This five-episode series provides a detailed analysis of the Algerian War. Archive images, black-and-white and some in color, complement the chronological account of the war and the decolonization process in Algeria. Prominent figures on the Algerian and French side of this complex conflict discuss their experiences and actions. As the series progresses, the mood becomes increasingly dark and the conflict between both sides, as well as between different French factions, becomes more and more intense.
The Algerian War was a momentous struggle for independence from France by Algerian nationalists between 1954 and 1962. This eight-year conflict caused the fall of six French Prime Ministers and eventually the collapse of the Fourth Republic. It returned Charles de Gaulle to power but also almost saw his demise and twice brought civil strife to mainland France, and the fear of a military coup. It resulted in the deaths of at least one million Algerians and the exodus of as many European settlers. It was the last of the old-style “colonial struggles” and the first of what would become the widespread wars of decolonization. It also marked the first practical application of what we today call counter-insurgency.
The series is composed of archival film material that was recorded during the war and featured in news reports at the time. Censorship under French rule meant that not everything could be filmed or written, and it should be kept in mind that the task of journalists was particularly difficult for that reason. The authorities arrested and interrogated journalists whose work was viewed as ‘too critical’, implementing the same interrogation techniques that were used on captured rebels. Journalist Henri Alleg recounts his ordeal in the second episode. Fortunately, the documentary makers were able to gather sufficient material to tell the different sides of the story.
The Algerian War began just nine years after the end of WWII. Though the consensus in Europe in 1945 was that the horrors of the war should never be allowed to take place again. Theorists such as French-Martinican Frantz Fanon and French-Tunisian Albert Memmi draw parallels between Nazism and the decolonization struggle. In their view, Algerians were treated the same way minorities had been during the German Occupation. France, a country that suffered immensely under the Nazis, was enforcing the same policies just one decade later.