Please don't comment until we've seen the entire film. Anyhow, a little background:
The character Colonel Mathieu was based on the actual French commander, General Massu.
In 1971, General Massu wrote a book challenging "The Battle of Algiers," and the film was banned in France for many years. In his book General Massu, who had been considered by soldiers the personification of military tradition, defended torture as "a cruel necessity." He wrote: "I am not afraid of the word torture, but I think in the majority of cases, the French military men obliged to use it to vanquish terrorism were, fortunately, choir boys compared to the use to which it was put by the rebels. The latter's extreme savagery led us to some ferocity, it is certain, but we remained within the law of eye for eye, tooth for tooth."
In 2000, his former second in command, Gen. Paul Aussaresses, acknowledged, showing neither doubts nor remorse, that thousands of Algerians "were made to disappear," that suicides were faked and that he had taken part himself in the execution of 25 men. General Aussaresses said "everybody" knew that such things had been authorized in Paris and he added that his only real regret was that some of those tortured died before they revealed anything useful.
As for General Massu, in 2001 he told interviewers from Le Monde, "Torture is not indispensable in time of war, we could have gotten along without it very well." Asked whether he thought France should officially admit its policies of torture in Algeria and condemn them, he replied: "I think that would be a good thing. Morally torture is something ugly."
This is taken from an article that appeared in the New York Times.
What relevance does the movie have today?
The film has enjoyed a brief renaissance because, in 2003, the Pentagon chose the screen the film.
The flier inviting guests to the Pentagon screening declared: "How to win a battle against terrorism and lose the war of ideas. Children shoot soldiers at point-blank range. Women plant bombs in cafes. Soon the entire Arab population [sic] builds to a mad fervor [sic]. Sound familiar? The French have a plan. It succeeds tactically, but fails strategically. To understand why, come to a rare showing of this film."
Brackets marking errors or offensive language [sic] are mine.
There were no reporters at the discussion held after the film. All that I've really been able to find is that the discussion was deemed "lively." For more history, check the WebCT site, Week 5.
So, possible entry points into discussion:
- Is there a difference of opinion about what sort of conflict is going on in the Casbah? (I.e., do some think it's a war between two parties, and others a set of "terrorist attacks"?)
- In the end, the film is clearly on the side of the Algerian people. But, throughout the rest of the film, do you think you get two--or more--points of view? (Cite specifics.)
- How does Mathieu manage to run circles around the reporters? What effect does this have on the conflict? Why does the director, Pontecorvo, choose to utilize non-actors for all roles except Mathieu's?
- Note ways in which you think the film creates sympathies (close-ups, following one character vs. another, auditory cues, steady or unsteady camera shots) and the ways in which it creates antipathies. Are there "bad guys" in this movie? If so, how are they established?