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The Significance of The Soundtrack and The Role of Music in The Battle of Algiers

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The Significance of The Soundtrack and The Role of Music in The Battle of Algiers essay
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In Gillo Pontecorvo’s movie The Battle of Algiers, music plays an essential role in each scene of the film. For example, when there’s French soldiers marching through the streets the music has a mysterious feel to signify that there is an attack imminent. When you watch the French point-of-view it has a European tone and when it switches to the Algeria’s point-of view it has a North African esque feel. Ennio Morricone’s score brings attention to this horrid attacks, and allows the viewer to feel sympathy for both the Algerians and the French.

The Battle of Algiers depicts the bloody struggles of the Algerian rebels known as the National Liberation Front (FLN), as they launch gorilla type warfare against French colonists. Many scenes show the rebels blowing up largely occupied French areas. These various bombings start an all out war causing many French soldiers to start an intense search for FLN members. The whole goal of these various attacks by the FLN are to spark the Algerian people to resist the French. During their first large-scale attack the European fight song is played during this scene instead of the Algerian theme music, because it shows that the French are still the dominant power in Algeria. Even though these attacks show the FLN are resisting, the music also helps to signify that the Algerians are all truly united to fight a common enemy. With the music hinting at this it causes the viewer to feel the FLN’s struggle as they plan resistance movements and try unite their people to fight a similar enemy. During the large riot scenes the music plays as if you’re watching a documentary. This effect creates a feel that the footage you’re watching really happened and is the real deal. Watching the aftermath of each attack while the music plays gives you sense of sympathy for these innocent people caught in the cross-fire of this bloody revolution.

During the initial shooting of the film Pontecorvo would whistle during shooting to not loose rhythm of the film. He did this because the music was such an essential element in the film in that it helped portray both sides equally and gave them similarities. The French counter-guerilla tactics of torturing people to gather information is encompassed by religious music, this is because it creates an emphasis on this greater authority and the degradation that each prisoner endures. Music in these scenes creates a symbol out of these characters allowing them to feel as if they transcended and giving them an almost holy-like persona. According to famous film critic Pauline Kael on the soundtrack she describes it as, “ a form of agitation: at times, the strange percussive sound is like an engine that can’t start; pounding music gives the audience a sense of impending horror at each critical point; the shrill, rhythmic, birdlike cries from the Casbah tell us that all life is thrilling and screaming for freedom.” Kael’s quote brings an excellent point on the use of music in each scene. She pretty much describes it as an “engine that can’t start” because the FLN have a tough time in trying to find support from the majority of the Algerian population. After the devastating French attack in an Algerian neighborhood, the Algerians unite after watching the horrors of the aftermath. During this moment the Algerian fight song starts creating a unity between all of the local Algerians. After the devastation many Algerians join the FLN for revenge against the destruction of their neighborhood by bombing various French locales. This creates a major unity effect for all the Algerians and they accept the fact that only unity will end the French’s reign of their homeland.

The Battle of Algiers was a how-to guide for guerilla war in the 1960s with its realistic footage created a basis for any resistance movement to take notes on. It helped people understand that if you fight hard enough and unite your people for a common cause that you will see what the people want. Even displaying the hard to watch torture scenes that are way beyond what is considered humanitarian at the U.N. level. That’s why Morricone created such a grand score to show that both sides are in the wrong, but the measures the French undertake are beyond human rights and with the intense music playing in the background gives the prisoners some sanctuary in their torture to show that there is purpose.

Pontecorvo constructed the movie around both sides of the FLN attacks to give an unbiased account and create a conflict that allowed the viewer to fully understand.With Morricone’s score it gives the viewer a sense of who is in power and what type of music it is. By giving each side their own theme it creates a point of origin and purpose for fighting. The French trying to keep their colony intact especially after the devastating World War II and the Algerians trying to reclaim their homeland, it gives the viewer both sides to reflect on. Pontecorvo uses the score to help reflect that with its European and Middle Eastern tones.

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The Significance of the Soundtrack and the Role of Music in The Battle of Algiers. (2019, January 03). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 27, 2022, from
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