an aspect of the address performed by Battle: it helps to show that the women in Battle are ‘other’ to an addressee gendered male and raced white from the colonizing North. In short, the film takes the form it does because it is addressed, in significant part, to a white male North. Saying so, I run the risk of replicating the binaries and essentialisms (white masculine colonizer versus dark feminized colonized, etc.) that scholarship like Edward Said’s worked so hard to perplex; and I run the risk of reifying a structure of domination – a structure moreover denounced in Battle – as a ‘clash of civilizations’, a figure itself characteristically Orientalist15. But what the idea of a white male North is intended to identify, here, is that Battle is constrained to speak at once against and 15 See the critique of ‘Third Worldism’ in postcolonial studies by Lazarus (2013), and the way in which (for him) a term like ‘North’ mystifies the mechanisms of colonial and neo-colonial exploitation.

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from within ideologies of white racial supremacy generated along with European colonialism. Mills (2015: 221) has written that ‘racism was the meta-ideology that framed other ideologies’ in the colonial era. The idea of a hierarchy of races was a common sense instrumental to European imperialism and intrinsic to the Enlightenment and liberal Weltanschauung to which our contemporary societies are heir. Dorinda Outram speaks of the ‘contradiction between support for supposedly universal rights, and the actual exclusion of large numbers of human beings from the enjoyment of those rights’ as being ‘central to, and characteristic of Enlightenment thought’ (quoted in Mills 2015: 217). With this in mind, it has been argued that the decolonial movement is ‘a global civil rights struggle to establish the nonwhite equality denied – contra the orthodox narrative – with the advent of modernity’ (Mills 2015: 223). But note the paradox: if decolonization was indeed a global civil rights struggle, this struggle implies an appeal to a liberal Enlightenment conscience; yet that conscience emerged precisely with, or within, the metaideology of racism; the paradox, then, is of an appeal in terms of ideals of racial equality to a power that was essentially racist. Battle is one expression of this global civil rights movement. It operates an inversion of standard viewer alignment, whereby the story of the colony is told from the novel perspective of the colonized – but inevitably that story is still told to the colonizer. And in telling that story, Battle had to confront the pervasive conviction of the superiority of the European to the Oriental, and of the inferiority of the ‘Arab’ to the white man; a conviction, for Edward Said (2003: 254), ‘at work within a purportedly liberal culture, one full of concern for its vaunted norms of catholicity, plurality, and open-mindedness’16.

16 Scriptwriter Franco Solinas, asked by namesake PierNico Solinas to explain his choice to work on the Algerian context rather than another, responded that France ‘was at the same time a colonial power and the most representative example of the bourgeoisie, the Enlightenment, the French Revolution. Politically she posed a contradiction between the slogans, phrases, rhetoric – in other words the form of the bourgeois revolution – and its contents – the everyday practice of domination, oppression, torture’ (in Solinas 1973: 193).

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I suggested at the beginning of this chapter that the spectator from Europe or North America finds an avatar among the press corps shown in Battle, but imagine for a moment that Battle was made to address another character within it: arch counterinsurrectionist Colonel Mathieu himself. If we imagine him as its textual emissary, Mathieu is a perfectly flattering portrait of the white male North. He is an Enlightenment man, ‘a dashing figure’ (Celli 2005: 59), ruthless but courteous and a rational and dispassionate strategician, who confirms the self-image of the colonizer as the ‘White-Man-as-expert’ (Said 2003: 235). Said quotes Earl Cromer (Evelyn Baring), British colonial administrator of Egypt and its effective ruler for nearly three decades, as follows: ‘the European is a close reasoner; his statements of fact are devoid of any ambiguity; he is a natural logician […]. He is by nature sceptical and requires proof before he can accept the truth of any proposition; his trained intelligence works like a piece of mechanism’ (ibid.: 38). Cromer’s description is apt for Mathieu, who is based on no one individual but is an idealized composite, the projection or personification of colonialist narcissism17. Yes, it is a critical personification, and commentators have noticed how Mathieu’s rationalizations of torture during the second press conference echo the analysis of colonialism’s systemic violence found in Fanon (see Chapter 4). But those left-wing critics who have denounced the film for its ‘balanced’ portrayal of the French have grasped something of the white flattery performed – what Edward Said, in an interview with Pontecorvo, called a ‘“fascinated” portrayal of imperialist villains’ (Said 2002: 286): ‘What about the admiring caresses lavished by the camera on Mathieu marching into Algiers? […] Didn’t Pontecorvo actually like these people, feel some lingering pleasure in how they operated?’

17 According to scriptwriter Solinas, ‘Mathieu sums up the personalities of three or four colonels who actually existed. He is a kind of improved synthesis in that each individual colonel was much less lucid and alert’ (in Solinas 1973: 194.) Note that the Colonel may be named after the hyper rationalist protagonist of Sartre’s early novel The Age of Reason (1947 [1945]); the mention of Sartre by the journalists and Mathieu on the staircase in the Commissioner’s Office may be an allusion to this.

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I can propose that Battle be imagined as addressed to Mathieu, its idealized white male emissary from the colonizing North; the same cannot be easily imagined for Ali La Pointe, because Ali is the object and not the originator of colonial discourse. The choice of the illiterate and headstrong Ali as Mathieu’s Algerian nemesis – and not, say, the cautious Djafar or intellectual Ben M’Hidi – is characteristically Orientalist18, an instance of how the Westerner is always located in a ‘flexible positional superiority’ to the Oriental (Said 2003: 7; Said’s italics). The quote from Earl Cromer in the previous paragraph, hymning the logic of the European, continues thus: ‘The mind of the Oriental […] like his picturesque streets, is eminently wanting in symmetry’ (quoted in Said 2003: 38). Picturesque streets: we have seen that Ali is associated with the labyrinthine Casbah, and he emerges from it, in the film, and even if drawn from life, as colonial stereotype. Ali is an inspirational leader and doomed hero, and the cruder lineaments of his character fit the martyrology of the main tale; but he is also obstinate and passionate, slow if not unable to see reason. If, initially, Ali stands for the Algerian people – a people moving from illiteracy, criminality and humiliation to awareness, agency and dignity – it is important that he is later displaced in the film in favour of the people as such, and this displacement may show the film’s own awareness of its operation of stereotyping. As Smith (2005: 104) puts it: ‘precisely at the moment [of the general strike] when The Battle of Algiers could have degenerated into a confrontational structure in which two emblematic, masculine, positive heroes battle it out with each other, the film insists on the Algerian people – an individuated mass, so to speak – as the real, “choral” protagonist.’ I return to the question of the choral protagonist below, and to the origins of such a portrayal not just in Soviet but in fascist cinema. For now, I want to suggest that the 18 Haspel 2006 argues that Mathieu’s ‘antithetical double’ is not Ali but Ben M’Hidi (Haspel 2006: 35). This is true in some respects: the two characters are equally formidable and composed during the first press conference, for example, but they are not paired and opposed for a significant length in the film. On the other hand, only Ali and Mathieu are given voiceover introduction by the film, granting each exceptional and exemplary status within the economy of the story.

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displacement of Ali by the ‘people’ may itself be read as colonial stereotype making way for Orientalist trope: from headstrong and irrational Arab to ‘Western fears of an Oriental tidal wave’ (Said 2003: 250). Connelly (2002: xi) has pointed out how this trope of the wave is employed in the coda to the film when the crowds are shown to emerge in their hundreds from the Algerian areas, visually and metaphorically to inundate a colonizer unable to resist what Haspel (2006: 40) revealingly dubs ‘the tide of Algerian nationalism’. As such the film adopts a figure employed by the colonialists themselves. Connelly (2002: xi) describes how France understood the Algerian desire for independence as solely to do with the growth of the Muslim population: ‘while Algerians endured gross economic and political equality, French social scientists insisted that demographic disparities explained the [Algerian] war and that only French-led development could address them’ (Connelly’s italics). Political agitation, Connelly continues, was therefore ‘depicted as a “rising tide” or a river overflowing its banks – even by anticolonialists like the director Gillo Pontecorvo. His The Battle of Algiers […] deliberately pictured Algerians as a flooding river sweeping the French before them’19. Following Connelly, it might be argued that the protesting crowds at the close of Battle are less a ‘people’ than a mere ‘population’, their number testament to an instinctual fecundity rather than a political agency. (Writing about Battle, Pauline Kael (1976: 210) referred to ‘the animal heat of the multitudes rushing towards us as they rise against their oppressors’.) It can hardly be as simple as that, of course. For one thing, the ‘flow’ of the people reverses that of the French troopers as they ‘swarm’ the Casbah under the opening titles and during the sequence of the general strike20: the flow of the Algerians in the coda figures the turning of the ‘tide of history’, in other 19 Pontecorvo uses the river metaphor to describe the closing scenes in Solinas (1973: 165), and repeats it in conversation with Edward Said (2002: 284): ‘In Battle, [Pontecorvo] said, it was the symphonic structure, the orchestrated power of the film in which a long-suppressed people’s struggle for freedom emerged “like a great stream”, inevitable, irreversible, triumphant.’ 20 The telling verb ‘swarm’, already noted in Chapter 2, is from Tomlinson (2004: 362).

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words. But, as we have seen, the coda sequence and the film itself culminate with a further permutation of colonial discourse: the dance of two women, themselves emanations from the imagebank of Orientalism and subject to the male voiceover in French, implicitly clarifying once again the address to the white male North. Realism at the end of empire My account in this chapter builds on Nancy Virtue’s argument that ‘any equivocalness in [The Battle of Algiers] should be read not as a failure of political commitment but rather as a deliberate attempt to give tactical mobility to the film’s subversive content’ (Virtue 2014: 337)21. One goal of the present book is to demonstrate that the ambivalence of Battle is indeed no failure of political commitment, and that critiques of the film in terms of its generic elements, or in terms of its insufficiently unambiguous denunciation of the French, are guilty of aesthetic snobbery or political pietism22. However, if I hope to show, with Virtue, that the film’s means are equivocal, and that this is an aspect of the complexity of Battle rather than a reason to discount it, then I differ from her in terms of the emphasis on intentionality. Virtue 21 For Virtue (2014: 322), a ‘tactical’ use is made in Battle of ‘certain established stylistic conventions in ways that “divert and displace” their meaning, confound expectation, and conceal a far more explosive potential than might be assumed’. Virtue’s take on the film corrects cruder critiques of realism in Battle as ‘only the creation of an illusion of an illusion’ (Sainsbury 1971: 5): ‘the fact that Battle of Algiers looks like newsreel is not so much a testament to its impassioned objectivity as to its success in looking “right”; in using uncritically and correctly a code of representational devices which are embedded in traditional, bourgeois culture’ (ibid.: 5-6). Virtue’s more sympathetic account of the film’s ‘tactical’ realism is anticipated by Stam (2003: 30) who argues that ‘Pontecorvo […] hijacks the apparatus of objectivity and the formulaic techniques of mass media reportage (hand-held cameras, zooms, long lenses) to express political views usually anathema to the dominant media’. 22 Pontecorvo (in Solinas 1973: 189) himself dismissed the polemics directed against the film from the left as ‘political infantilism’; they might also be described as paternalistic.

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speaks of ‘Pontecorvo’s film’ and uses the word ‘deliberate’ (as in the quote above) half a dozen times in her article to describe the director’s choice of stylistic techniques. I prefer to see the receivability of the film as an aspect of the ‘agency’ of the old North and its discourses. This receivability takes the form of the echo and deployment of clichés and stereotypes that had already been picturing the Middle East and North Africa for centuries – the Orientalism developed to ratify the subjection of nonEuropean places and peoples. Two of the conventions that Virtue finds to be tactically deployed in Battle are particularly relevant to this question of receivability. Firstly, Virtue acknowledges the eroticism and invitation to voyeurism in the dressing scene of the three women bombers, discussed above, even as she suggests that the scene is ‘not merely erotic’ (Virtue 2014: 334) and that it positions the viewer ‘not simply as voyeur but as revolutionary accomplice’ (ibid.: 331; Virtue’s italics). As discussed above, this ambivalent eroticism may be said to articulate the relationship between the recounted historical events and an addressee raced white and gendered male. Secondly, Virtue characterizes the realistic register of the film as a sort of camouflage. The documentary or newsreel code, says Virtue, allows the spectator to become a ‘scopic “double agent”’ (ibid.: 324), for example when s/he knows more than Mathieu as the colonel comments on the checkpoint surveillance footage (the viewer recognizes the women bombers but Mathieu does not)23. The obverse of this, though, is that the film’s Orientalism emerges also through its realism: the use of treated film stock and camerawork that recall newsreel, designed to give the impression of viewing history ‘live’ and raw, and helping to assert the historical inevitability of Algerian independence even to an audience opposed or indifferent to Algerian nationhood. The realism of Battle is my focus in this section of the chapter, and I want to note immediately that the terms colonialism, Orientalism and realism have often been associated before. For example, the epistemic infrastructure of colonial domination, from census-taking to illustrated postcards, has been characterized 23 Mowitt (2007) makes much of Mathieu’s film projection scene in his discussion of Battle in terms of its critical self-reflexivity.

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as ‘colonial visual realism’, a realism that acts upon – makes and transforms – the colonial space (see Slocum 2005: 25). Edward Said himself described Orientalism as a ‘form of radical realism’; for him, it had the capacity to ‘designate, name, point to, fix’ an object – the irrational Arab, say, or the odalisque in the harem – so that the object is then ‘considered either to have acquired, or more simply to be, reality’ (Said 2003: 72). Orientalist texts, for Said, ‘can create not only knowledge but also the very reality they appear to describe’ (ibid.: 94). Building on Said, Homi Bhabha (1994: 71) argues that colonial discourse ‘employs a system of representation, a regime of truth, that is structurally similar to realism’. Realism is the modality employed in colonial discourse to establish the degeneracy of the colonized and to justify conquest and rule. As one of Bhabha’s commentators puts it: ‘If realism is not always colonial discourse, then colonial discourse is always a form of realism’ (Huddart 2006: 26). I recognize the risk of conflating or confusing distinct meanings of realism, here, and of damning Battle by placing it in an ill-defined category. My argument, instead, turns on the place of Battle in a particular history of Italian film realism, and it has two aspects: the first concerns the origins of film’s hybrid genre of ‘fictional documentary’, while the second considers how and why this mode of knowing the colony retains its power to picture beyond the conditions that generated it. Battle is justly, but rather routinely, placed in the tradition of Italian neorealist cinema (see for example Celli 2005: 63), especially that of two films directed by Roberto Rossellini in the immediate postwar, Roma città aperta (1945), already mentioned above, and Paisà (Paisan, 1946). Battle is replete with allusion to these two films and elaborates motifs and formal devices found in both. Like them, Battle is a ‘birth of a nation’ film: both Roma città aperta and Paisà dealt with the final months of the Second World War in Italy and looked forward to that country’s democratic renewal after the experience of fascism and occupation, just as Battle would look forward to the consolidation of Algerian independence. But Battle is also an ‘end of empire’ film, a film that deals with the exhaustion of the French and European imperial project. In speaking of Battle as an end of empire film, I have in mind Ruth Ben-Ghiat’s use of the term ‘empire cinema’ to talk

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about Italian films on imperial themes (including films worked on by Rossellini) made between 1936, when Mussolini declared the Italian empire, and 1943, when fascist Italy collapsed (BenGhiat 2015). Ben-Ghiat and others have shown that questions of realism and the overlap between documentary and fiction were key to fascist empire cinema and to discourse around it24. Film realism in the fascist period involved a formula referred to as fictional documentary (documentario romanzato), a hybrid genre marked by ‘documentary-historical-realistic elements’ ideally working in harmonic combination with ‘fictional-emotional aspects’ (Bondanella 2004: 48). This hybrid approach was employed to provide the Italian colonial project with a seductive ‘rhetoric of anti-rhetoric’ (Ben-Ghiat 1995: 637; see also Ben-Ghiat 2003). It allowed the empire cinema to express the ideology of the regime in the guise of documentary truth and facilitated the address of diverse audiences including the Italians themselves, the colonized populations, and the wider international community. Marie-France Courriol has traced debates in the 1930s and 1940s concerning the cross-fertilization of documentary and fictional realism in Italian empire cinema, and describes how Italian empire films were intended to offer ‘vivid descriptions of the colonial reality’: they ‘operated a contextualization of an imperialist project that had to emerge as a natural historical result’ (Courriol 2014: 128). This description of fascist empire cinema is paradoxically apt for the end-of-empire Battle, in which a vivid description of colonial reality generates the sense 24 Theories and practices of realism in the context of fascist imperialism anticipate and influence postwar Italian neorealism, which has therefore been inaccurately presented as a rebirth or ‘return’ to realism after the ‘illusions’ or ‘escapism’ of fascism era cinema and writing. As Ben-Ghiat (1995: 653) writes, a definition of realism from 1933 by the avowedly fascist writer Elio Talarico, ‘a need for commitment, humanity, for a true sense of things and a concrete vision of the world’, is identical to definitions to be found in left-wing theories of realism after 1945. It is by now well accepted (to quote Ben-Ghiat once again) that ‘works such as [Rome Open City], which are often viewed as a stylistic rupture with the culture of fascism, may be better considered as the products of a decade of experimentation and debates over the realist aesthetic’ (ibid.: 660). As Bondanella (2004: 47) writes, ‘in terms of cinematic style, there is more continuity than contrast’ between neorealism and cinema under fascism.

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that anticolonial desire and national liberation will emerge as historical inevitabilities. The empire cinema’s address to multiple audiences anticipates the complex operation performed by Battle in speaking to and for the new Algerian nation, managing to appeal to nationalist sentiment locally and anticolonial feeling internationally, even as it remained receivable in the colonizing North. Battle is, then, couched in a genre – documentary realism, documentario romanzato, or fictional documentary – that has an earlier source, in the colonial cinema of fascism, than the democratic cinema of postwar neorealism to which it is usually traced (more precisely, both Battle and neorealism share that earlier source). A particularly choice comparison of Battle could be made with Bengasi (Augusto Genina, 1942), the fascist empire film set in and named after the city in colonial Italian Libya. Using words that might as easily describe Battle, a contemporary Italian critic wrote of the immersion in the experience of war provided by Bengasi as ‘a living testimony, a direct act of participation in the dramatic evidence of historical reality’ (Francesco Sarazani quoted in Baratieri 2010: 265). Several aspects of Bengasi anticipate those found in Battle. The film distributes its story of the recent occupation by British forces of the ‘Italian’ city across four lead characters25. None of these leads appear in the film’s exuberant coda, which shows the Italian colonist population emerge from shelters to reclaim the city from the retreating British army (fig. 28). The analogy with the closing minutes of Battle is striking, even if contrasts in form and content have also to be registered26. But what is more important is 25 Because of the war, Bengasi could not be made on location, but the preparatory research undertaken by the filmmakers anticipates the work done by Pontecorvo and Franco Solinas in their preparation for Battle. Just as Solinas would read police reports, so the makers of Bengasi pored over reports by informers, and Ben-Ghiat (2015: 269) recounts that director Genina (who also collaborated on the screenplay of Bengasi) and his team interviewed hundreds of former Italian residents of the colonial city in order to nuance their portrayal of life under British occupation. 26 Chief among the latter is the fact that Battle shows the Algerians themselves claiming their city and entering in to history; Bengasi, made not on location but in the Cinecittà studios in Rome, does show the ‘native’ people, but as indifferent onlookers, bystanders to history (fig. 28).

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Figure 28 – Flag-waving Italians pass bystanding locals in the coda to Bengasi (1942)

the fact that contemporary critics saw Bengasi’s ‘true protagonist as “the crowd”’, and described ‘its many visages melding into “a single face lined with tears”, its many trials stemming from a single fact: Italians’ victimization by foreign invaders’ (Ben-Ghiat 2015: 271)27. The choral dimension found in Bengasi was in fact greatly prized in the cinema of the fascist period. Understood as ‘a subordination of the individual to the entire group’ (Bondanella 2004: 49), it came specifically to be identified with fascist realism. Later, chorality (coralità) became associated instead with neorealism, with the term becoming commonplace in writing on Rossellini, following the filmmaker’s own assertion of his films’ ‘choral quality’ and his insistence that ‘the realistic film is inherently choral’ (Rossellini in Bondanella 2004: 49)28. Of course, chorality 27 For Ben-Ghiat, the ‘unresolved fate’ of the four leads of Bengasi ‘haunts’ the film’s celebratory ending, which – even in its exuberance – becomes thereby a kind of monument to loss. See Chapter 4 for a discussion in similar terms of the coda to Battle as a labour of mourning. 28 Critical attention to the ‘choral quality’ of neorealist films substantially displaced the memory of coralità in fascist cinema, an amnesia that will certainly have facilitated ‘the universally positive valence’ that critics have tended to attach neorealist coralità (Alsop 2014: 28). In Alsop’s discussion of this critical tendency, she has rightly emphasized ‘that chorality in neorealist cinema should be viewed less as a naturalistic technique than as a theatrical and often polemical one – a device used […] not to reflect an existing social group so much as to project or enact an imaginary one’ (28).

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is also a celebrated feature of Battle. Pontecorvo himself (in Solinas 1973: 166) spoke of the film’s ‘choral protagonist’, and the subordination of the individual to the group is the film’s core narrative procedure. It is analysed persuasively as such in Smith (2005); however, as we have seen, Smith finds the model for the film’s ‘collective’ protagonist in Soviet rather than fascist propaganda cinema. The point, though, is that to discuss Battle only in terms of the influence of a critically privileged modes, be it neorealist or Russian revolutionary cinema, has the effect of discounting the film’s ambivalence and of trivializing the complexity of its conditions of address. I could continue to identify features – the use of nonprofessional actors, on-location shooting etc. – found jointly in Battle and in fascist realist cinema and celebrated in critical discourse about both. However, going beyond the mere listing of common features, it is productive to ask how a particular set of means evolved to picture and naturalize the colonial scene, namely a mode of documentary-style realism or a hybrid genre of fictional documentary, retains its capacity to picture the scene of decolonization in Battle. Two sets of ideas help to grasp and clarify this capacity. The first is Homi Bhabha’s account of the colonial stereotype and his argument that the stereotype retains its ‘reality effect’ even after the demise of the conditions it serves. The second is Mikhail Bakhtin’s concept of genre memory, referring to the way in which a genre transmits itself through individual texts independently of the volition – and even independently of the awareness – of individual authors or filmmakers. Bhabha’s account allows me to explain the survival and deployment of Orientalist stereotypes in an anti-colonial text, and the reasons for the feeling of ‘rightness’ communicated by the presence of these stereotypes – that is, the extent to which they contribute to the text’s verisimilitude. For Bhabha, the stereotype is a body of knowledge about the other, and as O’Healy (2014: 297) puts it, in her commentary on Bhabha’s argument, ‘the reality effect produced by representations that have consolidated into stereotypes cannot be countered by images that are more authentic, in the sense of being more mimetically faithful to an underlying, pre-given reality’. In Bhabha’s own Derridean terms, one might say that there is no outside the text for the Other.

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Bhabha’s account helps to explain the persistence and potency of figures from the Orientalist imagination whose presence I have identified in the film, including the irrational Arab, the alluring but treacherous odalisque, and the dancing allegorical woman. Colonel Mathieu, the Enlightenment thinker-soldier, is himself a figure of the Orientalist imagination in this schema, and it is a necessary component of the film’s realism that Mathieu should be positioned as spectator and inquisitor. The point is that such ‘representations’ cannot simply be dismissed as atavistic when they are the very means of communication about the other and the circumstances in which the other’s agency is enacted. Bhabha’s argument can also be translated onto the formal level. Just as the stereotype retains its reality effect and cannot straightforwardly be superseded, so a particular mode, fascist empire realism, through and by which the colonized space came to be known and dominated in the first place, retains its epistemic charge (its claim to discern truth) in the era of decolonization. To risk a tautology, I am talking here about the reality effect of realism: a certain realism is the mode through which colonial Africa was first known, therefore to persuade of the fidelity of a given representation – even in the post-colonial context – this realism must continue to be used. Realism is not a question, in this case, of adequacy to that which actually exists (however such a ‘reality’ might be accessed), but rather a quality of believability that is better characterized as verisimilitude, defined as the appearance of being true or real. The point about verisimilitude is that its success is defined not by its correspondence to fact or ‘reality’ but by its persuasiveness to the addressee. As Barthes (1986: 147) put it, verisimilitude is ‘entirely subject to public opinion’. When Pontecorvo comments as follows on the film stock and photographic techniques employed in Battle (in Solinas 1973: 167), he is recognising the agency of the addressee, and granting to the spectator the capacity to determine verisimilitude: ‘Since the people are used to coming in contact with the black and white reality of the mass media – telephotos, TV newsreels, etc. – an image seems most true to them when it resembles those furnished by the media.’ Of course, Pontecorvo speaks of television newsreel and the broadcast media rather than of fascist realist cinema (or indeed of the newsreels that accompanied feature films in Italy from the 1920s on), even

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when describing aspects of Battle with clear links to that cinema. Consider his comments about the emphasis on the collectivity in Battle: ‘perhaps for the first time in cinema-fiction, we wanted the audience to identify with a choral protagonist – with the hope, the pain, the joy of an entire people’ (in Solinas 1973: 166-7; italics in original). There is no acknowledgement in Pontecorvo’s words of the reprise in the film of a narrative mode favoured in the fascist period, as in the example of Bengasi discussed above. This might be hubris, disavowal or simple ignorance on the part of the filmmaker, but it seems to me more useful to think the relationship of Battle to its fascist-era precursors, not in terms of the director’s possible insincerity or ignorance, but in terms of the agency of genre itself – what Bakhtin called ‘genre memory’. The concept of genre memory allows us to account for the presence of certain characteristics or approaches in texts whose makers might hardly be aware of the models they are employing. Rather than a direct influence, says Bakhtin, one should look for ‘generic contacts’ and trace a generic tradition as it is transmitted through a particular artist or text (see Emerson & Morson 1990: 295-7). Specific ‘binary’ influences might be there, of course – say, of Rossellini on Pontecorvo, or Roma città aperta on The Battle of Algiers – but more important is the genre’s special kind of ‘artistic thinking’ and its conditions of origin, which live on as it encounters new circumstances: ‘A genre lives in the present, but always remembers its past, its beginning’ (Bakhtin cited in Emerson & Morson 1990: 297); it carries ‘the imprint of the historical period in which [it] first emerged as a strong form’ (Burgoyne & Rositzka 2015). The utility of the concept of genre memory for the analysis of historical cinema has effectively been demonstrated by Robert Burgoyne (see for example, Burgoyne 2010; Burgoyne & Rositzka 2015). Burgoyne has shown how films that fall into different genres (the war film, Western etc.) within recent and revisionist historical cinema are characterized by what Bakhtin called ‘double voicing’, referring to how an older genre is adapted to a new context. The ‘appeal to new forms of social coherence’ in such films is shaped by inherited ‘rhetoric, imagery and genre patterning’ (Burgoyne 2010: 7). As such, genres are not static forms, but rather dynamic or palimpsestic ‘“organs of memory” that embody the worldview of the period from which they originated while carrying with

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them “the layered record of their changing use”’ (ibid.: 8; phrases in double quotes from Bakhtin). If this seems to suggest that a political filmmaker might wish to evade genre altogether – because genres ‘impose their own historical perspectives and systems of value on individual texts, even those that employ generic codes in non-traditional ways’ (ibid.) – the point is that communication would thereby be rendered near-impossible because ‘genres serve as the principal vehicles for sharing and carrying social experience from one generation to another’ (ibid.). Battle is clearly an example of double voicing in the Bakhtinian terms adopted by Burgoyne. The film transmits the fascist genre of fictional documentary to the context of decolonization, and its powerful invocation of a constituency of empathy for the struggle of colonized peoples is enabled by inheritances from the colonial discourse of fascist empire cinema. The ‘appeal to new forms of social coherence’, in this case, is to national self-determination, but this appeal is delivered via an Orientalist system of value. Fictional documentary, as a genre originating under fascist imperialism, embodies this Orientalist worldview even as it traverses neorealism in the films of Rossellini and articulates anticolonial aspiration in Battle. Between past and future I began this chapter by suggesting that the presence and constitution of the press corps in Battle is a kind of mise-en-abîme through which the film stages its address to a sceptical North. Such an address is certainly part of the reason for the uncertain status of Battle in discourse on political cinema. Already in the years following its release, Battle was denounced from the left as a wrong turn in anti-colonial filmmaking, invoked for example in Le vent d’est (Wind from the East, Dziga Vertov Group, 1970) – the think piece on political cinema by the collective around JeanLuc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin – to illustrate what a female voiceover calls the ‘false victory of revolutionary cinema’: Renouncing all initiative, the progressive states of Africa elect to rely on the West for their films, giving white Christians the right

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to talk about black people and Arabs. Algiers: [Gillo] Pontecorvo, [William] Klein. Conakry: COMACICO.29

On this account, the choice by the Algerians – or at least a production company associated with a leader of the revolutionary FLN – to entrust the story of their national struggle to a ‘white Christian’ filmmaker is seen to be a renunciation of agency. It is seen to re-centre the European as subject, so that the African, once again, does not represent but is only represented. Personally, I am not inclined to be censorious as Jean-Luc Godard, but my own analysis of Battle in this chapter may seem to underwrite this disapproving perspective. I have emphasized a particular dimension of the film’s address, tracing the means by which Battle directs itself to a potentially indifferent, antagonistic or Eurocentric addressee. Even as it shifts the emphasis from filmmaker to spectator, it is still the European (in my account) who influences, if not determines, the form taken by the representation. As such, I admit to having re-centred, once again, the European as subject; but my intention has been to speak reflexively from my own ambivalent and privileged subject position of ‘white male Irish academic’. And I have tried to remember that to commission is itself a form of agency (ask any Hollywood producer). The commission of a paean to Algerian revolution from Italian filmmakers merely continued an FLN strategy of addressing itself to the wider world, and necessarily to the North. Let me repeat that I am well aware that Battle was addressed anything but exclusively to the colonizing North, or to me – but I have offered the analysis I am equipped, in my positionality, to give. Let me also repeat that there is to be found in Battle, and in the commissioning of the film by its Algerian producers, 29 Klein made the documentary Festival panafricain d’Alger (1969), while COMACICO refers to the Compagnie Africaine Cinématographique Industrielle et Commerciale – a French-controlled film distribution company. The voiceover may be referring to how Guinea (capital, Conakry), which had achieved independence from France in 1958 and nationalized film distribution and exhibition, came to allow COMACICO and SECMA, another French-controlled company, to take over fourteen of the country’s twenty-eight cinema theatres in order to satisfy public taste for Hollywood and European films (see Diawara 1992: 68-69).

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a recognition of a global division of power and of the racial division of that globe: the film speaks critically from an awareness of this ‘colour line’, not solely but directly to those who were its beneficiaries, and in a language they could decipher. As Edward Said suggested, Orientalism is not just an ensemble of lies that can be blown away by the truth: it is instead a ‘grid for filtering through the Orient into Western consciousness’ (Said 2003: 6). Marina Warner (2000: 277) has written that ‘signs of Otherness can be recuperated to express an ideal’: Algerian liberation and anti-colonial agency is hymned, in Battle, in the othering language of allegorical symbolism and Orientalist fantasy. Should the film be condemned for its immersion in, or emanation from, the gendered political unconscious of which Orientalism is the transcript? I think the question is undecidable, suspended like the bracing musical motif that ends the film without returning to the tonic note. Battle speaks powerfully to us in images and symbols that are also those which underpinned the exploitation it denounces. My argument has been concerned with what is sayable, available to be communicated and receivable, at a given time and in given historical and discursive circumstances. It has been concerned with what Pierre Sorlin has called the ‘visible’: that which is accessible to textualization, ‘the perimeter within which it is possible to pose [a society’s] problems’ (see Casetti 1999: 129). There is sympathy in my analysis for what I have called (in Chapter 1) interstitial popular cinema, and this sympathy is mobilized against the aesthetic, moralistic or pietistic rebuke of such cinema for what it supposedly fails to do, and against its scapegoating for what has not yet been achieved in the world. I have been writing, implicitly, against a vision of art that wants it to be the unblemished blueprint for our tomorrow. In the next chapter, I discuss the film in terms of its distinctive temporalities, and in that and the subsequent chapter I will expand upon and complicate what I have just written about agency and address. It is enough to conclude for now that because The Battle of Algiers is constrained to speak from within ideologies of white racial supremacy generated along with European colonialism, it is a film caught between the past it deplores and the future it hopes to celebrate.

4 TIME AND AGAIN

My point of departure in this chapter is the theme of temporalities: the orders of time that underpin and fashion The Battle of Algiers and which are revealed by the film. As throughout the book, my key exhibit will be the coda to Battle, the final minutes of the film that show the popular protests against French occupation. Let me recall, once more, that the elliptical relationship of the coda to the body of the film has attracted criticism, and let me note here that some of this criticism has been couched explicitly in terms of orders of time. Sainsbury (1971: 7) sees the coda as an ‘unrelated postscript’ that presents ‘an episodic view of history quite alien to the possibility of understanding it as an open horizon of possibilities and alternative realities’. In this chapter, I will consider the coda, yes, as episode but also as a threshold from which (pace Sainsbury) a range of possible futures and pasts might be accessed. The coda has attracted feminist critique as well, because (as discussed in the previous chapter) it allegorizes the birth of the nation as female while denying women a voice (Moore 2008: 39). Again, such criticism has been couched in terms of orders of time. Khanna (2006) writes of ‘the contradictory, doubled, temporality that the ending proposes’ in which ‘women’s bodies carry forth the burden of hope from the wreckage, the violence promulgated by both French and Algerians that has defined the retrospective narrative [of the main part of the film]’. If the silenced and symbolic woman carries the past with her as she looks forward, the film’s univocal version of history leads, for Khanna (2006), to an ‘excess of historical teleology’. I hope to show that things are also more complex: that orders of time fashion the film and its interpellation of the spectator in a manner not reducible to the teleological.

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The chapter begins with a description of the complex temporal structure of Battle. I describe how the film shows the Algerians themselves insisting on their contemporaneity through a deliberate and ‘rhetorical’ deployment of temporality. I go on to consider Battle, the coda especially, in terms of reenactment. Reenactment has become a keyword in discussions of historical cinema, just as in discussions of academic and popular history, and it leads me to consider the temporal character of political agency (carnivalesque, contingent and performative) as it emerges from the film. I conclude that the question of temporality is crucial to understanding the character of Battle both as historical film and as political film. Rhetorical time An essay on Battle and temporalities must begin with the overt treatment of time in the film1. An outline schema and division into segments of the film is set out below 2. 1957 (the ‘present’ of the main story) The film begins in media res with the aftermath of torture and discovery of Ali and companions. This six-minute opening section, which includes the titles, can be considered a prologue that mirrors the film’s six-minute coda. 1954 (beginning of long flashback) Ali’s induction to the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) 1

2

Many scholars have dwelled on the complex ordering of narrative events in the film as a whole (see for example Crispino 1998, Smith 2005); some have dealt in passing or in more detail with the question of the film’s treatment of time as such, as in the examples give from Sainsbury (1971) and Khanna (2006); and at least one, also discussed in the text, has named his concern as being with ‘temporality and modernity’ in the film (Chabot 2015). I have dealt with the treatment of time in the film in a videoessay, ‘Occupying Time: The Battle of Algiers that can be considered a complement to the present chapter and can be viewed at . This schema is derived from Crispino (1998) and Smith (2005). Crispino gives a full breakdown of scenes and corresponding shot numbers, though he doesn’t specify which print or video copy of the film he’s working from.

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1956-7 The rise of the FLN and the eight-day strike April-July 1956: The ‘clean-up’ of the Casbah and the first attacks July 1956: French reaction 1956: The bombings by the three women January 1957: The arrival of the paratroopers January-February 1957: The general strike February-September 1957: The destruction of the FLN in Algiers (Return to ‘present’ of the story and end of flashback) The raid on the Casbah house and the death of Ali and companions December 1960 (a coda and a kind of flashforward from the ‘present’ of the story) The popular protests Film ends with announcement of Algerian independence ‘two years later’

This schema already suggests something of the complex sjuzhet of Battle. A long flashback makes up eight-ninths of its length and there is a vigorous employment of ellipsis even within the main story (that is, leaving aside the coda). But the treatment of time is more intricate than this outline can show. Battle employs embedded flashback (the reflexive scenes when Mathieu shows the film of the checkpoints), parallel editing (the planting of the bombs by the three women), proleptic editing (when the instructions to Ali to shoot the policeman are illustrated with the incident itself), montage sequences (the day of FLN attacks; the scenes of torture), speeded-up film (the stolen ambulance) and freeze frame (an extreme close-up of Ali; the crashed ambulance), and the viewing of the film is shaped by the paradox that, as Harrison puts it (2007b: 400), ‘Algerian independence, the inevitability that lies at the story’s end, falls outside the film’s main narrative arc’, indeed outside the film itself. If there is ‘inevitability’, as Harrison says (Khanna’s ‘excess of historical teleology’), then it is not reached by any straightforward route. Time’s arrow, the target of which is the known future outcome of Algerian independence, is made in Battle to shudder and spin. This is consistent with a temporality akin to suspense, which has both narrative and historical dimensions in the film (Brunetta 2007: 254)3. 3

The confinement of Ali and his companions under threat of death by explosion at the beginning of the film is like Hitchcock’s bomb under

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The outcomes are known (Ali and companions will die, Algeria will be independent), but the experience is one of delay, in which those inevitabilities are deferred. For Sawers (2014: 101), the ‘documentarystyle footage has the effect of taking place in the authoritative present tense’, an effect underpinned by the on-screen text giving dates and times (figs. 5, 13) and by the many images of clocks, whether mounted on walls or used as fuses for bombs (fig. 29).

Figure 29

Yet, as Tomlinson (2004: 368) points out, the montage of scenes illustrating the different techniques of torture exists beyond any present tense of the unfolding diegesis, in a mode of achronic exemplarity. In addition, several street scenes, though temporally located in the narrative (accompanied by a voiceover giving a date or located at a defined point in the plot) are frankly documentary in character, in the sense that the people in the frame seem not to be extras behaving under instruction, but passers-by who sometimes look directly at the camera (fig. 30). Such scenes are documents of a profilmic 1965, when the images were captured in Algiers, presented as ‘typical enough’ of the space concerned to stand for a specific moment in the past4.

4

the table that the viewer knowns about. The bulk of the film is then a teasing delay – it’s not a question of whether but when the story will return to Ali and companions and the bomb will go off, so that the story itself, the narration of how we get to that moment, becomes a set of mechanisms to postpone the return to the same moment. But the suspense situation is also a question of history. The known future outcome of independence is a real-world spoiler for anyone who comes to watch the film, so that again, we are dealing with mechanism rather than surprising outcomes. In that sense, these scenes contradict the famous assertion made in a frame added to prints of the film for its American distribution, stating

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Figure 30

The urge is to situate this convolution of temporalities in relation to the ‘time of the nation’ influentially set out in work by Benedict Anderson (2006 [1983]). Anderson describes how the achievement of the ‘imagined community’ of the nation requires a sense of a simultaneity, a modality of ‘homogenous empty time’, in the phrase he takes from Walter Benjamin: ‘The idea of a sociological organism moving calendrically through homogenous, empty time is a precise analogue of the idea of the nation, which is also conceived as a solid community moving steadily up (or down) in history’ (ibid.: 26). Yet the temporality of the nation cannot be shown as smooth in a film on the violence that expedites the imagination of the community. Even if it shows (as I argue in a moment) the performance of a simultaneity, the intricate organization and technique of the film is a refusal of homogenous empty time, making time manifest instead as a series of intensities or epiphanic moments that Sawers (2014: 98) refers to as ‘vignettes’. Still, the modality of homogenous empty time is thematized in the film in its mimicry of newsreel (the rolling present of historical unfolding) and the use of on-screen dates and times already mentioned. Battle traces the development of a national consciousness via the synchronized military activity of the FLN to the coordinated action of the eight-day strike. The shared temporality is demonstration and emblem of the achieved sense of imagined community within the economy of (the body of) the film, where Algiers, or rather the Casbah, is a metonym for Algeria as a whole. The paradox is that this consolidation of that ‘not even one foot of newsreel or documentary film is included in this picture’.

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the imagined community is designed precisely for demonstration: the strike is ‘timed’ to coincide with the debate on the question algérienne taking place at the United Nations in early 1957. The performed simultaneity speaks to a normative international conviction of what constitutes a nation: the synchronized performance of a communal intentionality coterminous with itself is a means of showing that Algeria belongs to the international order of nations, which implies adherence to the temporality of nationhood as such. The presence in the film of the international press corps, discussed in Chapter 3, is both the sign of homogenous time (Anderson talks of the print media as one of the preconditions of nationhood) and of the instrumentalization of this temporal modality for the purposes of international address (this is why the press corps is first shown during the strike)5. To conceive of Battle in terms of ‘rhetorical time’ – in terms of a performance of simultaneity intended as a form of address – is to avoid essentializing the temporalities in the film. It helps to evade the association of distinct and opposed orders of time with the dichotomous spaces and ethnicities set out in the body of the film. Such an association is found in some Battle criticism, for example in Chabot (2015: 73), for whom the Casbah becomes ‘the symbolic centre of Algerian identity where the Arabic language, traditional dress and other codes of Arab ethnicity are preserved and celebrated’6; this ‘preservation’, he argues, is a kind of time 5

6

I restrict myself in this analysis, a little unsubtly, to the dimension of time shown rather than time experienced. The time in/of Battle is not just ‘portrayed’, it is offered as an experience for the viewer (many speak of the fast pace and powerful rhythm of a film constructed, as Sawers says, in ‘vignettes’) and the film itself is inserted into and subtends the ‘time of the nation’ when it is scheduled for viewing, for example on Algerian television. If, once upon a time, the cinema projection of Battle might have been the occasion for shared national self-recognition and celebration, it may now be the case that the film is broadcast so regularly in Algeria, on national anniversaries for example, that it has become part of the symbolic furniture of banal nationalism. (This, at least, is the anecdotal impression I have from conversations with Algerians.) In that sense, the temporalities shown in the film or experienced by a viewer who concentrates on the whole film at, say, a cinema screening are supplanted by the iterative temporalities of the domestic environment and a fragmented or partially attentive viewing. See Chapter 2 for a discussion of the term ‘Arab’ as a catch-all ethnic term in the Algerian context.

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lag, where local practices are seen to be ‘anachronistic’ (ibid.: 73), that is, deliberately contrary to the modernizing project of the colonizer. Terrorism itself, in Chabot’s account, becomes a considered assertion of asynchrony: ‘the violent Algerian insurrection [is] an explosive temporality, one that refuses to be occluded or subsumed in the perpetual forward trajectory of western progress’ (ibid.: 73); even ‘the exploding of the clock via time bombs’ he writes, ‘is symbolic of the destruction of a colonial time’ (ibid.: 80). To speak of opposed temporalities in this way is to risk repeating what Fabian (1983) has called the ‘denial of coevalness’. (The phrase characterizes how the study of another culture tends to imply that such a culture exists in another time as well as another space: as ‘primitive’ perhaps, but certainly as unchanging or static, and so offering itself up to be examined and represented.) If the linking of a reductive essentialism – a singular Algerian ‘Arab’ ethnicity identified with the Casbah as space of authenticity – to a counter-temporality to modernity is a gambit of the commentator’s, it may, of course, be seen as emerging from the film’s ambivalent Orientalism, discussed in Chapter 3. But in shaping temporality as a form of address, the film itself shows the Algerians to be refusing the denial of their coevalness. What the spatio-temporal opposition deployed by the film (and parsed by Chabot) does reveal, however, is a paradox integral to the time of colonialism, exemplified in the encounter of Casbah and Colonel Mathieu. As discussed in Chapter 3, Mathieu, the former resistance fighter, is ‘not just a soldier, but a representative of European and Western civilization’ (Celli 2005: 59). Unflappable and pragmatic, Mathieu is an emissary of rationality, one might say of Enlightenment as such. His words and actions in the film derive from the fact that ‘the moment of colonial hegemony […] is also the moment that produces the contradictory formulation of Enlightenment ideas of freedom and reason’ (Ganguly 2004: 169): these words and actions figure ‘the simultaneity of ideals of freedom and realities of colonization and slavery that together make up the past’ (ibid.)7. As Perniola (2016: 91) notes, the 7

‘The time of philosophy is, we might say, the time of the colonized (as the post-1968 effusion of French philosophical thought also demonstrates in

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serene employment of torture by Mathieu points to the intrinsic violence of colonialism, such that Mathieu’s words during a press conference are almost a paraphrase of Fanon’s in the essay ‘Algeria Face to Face with the French Torturers’8. Fanon writes: One cannot both be in favour of the maintenance of French domination in Algeria and opposed to the means that this maintenance requires. Torture in Algeria is not an accident, or an error, or a fault. Colonialism cannot be understood without the possibility of torturing, of violating, or of massacring. Torture is an expression and a means of the occupant-occupied relationship. The French police agents […] are quite aware of this. The necessity to legitimize tortures has always been considered by them to an outrage and a paradox. (Fanon 1969: 66)

The achronic exemplarity of the scenes that make up Battle’s montage of torture is revealed in this light to refer not only to the variety of tortures practiced by the occupier in Algiers as part of its effort to defeat the FLN in the city, but also to the long-term actuality of torture, violation and massacre that was the Algerian experience of colonization. This is the meaning of the tearful Algerian faces that silently regard the torture of neighbours or family members during the montage sequence (fig. 31): these faces register what Schick (2011: 1840) describes as ‘ongoing and structurally induced’ trauma, in this case the trauma of occupation, beyond the experience of any individual event or individual atrocity. Tomlinson (2004: 367) has suggested that the demonstrations in the coda to Battle constitute a ‘“symbolic” memorial service’ for the ‘“haunting objects” of the narrative’, where by ‘haunting objects’ she means the defeated nationalists of the main story. However, the memorial service is also for all

8

its relation to the Algerian struggle for independence), even if the latter is subsumed into Europe’s sense of intellectual and political sovereignty.’ (Ganguly 2004: 169) The second press conference closes with a monologue by Mathieu about the indispensability of torture. He asks: ‘Should France stay in Algeria? If your answer is still “yes”, then you must accept all the necessary consequences.’

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Figure 31

those who suffered over the length of the French colonization of Algeria, and this longue durée is another temporality accessed, then, by the film. Folding time If the coda to the film is a symbolic memorial service for those who have suffered and died under French rule and during the struggle for independence, then what sort of memorial service is it? What exactly is its mode of commemoration? My answer is reenactment, which I present here, following Rebecca Schneider (2011), as an inherently playful practice of ‘folding time’ even as it deals with tragedy and historical trauma. Conventionally, reenactment describes practices of popular history united by some aspect of ‘physically replaying the past’ (de Groot 2011: 587), the most relevant for my purposes being the performance of historical battles at their original locations. Practices of reenactment have a long history (or deep genealogy), taking in pageantry and religious procession and ritual, and have ‘been bound up in remembrance and memorialization throughout history and around the world’ (ibid.: 590). As a

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popular or popularizing practice, reenactment might be seen to be marginal to the dispassionate procedures of professional historians, but Agnew (2007: 301) insists that ‘theatricalizing and sentimentalizing the past lie at the very foundations of modern historical thought’. This sentimental strand of the historical tradition traverses one of the most authoritative expositions of reenactment, found in the work of R. G. Collingwood. Reenactment, for Collingwood (1994 [1946]: 282), was the historian’s essential method of knowing his (sic) facts. It referred to a form of sympathetic identification on the part of the historian, the re-thinking of the thoughts of historical actors: ‘The cause of the event, for [the historian], means the thought in the mind of the person by whose agency the event came about: and this is not something other than the event, it is the inside of the event itself’ (ibid.: 214-5). If Collingwood’s understanding of reenactment implies an empathetic attempt to share in the imagination the reasons, motivations and feelings of the historical agent – understood, notably, as an individual – it is important that he excludes from his sense of reenactment the bodily activity that might be the focus of ‘popular’ reenactment practices; or he sees it as preliminary, at any rate. For Collingwood, the ‘inside’ of the event is opposed to its ‘outside’, that is, ‘everything belonging to [the event] which can be described in terms of bodies and their movements’ (ibid.: 213). The work of the historian ‘may begin by discovering the outside of the event, but it can never end there; he must always remember that the event was an action, and that his main task is to think himself into this action, to discern the thought of its agent’ (ibid.: 213). I have begun with Collingwood’s ideas because it is his version of reenactment that informs influential work on historical cinema by Robert Burgoyne (2008, 2009). Burgoyne approvingly quotes Paul Ricoeur’s summary account of Collingwood, as follows: ‘reenacting does not consist in re-living but in rethinking, and rethinking already contains the critical moment that forces us to detour by way of the historical imagination’ (Ricoeur in Burgoyne 2009: 8). Again, what is striking about this conception of reenactment is that it seems to exclude the body. Applied to cinema, it makes filmmaking a matter of the head: a critical

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historical ‘vision’ emerging directly if not fully formed from the imagination of the auteur-director. In the work of writers like Burgoyne (2008, 2010) and Robert Rosenstone (2012), and notwithstanding those writers’ alertness to questions of industry or genre, greatest attention and praise is reserved for male auteurdirectors who can be described as ‘historians’ in something like Collingwood’s sense9: figures like Sergei Eisenstein, Bernardo Bertolucci, Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood and Oliver Stone. One risk with this approach is that it may value the historical film in as much it is a sort of essay – just one that happens to have been composed using a camera-stylo with greater access to the sensorium. If this auteurist (and gendered) conception of reenactment in cinema seems to disavow the labour of filmmaking, and to elide the assortment of roles and persons that perform that labour, it may also miss the ceremonial aspect of historical cinema. Historical cinema is not always, and never only, a matter of historical ‘understanding’ (still less, of course, of historical ‘facts’), nor even a matter of historical ‘interpretation’; it is also, and often primarily, a matter of ritual rather than argument. It may be, as Battle is, a performance of commemoration, mourning and celebration, even as the same film’s omissions and emphases construct a pedagogical account of the achievement of the imagined community. To think of Battle in terms of reenactment is to realize that the film’s ritual and didactic performance of the past is a shared endeavour rather than the exclusive creation of name filmmakers. Crucially, this endeavour is physical as well as mental. As Tomlinson (2004: 368) puts it, ‘[the film] relies for its impact on the bodily gestures of Algerians’. I have described in Chapter 2 how historical reenactment in Battle entails the bodily occupation and traversal of particular locations – from the Casbah to the boulevards of the European city to the 1950s housing projects – that still evolve and connote in the present, thus articulating the relationship of present and past in that historicized space. Moreover, it entails the performative incarnation of historical 9

I am conflating the work of these two very different but important scholars for rhetorical purposes. The director name in Burgoyne tends to function as a placeholder, while Rosenstone’s auteurism is more unabashed.

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roles as a meeting of anonymities, when non-professional ‘extras’ replay the role of historical agents whose names may never have been recorded. This is the case all through Battle, but it is foregrounded in the coda protest scenes because the protagonists of the battle tale are absent in the closing sequence. Comparison with the reenactment of another epochal confrontation between protestors and police reveals something of the character of the reenactment undertaken in the film. The Battle of Orgreave (2001), devised by artist Jeremy Deller working with producers Artangel10, was a reenactment of a pivotal moment in the 1984-5 miners’ strike in Britain, involving hundreds of professional and amateur participants, some of whom had been present at the original events (fig. 32). The miners’ strike was a bitter confrontation between the National Union of Mineworkers and a conservative government, led by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, determined to crush the power of organized industrial labour11. The historical ‘battle’ took place near the Orgreave coking works in South Yorkshire on 18 June 1984, when a large number of picketing miners were outnumbered, routed and beaten by police on horseback and in riot gear. Much of the press at the time, including television news, presented the police violence as a response to provocation, though testimony from the encounter and subsequent investigations have shown that ‘police intervention was the cause rather than the consequence of picket violence’ (Correia 2006: 96). The striking miners were the victims of a double violation, subject both to police brutality and to demonization in the public sphere. The re-staging of the event was therefore an act of counter-history that challenged the absences and oppressions of mainstream memorialization. 10 Artangel is a charitable organization that facilitates the production of, usually, site-specific artworks. See [accessed 1 February 2019]. 11 The Marxist social theorist Alex Callinicos has written that the defeat of the miners’ strike ‘was an event of global resonance, both symbolically and practically. It marked the end of a particular kind of workers’ movement and the apparent triumph of a neo-liberal capitalism that was at once brutally single-minded in its preoccupation with profit-maximization and insidiously effective in mobilizing the desires of individuals as possessive consumers’ (Callinicos 2004: xiii).

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Figure 32 – Stills from the film of The Battle of Ogreave reenactment (dir. Mike Figgis, 2001)

Though different in design, being performed ‘for itself’ (notwithstanding the presence of an audience and documentary cameras) in something close to real time, the Orgreave reenactment has certain aspects in common with the coda to Battle. To faithfully recreate ‘something that was essentially chaos’ (Jeremy Deller in de Groot 2011: 595), the artist undertook months of research, consulting newspaper and television archives and collecting the testimonies of strikers, police and bystanders (Correia 2006: 97, 100). If the chaos of the episode recalls the chaos of the protests that close Battle, then Jeremy Deller’s research recalls the preparatory work for Battle undertaken by director Pontecorvo and screenwriter Solinas. As a point of comparison this might seem banal, but what it can be said to indicate is the function of the artist or filmmakers as nodal points from which the rhizome of historical experience can be accessed. The artist’s or the filmmakers’ research allows the anonymous historical agent to claim a place in what I have called the meeting of anonymities, whereby the unnamed extra reenacts the individual historical experience ordinarily lost to narration. Furthermore, the accumulation of testimonies allows the political or moral agency of the crowd itself to emerge. In other words, if the artist or filmmaker is a historian (this is the position of scholars like Burgoyne and Rosenstone), then the same is true for the unnamed participants and extras in The Battle of Orgreave and The Battle of Algiers, and so too the crowds they comprise12. 12 In another sense, so too is the location where the reenactment takes place. Both battle recreations, Algiers and Orgreave, were attentive to

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Both The Battle of Orgreave and The Battle of Algiers anatomize a defeat. Yes, the protest scenes that close Battle are exuberant and celebratory, even as they portray asymmetric violence and the injury and death of Algerian demonstrators. And, yes, the impulse expressed in the Algerian protests leads to national liberation, whereas the Orgreave events have come to stand for the demise of industry and the decimation of working-class communities in Britain. However, as suggested above, the demonstrations in the coda to Battle also constitute a memorial service for the defeated nationalists of the main story and for all those who suffered under French occupation. They are recalled on the soundtrack when the ‘baba salem’ percussion associated with the three bombers and the musical leitmotif associated with Ali both play as the film closes, a juxtaposition that conjoins the people’s agency to its tragedy. Like the Orgreave performance, then, the coda is a form of mourning. Conversely, and like the coda to Battle, the Orgreave reenactment was also a celebratory, playful event (Correia 2006: 105-6). In both cases, we encounter reenactment as a ritualized elaboration of epochal historical experience, as a form of play – or of carnival. I mean with that last word to invoke Mikhail Bakhtin’s ideas on the carnivalesque. Writing on the manner in which The Battle of Orgreave spoke back to official histories, Correia (2006: 105-6) argues that the Orgreave reenactment became something like a ‘subversive act of liberation from the prevailing order’ (as Bakhtin said of carnival), as participants indulged the licence to play and be violent, and the lines between present and past (the past is performed in the present) were dissolved. As such, a counter-history can be envisaged, among other things as the accumulation of micro-histories; outcomes in the reenactment

the specificity of their respective sites. Just as the coda scenes in Battle were carefully located in the streets and projects where the 1960 protests took place, so Orgreave ‘reactivated the everyday space of the village [of Orgreave] and the surrounding fields as a site of conflict, reoccupying it with scenes from living memory’ (Correia 2006: 98). The memory of the site comes to be excavated in the reenactment: the site itself declares its historical agency, and reveals its ongoing historicity as the past is reanimated in the present.

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might be scripted but the precise manner of their instantiation cannot be predicted. Battle too can be thought of in these terms, and I return below, in the section ‘Getting history wrong’, to the counter-historical (or counterfactual) character I find in the film. For now, it’s enough to say that the transition from the death of Ali to the eruption in celebratory protest of the Algerian crowd in the coda is a quintessentially ‘ambivalent’ carnivalesque motif, meaning that it shows the cycle of renewal as new life follows death and the social body survives the demise of the individual. The community performs a carnivalesque occupation of space in the six-minute coda and the film grasps the carnivalesque in the historical protests. But Celli (2005: 64-65) points out that the film as a whole, and not just its exuberant coda, may be treated as a carnivalesque text. Battle pictures a city in ‘subjunctive’ mood, immersed in a temporality of ‘as if’, during which unruly behaviour, cross-dressing and other transgressions of social norms are practiced. For Celli (ibid.: 64), the carnivalesque in Battle is a ‘thematic strategy’ that presents political revolution itself as a process in which a principle of up-ending is at work. This is figured in the film’s inversion of the conventional filmic rule according to which women are associated with stasis and domestic space, while men have the freedom to move ‘through cityscapes […] or, more abstractly, history’ (Paul Willemen in Neale 1992: 281). This is seen in the masquerade as European of the three women bombers and the brief moment when the four male FLN leaders are obliged to dress as women in haiks (white full-body veils) to move through the Casbah. The scene of the cross-dressing men has a truncated comic potential (the men are identified by their heavy gait and boots)13, but a carnivalesque principle of up-ending 13 One finds it actualized in later films like the taboo-busting Hindi film, Delhi Belly (Abhinay Deo, 2011), in which male and female characters dress in burkas to undertake a jewel theft in the labyrinthine streets of Old Delhi (a space analogous to the Casbah, even if in the later case one that is packed with people). In general, as already suggested in a note to Chapter 3, there is an element of implicit or untapped comedy in Battle, and some moments even of slapstick, usually around the French checkpoints, for example the frantic search for Omar after he appropriates the microphone, and the footage of the man with the box of escaped mice. The latter scene may be understood as mocking the

The Battle of Algiers

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Figure 33

is present too in scenes utterly bereft of comedy. This is the case for the montage of torture scenes, in which the brutalized bodies of the men, lifted out of the narrative, acquit the spectacular function that Laura Mulvey (1992) argued to be native to the female body and face in classical cinema. Here, the tortured male bodies, arrayed and displayed, are contemplated by the tearful eyes of Algerian women and the insouciant faces of young French soldiers (figs. 31, 33). All this is to suggest that the ‘battle’ is presented in the film as liminal time; that is, as a parenthetic or ‘metasocial’ moment – akin to the time of an initiation rite or a festival – in which the rules of a society (quotidian hierarchies, social and gender conventions) are held in suspension and revealed in all their arbitrariness. The revelation of this arbitrariness means that the liminal moment contains an aspect of potential, a possibility of change that is typically shut down at the end of the ritual, festival or carnival, when social conventions and hierarchies are restored. This is why some commentators speak of carnival as ‘licensed transgression’ (Eagleton 1981: 148) and as a social safety valve that draws off ‘anti-social’ or revolutionary impulses, defusing French roundup of the Algerians during the strike (Virtue 2014: 326).

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rather than activating the will to change (Eco 1994: 6). Others, though, argue that the practice of the possible may exceed the parenthetic time. This is what anthropologist Victor Turner refers to as the ‘ultraliminal’, the potential that may be actualized beyond the metasocial moment (see Turner 1979). Battle shows this in operation. The body of the film is the liminal moment, when the city briefly becomes a space of transgression, possibility and the inversion of power. That possibility is (apparently) shut down with the death of Ali and defeat of the FLN. But the moment of possibility exceeds both Ali’s body and the body of the film to erupt, as the ultraliminal, in the coda’s popular protests. Arguably, the moment of possibility exceeds the film itself: the ultraliminal is what Battle enjoins its audience to share, and the euphoria experienced or resisted by the viewer of the film marks its recognition (Kael 1976: 211). The film closes by announcing independence (‘Two years of struggle still lay head / On 2 July 1962, with independence, the Algerian nation was born’), but this teleology or ‘closure’ – the achievement of the nation, the goal to which the film has been aiming – is also an opening. That is, the nation is ‘achieved’ only within the suspended temporality of the future in the past, indicating that the coda itself is a threshold, a liminal moment that evokes its own ultraliminal, rather than a point of arrival. The film, in the main battle tale, has already had its beginning, middle and end (not, of course, in that order): the coda is beyond the end of the film, and it finishes on a hanging musical motif (associated with Ali) that fails to return to the tonic and so leaves a sense of the incomplete – a gap into which the constituency of viewers is urged to move – even as it celebrates the Algerian people in their own process of agential becoming. Agency in time It is to the Algerian people’s agential becoming that I now turn. In this section I will consider further the carnivalesque register of political agency that is pictured, hymned and (re-)enacted in the coda to Battle. I draw here especially on Ilan Kapoor’s (2003) extrapolation of a theory of agency, understood as the capacity

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and opportunity to effect change, from the work of Homi Bhabha. Kapoor finds in Bhabha an understanding of agency fashioned in the interstices of oppression and colonial discourse as contingent and performative. Such an understanding allows me better to describe the character of Battle as political cinema: it allows me to tease out the implications of my argument, made in Chapter 3, that Battle is an Orientalist text, a film immersed in and emerging from the discursive means evolved by Europeans to ratify and expedite the occupation and exploitation of large parts of the globe. It also allows me more precisely to explain the picture given by the film of the entry into history of the Algerian people; as such, the account of agency in Kapoor/Bhabha also helps to describe the character of Battle as historical cinema. If my argument that Battle is an Orientalist text is correct, how can it be considered a film that speaks for the formerly colonized? In what way, precisely, can it picture and express the agency of the wretched of the earth? The answer to these questions lies in understanding how anti-imperial agency emerges from hegemonic and Orientalist discursive systems, and in how, as Kapoor (2003: 568) writes, the self-understanding of the colonized, the ‘native’, ‘must be mediated through colonial representational systems because the latter are dominant’ (italics in original). There can be no ‘pure’ return to a set of representations that predate empire or occupation, no access to epistemic modes unsullied by colonial discourse. The Orientalist mode of Battle is the acknowledgement and expression of the fact that the ‘native’ finds autonomy ‘in the liminal spaces opened up from inside the dominant discourse’ (ibid.). Kapoor quotes Judith Butler to the effect that ‘there is only a taking up of the tools where they lie, where the very “taking up” is enabled by the tool lying there’ (ibid.: 565). In other words, the very forms that social innovation can take, and likewise the means to express and celebrate how newness enters the world (to borrow a phrase Bhabha gets from Salman Rushdie), are contingent on the conditions of oppression. Agency, on this account, is a negotiation of the dominant epistemic means rather than an impossible leap outside them. In Chapter 2, I have analysed the portrayal and embodiment of a ‘third space’ in the coda to Battle where uprising is enacted and reenacted. Following Bhabha and Kapoor (2003: 566), this third

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space can be described as an agential position unpredictably derived from discursive subjection, a ‘standing between binary structures of Orientalist representations and imperial power’ that allows their mocking redeployment against the power they were meant to serve. As I recount in Chapter 2, the Muslim residents of housing projects expressly designed to ensure their fealty to France appropriated those same housing projects to stake their claim to national self-determination. In the coda, Battle points to the irony that it was precisely from within the 1950s housing developments intended to pacify and acculturate the Algerians that the nationalist protests of December 1960 arose. The film articulates the emergence of an agency that enacts itself precisely in, and only because of, the context designed to inhibit its actualization. Moreover, the film offers a formal correlative of the process it describes: the coda is a supplementary addition that is only obliquely derivable from the film’s main battle narrative (a fact, as I have several times recalled, that has irritated the critics). Battle itself emerges in the interstices of Orientalist representation and imperial power, in as much as it is an Orientalist text with specific origins, as I argue in Chapter 3, in fascist colonial realism. To take seriously the power of the film is to acknowledge these origins and, more generally, to recognize that the means of political filmmaking are inherently ambivalent: always already compromised, if you wish; but the point is that it is from this ambivalence that political cinema derives its ability to speak and even to inspire. This is a point worth stressing against a prescriptive tradition that envisions a political cinema miraculously disentangled from the discursive conditions that enable it (the tools lying there), and it is striking how often Battle is foregrounded as a negative example in such writing even as the film’s exemplary status is thereby confirmed (see for example Sainsbury 1971, Wayne 2001). The contingent emergence of an agency from the interstices of discursive oppression is one aspect of the postcolonial account of agency anticipated in Battle. A second concerns performativity, already hinted at in the mention of Judith Butler, above. What is celebrated in the Battle coda protest scenes is the entry into history for those shown earlier in the film, especially in the scenes of mundane street life already mentioned (fig. 30), engaged in

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an extra-historical or static existence subject to the oversight and surveillance of the occupier. As an eruption without context (as the critics so often complain), this entry into history is shown to be achieved only in its enaction, just as political agency in Bhabha materializes only in the doing14. Following both Butler and Hannah Arendt, Bhabha draws a distinction between a ‘pre-formed’ and a ‘performed’ political subject (Kapoor 2003: 573). The former relies on what Butler (2006 [1990]: 192) calls the ‘expressive’ idea of identity, and what Bhabha (in Kapoor ibid.) himself dubs the ‘consciousness-intention-action’ model of agency. These models mislead because they posit some essentiality ‘behind’ gender (in Butler’s work) or behind political action, whereas, as Butler (ibid.: 185) famously writes: acts, gestures, enactments […] are performative in the sense that the essence or identity that they otherwise purport to express are fabrications manufactured and sustained through corporeal signs and other discursive means. That the gendered body is performative suggests that it has no ontological status apart from the various acts which constitute its reality.

Butler is offering a critique of the expressive model of gender, but her alternate performative model lends itself to a positive account of agency as (to risk a tautology) being-agential. Just as performativity is the (anti-)ontology of gender, so is action the 14 Worth pointing out, I think, that the elliptical transition, bemoaned as mystifying by so many other critics, from the body of the film and defeat of the FLN in Algiers to the eruption of popular protests in the coda, is indeed, and perfectly appropriately, a ‘mystification’. It is perfectly apt that the displacement of the agency represented by Colonel Mathieu immediately follows his moment of accomplishment, the victory over the FLN that closes the film’s main battle tale. Battle stages a formal refusal of the ruthless logic with which Mathieu performs his duty of counterinsurgency. Where Mathieu must account for the methods and personnel of the FLN and must calibrate his response accordingly (he is shown to do so in discourse, diagram and action in the scenes devoted to him), the film refuses to explicate the mechanism of the popular protests. This refusal to explain is at once a refusal of a colonial-Enlightenment will to knowledge and a recognition that agency may be spontaneous and performative. Against Mathieu’s instrumental rationality, the film proffers carnival.

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‘being’ of agency; it is the enaction of a political identity, not its expression, and it is just this enaction that is pictured in Battle. An implication of Butler’s and of Bhabha’s accounts is that there is a theatrical dimension to agency, which as a public and time-limited becoming is performed for (or as if for) a spectator15. Agency is a spectacular undertaking made in the act of beingseen. This recalls what Hannah Arendt writes when she describes how political identity is made not in advance but only in the act of going public. Her model anticipates Butler’s in that for Arendt, as one of her commentators puts it, ‘identity is the performative production, not the expressive condition or essence of action’ (Honig 1992: 216). Action produces identity and, moreover, as Arendt (1998 [1958]: 179) herself writes, ‘because of its inherent tendency to disclose the agent together with the act, action needs for its full appearance the shining brightness we once called glory and which is possible only in the public realm’. Arendt is thinking of the individual, but Battle shows this same process at the level of the collective: the ‘glorious’ moment of performative cominginto-being of the Algerian people, seen in the act of going public (remember the presence of the journalists). The commentators who complain that Battle gives insufficient context for the December 1960 protests shown in the coda are akin to those in thrall to ‘an oppositional or argumentative politics, in which the subject expresses an already formed “ethics” or imports it from “outside”’ (Kapoor 2003: 573). When those commentators complain of a lack of context in Battle, they are in effect bemoaning the absence of a ‘consciousness-intentionaction’ story structure to illustrate their own idea of a subject expressing a pre-formed politics (and also, perhaps, their own idea of what those politics ought to be). I argue in Chapter 2 that such a pre-formed politics is exactly what the coda helps to confound, when it shows the people exceeding the prescriptive 15 Emphasis on the ‘time-limited’ aspect offers one response to Peter Sainsbury’s criticism of the ‘episodic view of history’ he finds in Battle (Sainsbury 1971: 7), as the episodic is a necessary feature of the performative. Honig points this out when she writes of the ‘unstable, multiple self that seeks its […] episodic self-realization in action’; ‘action produces its actors; episodically, temporarily, we are its agonistic achievement.’ (Honig 1992: 220, 223; italics added).

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FLN vision of a mono-ethnic, single-identity Algeria. As Honig (1992: 227) puts it, again channelling Arendt, ‘a political community that constitutes itself on the basis of a prior, shared and stable identity threatens to close the spaces of politics, to homogenize or repress the plurality and multiplicity that political action postulates’. The coda to Battle pictures a performance that makes the nation but simultaneously unmakes the pedagogical foundations upon which the film itself has posited that nation. Getting history wrong I am invoking, in the previous sentence and a couple of times earlier in the chapter, a distinction drawn from Bhabha between performative and pedagogical. For Bhabha, the latter refers to the mythical stories a nation (or its elites) tells itself about its origins and foundation, while the former refers to the way in which the nation is enacted by the people. Bhabha (1994: 145) writes: the people are the historical ‘objects’ of a nationalist pedagogy, giving the discourse an authority that is based on the pre-given or constituted historical origin in the past; the people are also the ‘subjects’ of a process of signification that must erase any prior or originary presence of the nation-people to demonstrate the prodigious, living principles of the people as contemporaneity: as that sign of the present through which national life is redeemed and iterated as a reproductive process. [italics in original]

Crudely, one can suggest that the main body of Battle, the ‘battle’ tale itself, corresponds to Bhabha’s pedagogical, offering the founding myth and martyrology of Ali La Pointe’s stubborn heroism taking place in the Casbah, the essentialized space of authenticity. The demonstrations in the coda correspond, on the other hand, to Bhabha’s performative, with the community enacting itself in concord in a third space beyond Casbah and European city. Bhabha’s own description seems uncannily apt for the coda, set spatially and temporally beyond the battle tale: ‘the performative introduces a temporality of the “in-between”’ (ibid.: 148); quoting Fanon, Bhabha invokes ‘the fluctuating movement

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that the people are just giving shape to’ and the ‘zone of occult instability where the people dwell’ (ibid.: 152; italics in original). Still, it would be simplistic to superimpose the pedagogical/ performative distinction onto body and coda of Battle in any straightforward way16. The film stages the opposition between pedagogical and performative, offering the latter as the negation but also the unexpected derivation or inflection of the former in the third space of the coda. Let me give a name to this staging: it is what I have been referring to above as reenactment. And I mean the word, now, as a third term that emanates from the breach in what Bhabha calls the ‘double-time’ of the nation. The reenactment of the December 1960 protests in Battle is a didactic performance designed for the illustration and celebration of anti-colonial agency. However, the reprised spontaneity of the protests in the Battle reenactment effects a challenge to the uniqueness of the ‘real’ events even as it asserts the authenticity of the reconstruction in the film’s mimicry of newsreel and reportage and in its mimesis of chaos. I mean by this that reenactment implies the iterability of the events it replays and may even thereby suggest there not to be a stable referent for the performance. The idea of repetition throws into doubt the concept of original and, to borrow again the words of Judith Butler (2006: 188), reenactment may seem to be ‘an imitation without an origin’. This is not to suggest that there is no historical real, that the December 1960 protests or the 1956-7 battle of Algiers or the French occupation of Algeria somehow ‘didn’t happen’. It is rather to gesture to the difficulty of circumscribing and defining these events or circumstances, and therefore of tracing a limit to their allusive horizon, to the range of times and phenomena from which they differ and to 16 Rather than opposing body and coda, it is more productive to divine aspects of the pedagogical and the performative in the film as whole. PierNico Solinas (1973: ix) notes the film’s ‘deliberate rearrangement of chosen fact for a didactical purpose’; Khanna (1998: 18) speaks of ‘a documentation and pedagogical structuring of a counter-hegemonic nationalist spirit’; while Moore (2008: 41) argues that Battle ‘functions as a performative counter-memory and vindicating narrative, participating in the construction of a unified nation’. The terms I have italicized in the critics’ discourse do not necessarily signify exactly what Bhabha has in mind, but they indicate something of the ambivalent, even polyvalent character of Battle as a text: didactic, pedagogical, performative and carnivalesque.

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which they refer (what one might call, after Jacques Derrida, history’s différance). If this seems to suppress one sort of history – history as chronology, say: as a series of events discrete along both synchronic and diachronic axes – then it liberates history as a citational system, in which one performative iteration invokes a chain of past, present and even future such iterations. It’s not so much that history repeats itself as that it is repeatedly performed, and this repetition brings both déjà vu and difference from itself. At the very least, the theatricality of reenactment alerts us to history’s own theatrical character. Agnew (2004: 334) makes this point when she speaks of ‘historical agents staging events, often self-consciously, for a particular effect’. The protests in the coda to Battle and the performed simultaneity of the general strike shown earlier in the film have this self-consciously staged character – in reality, that is, as well as in the film. Accordingly, Agnew (ibid.: 332) writes of how ‘the raw substance of presentday reenactments was already highly mediated at the moment of its initial enactment’. Her example is of European explorers like James Cook who cast their encounters with strange peoples and lands in terms of classical models and topoi. But the same might be said of the crowd performing its place in history in Battle – the reenactment grasps the self-consciousness of the anonymous historical crowd knowing itself as historical17. I want to turn, in the light of this, to a critique made of Battle for its historical selectiveness, or historical short-sightedness. Mike Wayne begins his book Political Film with a chapter explaining at length why Battle does not deserve to be described as ‘Third Cinema’ (Wayne 2001: 5-24), a category for the writer that includes the ‘most advanced and sophisticated body of political films which the medium has produced to date’ (ibid.: 1). Part of Wayne’s displeasure arises from what he judges to be the film’s erasure of ‘historical shading’ (ibid.: 14). By way of example, Wayne mentions the dreadful massacres perpetrated by the French in response to protests in May 1945 in the town of Sétif, 17 Bhabha (1994: 146) talks of this as the ‘repetitious, recursive strategy of the performative’, the split temporality of knowing one is performing. This self-consciousness of the performance as performance implies the possibility of repetition, of possible reenactment in the future, and in the past.

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when Algerians proclaimed their sense of the hypocrisy of French celebration of Allied victory in Europe while occupation and oppression remained firmly in place in Algeria. Battle, says Wayne, ‘does not have the historical memory to recall even this date and event’ (ibid.: 15). He goes on: How much better it would have been, a student of mine once suggested, if the film had started with the celebrations of 1945 before cutting to 1954. […] the contradiction between the liberation of France from Nazi domination in the name of democracy and freedom and the continued domination of the colonies would […] be sharply revealed.18

One feels for the apt student groomed to surprise the teacher with exactly what he wants to hear, but it is clear from this passage that Wayne misses the implications of the film’s reenactment, to do with the citationality of history. I suggested earlier, following Tomlinson (2004: 367), that the coda protests constitute a ‘memorial service’ for those who suffered over the length of the French occupation of Algeria and I have tried to show that reenactment was the mode of this commemoration. Let me add now that the celebratory reenactment constitutes a resignification of the trope of confrontation between oppressed and occupier. ‘Resignification’ is a term from Butler, referring to how the citational performance of an act or the ‘deviant repetition’ of a negative term allows the possibility of resistance, as in the re-appropriation, for purposes of critical thought and self-celebration, of the homophobic term ‘queer’ (see Loxley 2007: 127). If the trope of confrontation between oppressed and occupier traditionally figured defeat and humiliation for the Algerians, with the events of Sétif standing only as one notorious instance or instantiation, then the coda protests in Battle invert the standard outcome. To put this another way: if the December 1960 protests are reenacted in the coda to Battle, then so are the protests of 1945 Sétif – it’s just that the outcome of the latter has been 18 Such a film came to be released in 2010, Hors-la-loi, directed by Rachid Bouchareb, but will certainly not have pleased Wayne, who would judge it a Second Cinema text too indebted to the First Cinema modes of thriller and gangster film.

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corrected as the performance veers euphorically off-script. Once again, this can be thought of in terms of the carnivalesque, but in this case Bakhtin’s subversive act of liberation from the prevailing order is not so much a counter-history that speaks back to the official version (as The Battle of Orgreave has been described) as it is a counterfactual history that conjures into being the conditions it mistakes. Reenactment in Battle reveals that the December 1960 protests were themselves reenactment as resignification, with the agency of the people-historians making a deviant and gleefully erroneous interpretation of the past in order to remake their own future. Forging a future from resources impure Taking my point of departure in this chapter from the theme of temporalities, I have tried to describe Battle as history film, and I hope that my analysis can contribute to the understanding of historical cinema more broadly. I suggest above that historical cinema is often a matter of ritual rather than interpretation, but this was a heuristic assertion only, given that these two terms hardly exclude each other. In Battle, the activity of reenactment at once gives form to a ritual of commemoration and celebration and is also the means of a historical interpretation. I began my discussion of reenactment by recalling R.G. Collingwood, for whom the mental activity of reenactment was the historian’s core method, and I quoted Paul Ricoeur (in Burgoyne 2009: 8) who suggested that Collingwood’s idea of ‘rethinking already contains the critical moment that forces us to detour by way of the historical imagination’. But I have tried to present the conditions of this ‘critical moment’ of which Ricoeur speaks in terms of physical reenactment, as a kind of communal and material thinking where bodies undertake in concrete space the work of historical imagining. This is to refuse Collingwood’s distinction between the ‘inside’ (the thought of the historical agent) and the ‘outside’ (bodies and movements) of the event. I have cited Collingwood’s position that ‘the event was an action, and that [the historian’s] main task is to think himself into this action, to discern the thought of its agent’ (Collingwood 1994: 213).

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Reenactment in Battle shows what Collingwood refers to as ‘bodies and movements’ to be the means of the historical imagination; moreover, it demonstrates action itself to have been simultaneous and synonymous with the thought of the agent: the thought does not precede the performance (the action) but is called into being by and with it. This suggests to me that Robert Burgoyne is correct to describe historical filmmaking in terms of reenactment, but I believe that such a description needs to understand filmmaking as itself a kind of material thinking in which some prior historical interpretation is not illustrated, but in which the interpretation is made in collaboration and discovered in the making. I hope there is no contradiction between presenting historical cinema as material thinking and my argument that Battle releases the citationality of the events it reenacts. Certainly, I conceive of part of the film’s power as inhering in the allusive resignification of previous events. My example was of the brutal French response to the 1945 protests in Sétif, recalled and, as it were, successfully resisted in the December 1960 protests reenacted in the Battle coda. But to identify the trope of confrontation between occupier and oppressed in the coda to Battle is also to allow possible allusions to other colonial contexts19. I described in Chapter 3 the debt in Battle to the Italian fascist empire film Bengasi (1942) and its picturing of the colonial Italian context in Libya: the earlier film closes with a joyous and choral coda that anticipates Battle but that celebrates colonial occupation rather than its demise. The echo of Bengasi in Battle signals the instability of the citational work of reenactment in the later film; such instability is shared, 19 It also enables allusion to postcolonial contexts. I have not discussed in this book the manner and extent to which Battle may anticipate the ‘banlieue film’ produced in France in the 1990s. The realistic mode, concern with space, and ambivalent portrayal of place in films like La Haine (Mathieu Kassovitz, 1995) and Ma 6-T va crack-er (Jean-François Richet, 1997) all link the banlieue film to Battle (see Shohat and Stam 2014: 406). See O’Leary (2016) for an admittedly gestural argument that Battle adumbrates a hauntology of empire in the postcolonial period. See Crane (2017) for a more scholarly discussion of how building activity in Algiers during the war of independence – including the projects featured in the Battle coda and discussed in Chapter 2 – provided the template for the banlieue building projects intended to house migrants to France from the former colonies in the 1960s and 1970s.

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of course, with any and all activity of reenactment – it is intrinsic to its performative character. The politics of the performance becomes a question of the contingent framing, the interpretation (the material thinking) created in the passing moment, of the events reenacted. In tracing the temporalities of Battle, I have also meant to challenge prescriptive accounts of the film and of political cinema as such, accounts that dwell on what political cinema ought to do rather than try to understand the manner in which the political can come into being in specific circumstances, contingently. The account I have been giving, in this chapter, as in the book as a whole, is of a political cinema that does not represent ‘a “pure” opposition, a “transcendence” of contemporary relations of power’, but that emerges instead as part of the ‘difficult labour of forging a future from resources inevitably impure’ (Judith Butler in Loxley 2007: 127). The Battle of Algiers shows and is this labour.

5 THE POETICS OF THE CONTACT ZONE

I began this book by proposing to treat The Battle of Algiers as a compromise, meaning (to adapt the OED definition) a text intermediate between positions and possessing an accommodating combination of characteristics. The power of the film, which is the theme of the book, derives from the form this compromises takes, which I have labelled ‘interstitial popular cinema’. Battle is a text that takes shape in the space between genres and registers, between geographies, nations and constituencies, and in the gap between times. Thinking the film sympathetically in terms of compromise helps to grasp the complexity of its style, the multiplicity of its address and the multivalence of its historical perspectives. Still, I know that the word ‘compromise’, so often understood negatively in artistic and even political contexts, may render my argument hostage to the same prescriptive accounts of political cinema I have been writing against in this book. Let me therefore hazard another word to describe the film, which may have greater cachet even as it connotes a similar impurity of means: autoethnography. In a seminal study of imperial and counter-imperial strategies of representation, Mary Louise Pratt (2008 [1992]: 9) defines as ‘autoethnographic’ those texts ‘in which colonized subjects undertake to represent themselves in ways that engage with the colonizer’s terms’ (Pratt’s italics). She goes on: ‘If ethnographic texts are a means by which Europeans represent to themselves their (usually subjugated) others, autoethnographic texts are texts the others construct in response to or in dialogue with those metropolitan representations.’ The autoethnographic text is one that offers an accommodating combination of characteristics – compromises of form and content – in order to address multiple

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audiences. To think of Battle as an autoethnographic text is to understand the film’s ambivalent Orientalism, discussed in Chapter 3, and it offers a more persuasive way to conceptualize the ‘inauthenticity’ of the film against the strictures of those who dismiss it as ‘culturally remote from the story material’ (Wayne 2001: 23). As Pratt (2008: 9) writes, autoethnographic texts ‘differ from what are thought of as “authentic” or autochthonous forms of self-representation’. Autoethnography, she writes, ‘involves partly collaborating with and appropriating the idioms of the conqueror’ (ibid.). In the case of Battle, examples of these idioms include the ‘signifiers of the Crucifixion, the Christian motif of suffering and the religious music’ that offend Wayne (2001: 23), and they include the use of gendered allegory and the fearful/desirous portrayal of Algerian women discussed in Chapter 3. These compromise(d) idioms, deplorable from the prescriptive perspective of an ethics or aesthetics or politics of purity, serve the receivability of a text addressed also to the North. As autoethnography that fashions an anticolonial paean from the tools of the colonizer, Battle anticipates Homi Bhabha’s position, discussed in Chapter 4, that anti-colonial (self‑)representation cannot but be derived from hegemonic and Orientalist discursive systems. To repeat a point made at the end of the previous chapter, and the words of Judith Butler quoted there, the account I have been giving is of a political cinema that does not represent ‘a “pure” opposition, a “transcendence” of contemporary relations of power’, but that emerges instead as part of the ‘difficult labour of forging a future from resources inevitably impure’ (Butler in Loxley 2007: 127). One might, of course, object to describing Battle as autoethnography by insisting that the film was not made by the Algerians themselves, but produced on commission by Italian filmmakers who had their own aesthetic and political agendas, not to mention their own colonial history. Again, Mike Wayne puts this with commendable directness, and his criticism can stand for a strain of sceptical writing on the film: for him, ‘the key creative positions in the production of the film were occupied by Italians’ and so it ‘makes more sense to locate The Battle of Algiers as a European film about the Third World’ (Wayne 2001: 9). I have tried to forestall criticism like Wayne’s by conceptualizing

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and treating Battle as an ecology in which a range of individuals, groups, discourses and circumstances enact their agency. I argued in Chapter 3 that the commissioning of the story of the Algerian revolution from Italian filmmakers continued a strategy long-established by the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) of representing their struggle to the wider world. While that might seem to limit Algerian agency to its revolutionary and then governing elites, much of Chapter 4 was concerned with tracing the agency of the Algerian crowd as it is revealed and as it reenacts itself in the film. Criticism like Wayne’s, it seems to me, unwittingly denies agency to that crowd, based as it is on conventional assumptions about the determining influence of the director especially – for Wayne, the film’s ‘key cultural worker’ (ibid.: 8). On my account, instead, the crowd of ‘extras’ that throng the frame in the closing minutes of Battle is itself a key cultural worker: a historian – or an autoethnographer. If the metaphor of ecology seems a disingenuous one in such a political context, then I can once again borrow a term, contact zone, from Mary Louise Pratt to describe the conditions in which Battle comes into being and to gesture at the agonistic confrontation of agencies staged by the film. A contact zone, in Pratt’s lexicon, is a space ‘of imperial encounters’, ‘where disparate cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in highly asymmetrical relations of domination, and subordination – such as colonization and slavery, or their aftermaths as they are lived out across the globe today’ (Pratt 2008: 8, 7). Colonial Algiers was obviously a contact zone, but so too is the film that describes it – itself, in a sense, a space of imperial encounters. Certainly, the autoethnographic mode of the film, in which an impure combination of compromise means is deployed to ensure receivability even by likely hostile audiences, can be understood as the distinctive poetics of the contact zone, its ‘native’ or necessary mode of expression. The poetics of the contact zone are the object of the questions that Pratt (2008: 7) asks herself in her book: ‘What do people on the receiving end of empire do with metropolitan modes of representation? How do they appropriate them? How do they talk back?’ The Battle of Algiers is one kind of answer to these questions, and this book has been an attempt better to elucidate the complexity of the answer given by the film. In making this attempt,

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my purpose has not primarily been to rescue the film from the strictures of its critics or indeed from the oversimplifications of its admirers; my core purpose has been to give a more nuanced account of the capacities of political and historical cinema by paying close attention to its available means and discursive conditions of possibility. The Battle of Algiers is an exemplary case, and a study of its enduring power is a study of the capacities of political and historical cinema as such. The resonance of hope The Battle of Algiers is an exemplary case but it is also an exceptional one. In chapter 1, I reported the many assertions in the scholarship of the ‘relevance’ and the ‘resonance’ of Battle, tributes to the film that attest its exceptional power but that risk becoming merely routine. The second term, resonance, is the more interesting, I think, and I dwell on it here in closing in order to access a dimension of the exceptional power of Battle. Nicholas Harrison, one of the most thoughtful and authoritative writers on Battle, speaks of the film’s ‘endlessly renewed contemporary resonance’ (Harrison 2007a: 337); to what exactly does Battle owe its resonance? 
For Northrop Frye, resonance is a ‘critical principle’ through which ‘a particular statement in a particular context acquires a universal significance’ (Frye 1982: 217). The motor of resonance is metaphor, which, in my reading of Frye, is powered by the original context from which it derives, even as that context comes to be left far behind, in combination with felicity of expression (ibid.: 218). To apply this to Battle: the ‘statement’ made in Battle concerns popular agency and the will to freedom. The ‘particularity’ of this statement concerns the overcoming of abjection and defeat, in the body of the film, by a popular will that enacts itself in the coda, in locations whose specificity is described in Chapter 2. The exuberant release of the final minutes means that film itself becomes a figure for achieved freedom even if the ‘battle’ it has shown is ‘lost’. Therein, incidentally, is the decisive response to those ‘historian-cops’ (as Robert Sklar (1997) dubs them) who insist on returning the discussion of historical film to issues of fact or authenticity. If a historical film is to be of any

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political use, it needs to release effective metaphor. In this sense, Battle is an undoubted success. In its coda, Battle imparts a sense of euphoria drawn from ‘the energy, dynamism and optimism of the decolonizing and immediate post-independence era’ (the words of Neil Lazarus (2006: 13) already quoted in Chapter 2). This euphoria is made to resonate by the film, if not ‘universally’ (whatever that could mean) but for the purposes of radical hope. Hope is a theme that has been reprised in recent years in engagé scholarship that seeks to understand and facilitate what Ann Rigney (2018: 368) calls the ‘cultural transmission of positivity’ in times of political disappointment. In part, the study of hope has been directed against ‘a habitual and unquestioned focus on violence and victimhood’ (Rigney 2018: 369), and in her work on radical hope, Rigney has regretted the domination of memory studies (her own discipline) by a ‘traumatic paradigm’ (ibid.). This traumatic paradigm is found at work in some of the richest writing on Battle, for example in Tomlinson (2004: 369), who places the film in a ‘post-traumatic context’ and treats it in the Freudian terms of acting-out and working-through that have been honed especially in relation to the Holocaust (LaCapra 1994). It is not a surprise, therefore, that Tomlinson finds the coda to Battle guilty of a mystification (the italics and scare quotes are hers in the following): ‘In a final “expression of the will to freedom” […] [the film] arbitrarily or mystically undercuts its earlier, harrowing, explorations of what it might “mean” (and not “mean”) to exist without a sense of collective human agency’(Tomlinson 2004: 369). But the theme of the film is the making and taking of agency, not its absence. To insist on abjection as the truth of the oppressed is to deny historical agency to the same people. Certainly, the tone of Tomlinson’s analysis, where abjection must be emphasized to the detriment of achievement, reflects a critical tradition that grants symbolic capital to the critic in proportion to the focus on victimhood rather than victory. Yet achievement is what Battle celebrates, and rather than dwell on the labour of workingthrough that the film is then judged ineffectively to carry out, we should understand it as couched in an entirely different register. That register, as discussed in Chapter 4, is the carnivalesque, and Battle, whatever the horror and gravity of the deeds and events it reenacts, is essentially, via that same reenactment, a

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playful text. This playfulness, I want to suggest now in conclusion, is what equips the film for resonance. In Rigney’s terms, we can say that the film offers a festive memory of hope. In the article I am drawing on here, Rigney’s prime example is the Commune of 1871, when a socialist government presided over Paris for two months before being bloodily suppressed. Rigney (2018: 274) speaks of the Commune as the ‘ecstatic moment of insurgence, a time out of time, a path that was briefly taken’, and she outlines the subsequent investment in the memory of the Commune as a period of festive actualization despite its brevity and the manner of its end. She quotes a 1962 text on the Commune by the Situationist International: Theoreticians who examine the history of [the Commune] from a divinely omniscient viewpoint […] can easily demonstrate that the Commune was objectively doomed to failure and could not have been successfully consummated. They forget that for those who really lived it, the consummation was already there. (Quoted and translated in Rigney 2018: 375; italics in original)

The coda to Battle wrests the ecstatic moment, the consummation, from the experience of colonial abjection. This is a moment that can resonate even if intervening history may fail to inspire with the Algerian state’s commitment to democratic aspiration and creative forms of living, or with the erosion of exploitation and imperialism worldwide. Outcomes, endings, maybe even suffering: these are less important in the political practice of hope than the recognition and memory of the experience of festive becoming in the moment of freedom. This recognition and memory is what The Battle of Algiers so powerfully continues to provide.

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