The Manichean World of The Battle of Algiers


In the  Battle of Algiers, the juxtaposition of images reveals a Manichean world that precedes the revolution. Pontecorvo disturbs the audience by throwing on the screen the subtleties of colonial violence that often lead to violent disturbances and madness. The continuous tension is visible as images appear to echo Fanon’s description of the native quarter and the European quarter in The Wretched of the Earth. Fanon depicts the colonial world as a violent place, often divided into two opposed zones where physical reality contributes to psychological formation and constructs opposite identities in a very Manichean world.

On one side, the settler town is “strongly-built town; all made of stone and steel … the streets are covered with asphalt …The settler’s town is a well-fed town, an easygoing town; its belly is always full of things. The settler’s town is a town of white people, of foreigners.” (Fanon, 1967:30) On the other, the native’s town constitutes the opposition, the negation of the settler’s one: It is “the Negro village, the medina, the reservation is a place of ill fame, peopled by men of evil repute. It is a world without spaciousness; men live there, top of each other … The native town is a hungry town, starved of bread, of meat, of shoes, of coal, of light”(Fanon,1967:30). Fanon states binary oppositions that govern a world created by the colonialists where Europe is opposed to the Other, as evil to good, colonizer to colonized and civilized to primitive. In this Manichean world, Negros or Arabs refuse the attributed inferiority while attempt to construct the superiority fallacy.

battle of algiers

In many ways, this polarization makes possible the uprising portrayed in Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers or the violence Fanon justifies as part of the decolonization process in the first chapter of his book. While the European quarter appears to be clean, organized, and safe, the Casbah is its very opposite; a disorganized, dirty, and unsafe world. In the film, the representation of the inhabitants of both sides is meaningful.  People living in the European quarter seem to be enjoying lives; they are always in the cafes, dancing, or chatting. On the other side, in the Casbah, Muslims are wearing tattered clothes and appear to be hungry or suffering. They do not enjoy life but they are constantly struggling to survive.

Women’s lives are very opposed in the two zones. In one zone, women are in despair because they lost their children, on the other, European women are laughing loudly in the cafes. Also, children from Casbah seem to have learned how to live by themselves. In one scene, when the woman has to set the bomb in one of the designated places, she just leaves her child with a strange on the street for a while, saying he is a good boy who will not bother the strange. The boy appears to be familiar with that situation. In the other zone, children are always protected ad accompanied by their mothers who take care of them.

Both Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth and the film The Battle of Algiers represent not only the revolution but also how colonialism creates a Manichean world, as Fanon says, “A world divided into compartments,  a motionless, Manichean world, a world of statues.” (Fanon, 1967:40). in this world,  madness targets both sides, the European and the Muslim. Nobody is free from the insanity caused by violence.

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