Two million French soldiers fought in Algeria between 1954 and 1962 in a vain attempt to stop Algerian independence. An estimated 300,000 to 600,000 Algerians died compared to 27,000 French people. France did not officially recognise that a war had taken place until 1999.
Florent Emilio Siri’s film closes with these powerful figures but unfortunately the preceding narrative does not do justice to them.
A study of the Algerian war from the viewpoint of French soldiers could have been an interesting project, especially given the ongoing debate about the legacy of colonialism within French society today.
Instead, acts of violence committed by the French are largely presented as a response to brutality by the Algerian nationalist FLN, depicted as silent, one-dimensional figures in the distance.
Yet the FLN were an “intimate enemy”. Many of its members had fought alongside the French during the Second World War against the German occupation. France’s refusal to recognise this debt helped fuel the independence struggle.
The film does raise some important questions through the idealistic character of lieutenant Terrien.
He initially rejects the systematic use of torture on civilians and asks why Morocco and Tunisia have been granted independence but not Algeria. The napalming of an FLN unit belies domestic French propaganda that they are “maintaining order” while “winning hearts and minds”.
But at times this action based war movie seems closer in plot to Black Hawk Down than Apocalypse Now or Platoon.
For an understanding of the Algerian war, you’d do better to watch Gillo Pontecorvo’s classic film the Battle of Algiers.
For the impact of independence on contemporary France, see Michael Haneke’s brilliant Hidden and to learn about the role of North African soldiers in the French army, Rachid Bouchareb’s Days of Glory is much better than Intimate Enemies.
Directed by Florent Emilio Siri