Michael Haneke’s film won the best director prize at Cannes in 2005. The plot is simple. Georges, a successful public intellectual with his own television program, and his wife Anne receive an hours-long video tape which shows only the front of their home from across the street. The sole purpose of the tape seems to be to make them aware that they are being watched. Disturbing drawings follow. There then follows a video shot from a car. A visible street name allows them to trace the location as a run-down apartment block.

This leads Georges to the flat of Majid, an Algerian man who turns out to be someone from his past. That this visit is also being secretly recorded becomes apparent when it becomes the content of a later tape. In what appear to be flashbacks, we learn that when he was six years old, Georges’ parents were on the point of adopting Majid, the same age as Georges and the son of their Algerian farmhands. Majid’s parents had disappeared after what was called the Seine river massacre. This was an incident in 1961 during the Algerian War for Independence when demonstrators in favour of independence were shot or drowned in the Seine by the French police. The Seine river massacre was not officially acknowledged until 1998.

Georges’ parents prepare to adopt him, but disturbed by the six year old’s story that Majid killed a cockerel in order to scare him, the boy is sent to an orphanage. The disturbing drawings are connected to this incident.


La Bataille d’Algers was released in 1966, four years after Algerian independence from France. It was an Italian Algerian co-production, directed by Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo, and won the Lion d’Or at the Venice Film Festival. It was initially banned in France and wasn’t shown generally until 1971 and not until 2004 uncensored.

Algeria had been invaded in 1830 and had become a part of France in 1848. The war for independence was started by the FLN in November 1954. By late 1957 the army had succeeded in dismantling the FLN organisation in Algiers but demonstrations broke out again in 1960. Tanks were deployed and civilians were shot in the street but, dismayed by the brutality of the methods used and the breadth of support, France conceded independence in 1962.

The film covers events in the city of Algiers between late 1954 and late 1957. It is shot in black and white and some of the scenes might easily be newsreel or documentary. It was filmed mostly on location in the Casbah. Ali la Pointe is shown grafting on the street and then in prison watches the execution of an FLN fighter. Radicalised by the experience he is recruited to the FLN by El-hadi Jaffar and rises in the organisation. After a sequence of bombings and shootings and reprisals, French paratroopers under the command of Colonel Phillipe Mathieu are deployed to restore order. Mathieu’s strategy succeeds. Jaffar is captured. Ali la Pointe’s hiding place is betrayed and, refusing to surrender, he is blown up. But at the end of the film this is shown to be only a temporary victory.