Abstract

This article examines the attempt by the makers of the 1965 ‘docudrama’, La Bataille d’Alger, to depict and elucidate the experience of political violence, particularly torture, during the period 1956-57, the apogee of the Franco-Algerian War. Over the past three years, the atrocities committed by the French in the name of ‘pacification’ have come under increasing scrutiny from historians, journalists, and film directors alike. Yet La Bataille d'Alger remains the most powerful and arguably the best-known work on the topic, in part because it challenges the same ontological certainties (the presence of the living, the absence of the dead) that practices such as abduction or ‘disappearance’ and clandestine execution bury. The film’s objective, however, is antithetical to ‘disappearance’: this objective is to give voice to a history that simultaneously resists and demands articulation, and ultimately to reconstitute the fragmented or ‘vanished’ subject through narrative; to use cinema to summon the ‘ghosts’ of the past.

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