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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