One of the first and greatest drama-docs, Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1966 The Battle of Algiers chronicles the bitter post-war struggle of Algerian nationalists to rid themselves of French colonial rule. So potent is the movie’s black-and-white realism that it’s hard to believe that not a scrap of newsreel footage was used in its making.
Shooting in the actual Algiers locations where it happened, Pontecorvo calls on his own experience as a partisan in wartime Italy to create a sense of authenticity – both in the guerrilla tactics of the Algerians and the counter-revolutionary crackdown by the French paratroops. His anti-colonialist sympathies are never in doubt – scenes of rebel torture are agonising to watch – but he stays even-handed in his counting of the human cost on both sides. Forty years on, the film’s lost not a fraction of its power.