The Battle of Algiers provides a very clear and distinct interpretation of the clarifying oppression arguments given by de Beauvoir in Section 2, Chapter III of The Ethics of Ambiguity. Battle of Algiers provides the story of a revolutionary group in Algeria during the French colonization. The story follows a few different characters but focuses on the revolutionary Ali la Pointe and the French paratrooper commander Colonel Mathieu (played by Jean Martin who interestingly enough was a signatory of the Manifesto of 121 which denounced the Algerian War and was signed by both Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre). The film provides perspectives from both sides of the conflict. The main appeal to this storytelling method, I think, is the surprisingly reasonable insight given by Colonel Mathieu in observance of the Algerian people and their revolution. Colonel Mathieu seems to understand the reason for the resistance, perhaps because of his involvement with the French resistance during WWII.
The reading of oppression in de Beauvoir’s Ethics of Ambiguity is best summarized by “a situation [of oppression] is never natural: man is never oppressed by things … he does not rebel against things, but only against other men” (87). This entails the situation in which Ali is rebelling as a part of the oppressed. This is the conflict that Colonel Mathieu is called to settle, although he seems to recognize the futility in his efforts. When oppressed people, in this case the Algerians, rebel against their oppressors, the French, the revolution often turns violent as it does in this case with the systematic bombings of French areas. This is a common response to oppression and it indeed can lead to the oppressed becoming the oppressors, however, in this case Colonel Mathieu recognizes that that is not the problem when he asks the journalists “Should France stay in Algeria? If your answer is still yes, then you must accept all the consequences.” He also states that the problem is simple, “the FLN want to throw us out of Algeria, and we want to stay” which sounds like simplifying the issue however it is merely attracting the idea that the French soldiers are not inherently bad people but their duty, as soldiers, is to win the fight. This is the importance of Colonel Mathieu’s character, providing the French perspective that is not immediately malicious. Oppressed people have only one solution according to de Beauvoir, “to deny the harmony of that mankind from which an attempt is made to exclude him, to prove that he is a man and that he is free by revolting against the tyrants” (89). Thus, is the importance of the contrast between Ali la Pointe and the tyrants that Colonel Mathieu represents, the French aristocracy. We see that this representation of the French situation provides an understanding of the unpopularity of the Algerian War from a large number of French people which is embodied in the Colonel Mathieu character. This character provides a realistic aspect of humanity in situations of oppression.
Many times the oppressors, despite the recognition of their wrongdoing, find it very difficult to change their ways due to a variety of factors that have to do with the complacency of their lives being upset a bit. However, the complacency will always be so long as the oppressed are people and people recognized that they are being oppressed as such. De Beauvoir speaks of this when she recognizes that humans cannot be oppressed by things that are not other humans. Colonel Mathieu likewise recognizes this when he comments on the French occupation of Algeria as being expectedly violent. In both cases, oppression fails to end until both parties refrain from oppressing. Problem occurs when the oppressed become the oppressors, however, that is a whole other paper.