The film has been critically celebrated. Both insurgent groups and state authorities have considered it to be an important commentary on urban guerrilla warfare. It occupies the 48th place on the Critics’ Top 250 Films of the 2012 Sight & Sound poll, as well as 120th place on Empire magazine’s list of the ‘500 greatest movies of all time’. It was selected to enter the list of the “100 Italian films to be saved“.
The film concentrates on the years between 1954 and 1957 when guerrilla fighters regrouped and expanded into the Casbah, the citadel of Algiers. Their actions were met by French paratroopers attempting to regain territory. The highly dramatic film is about the organization of a guerrilla movement and the illegal methods, such as torture, used by the colonial power to contain it. Algeria succeeded in gaining independence from the French, which Pontecorvo addresses in the film’s epilogue.
A subject of socio-political controversy, the film was not screened for five years in France; it was released in 1971.