Female Bombers in “The Battle of Algiers” (1966 French Film)

Issues of women, the female and innocence have always been topics of personal interest to me. I don’t normally get all geeky and post about films and clips from my film classes, but this scene has always been the one that has stuck with me the most.

Simply put: This scene involves three Algerian women who strip their ethnic dress to adopt a “European look” in order to pass through the military surveillance checkpoints so they can enter the city.

For one woman, she brings her son with her as a precaution so the police wouldn’t stop her. Another woman makes it through because the French soldiers get distracted and flirt with her at the checkpoint. As a whole, women are not allowed to be touched, which means it is easier to smuggle bombs and weapons through their veils and bags.

The scene features a particularly tense musical score of rapid, repetitive Algerian drumbeats. We see the women (FLN militants) inhabit public spaces at a French cafe, jukebox hall and airport terminal. Director Gillo Pontecorvo contrasts the intensity of the women’s silent stride with shots of innocent businessmen at a bar, teenagers in a dance hall and a baby licking an ice cream cone. The women, who appear docile and innocent, slyly sneak their bomb-filled purses under tables and chairs where people aren’t fooled by their pretty “European” faces. Even the women themselves don’t seem to feel excited about their actions–their faces remain intense, emotionless and silent.

We are made to sympathize with these women carrying out these terrorist attacks, as we silently root for them to carry on with their act and escape; but we can’t help but feel the guilt we know to come from the death of these innocents.

This scene says more about women, gender and how their “European” appearances allowed them to carry out these attacks under no surveillance. No one suspects a pretty woman to be capable of any harm. And in the politics of violence and terrorism, females played a bigger role than we may have thought.

Part I. Changing of dress and passing through surveillance

Part II. Planting of bombs

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One response to “Female Bombers in “The Battle of Algiers” (1966 French Film)

  1. I am so drawn to this film, and in particular, the scenes depicting the women’s evolution in dress and later, their placement of the bombs. One of the most intriguing parts is the girl who places her bomb in the Milk Bar. She moves her body slightly in rhythm to the music playing on the jukebox, and you get the feeling she’s torn, wishing she could be a part of the scene that she knows she’s about to tear apart. I wonder if one could have asked her what her ideal post-colonial Algeria might have looked like. Perhaps an independent nation where she could still dance a little to a good cha-cha like the pieds-noirs were able to do so freely. But as she says to the flirting soldier, “Who knows?” Thanks for the great post.

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