Home Art & Culture Saadi Yacef, ‘Battle of Algiers’ Catalyst and Actor, Dies at 93

Saadi Yacef, ‘Battle of Algiers’ Catalyst and Actor, Dies at 93

by admin

Saadi Yacef, a revolutionary leader who fought French rule in Algeria in the 1950s and then set in motion — and acted in — “The Battle of Algiers,” Gillo Pontecorvo’s acclaimed 1966 film about the long anti-colonialism struggle, died on Sept. 10 in Algiers, the capital. He was 93.

His daughter Zaphira Yacef, who confirmed the death, said he had had heart problems.

Mr. Yacef became involved in opposition movements while still a teenager and in 1954 joined the Front de Libération Nationale, the F.L.N., the leading nationalist organization during the war for independence. The war lasted from 1954 to 1962, ending with the country’s liberation from France.

He became the organization’s military chief in Algiers in 1956, ordering bombings and other guerrilla attacks until his arrest by French paratroopers the next year in the part of the city known as the casbah. He was sentenced to death.

“While I was in prison the executions were always done at dawn,” the told The Sunday Herald of Glasgow, Scotland, in 2007, “so when I saw the sun coming through the prison bars I knew I was going to live through another day. But I was very certain that I would be executed.”

Charles de Gaulle, who was elected president of France in 1958, eventually set Mr. Yacef free. That began an entirely different chapter in Mr. Yacef’s life. While in prison he had written “Souvenirs de la Bataille d’Alger” (“Memories of the Battle of Algiers”), his account of a particularly violent three-year portion of the war.

Once Algeria became independent, the F.L.N., ruling the country, sought to commission a film about the freedom fight, with Mr. Yacef leading the effort.

“At that time,” he told Le Monde in 2004, “everyone swore by Italian neorealism. That’s why I went to Italy to look for a screenwriter and a director for ‘The Battle of Algiers.’”

With a script based on his book, he met with Mr. Pontecorvo, who was said to have been considering his own movie about the Algerian War, one that he hoped would star Paul Newman as a French paratrooper turned journalist. Mr. Yacef and his backers nixed that idea, and Mr. Pontecorvo found Mr. Yacef’s script propagandistic, but they continued to talk. Mr. Yacef arranged to bring Mr. Pontecorvo and his screenwriter, Franco Solinas, to Algiers for an extended stay so they could study up on the revolution, see locations where the fighting had occurred and meet people who had fought.

The resulting movie, filmed in Algeria with Mr. Yacef as a producer, had its premiere at the Venice Film Festival in 1966 and caused a sensation for its startling realism. Some scenes, especially of bombings, looked so authentic that the film in its initial showings was preceded by a disclaimer saying that no newsreel footage had been used.

“There are a couple of sequences which look very dangerous,” the director Steven Soderbergh said in a video for the Criterion Collection when it released a fresh version of the film in 2004. “I don’t know if you could do them now.”

Mr. Pontecorvo, who died in 2006, used nonactors almost exclusively, including Mr. Yacef, who played a character largely based on himself.

“Pontecorvo insisted that I appear in the film,” he told Le Monde. “I had to play in the movies moments that I had lived seven years before. The war, the prison, the torture — all of this was still fresh in my memory.”

Saadi Yacef was born on Jan. 20, 1928, in Algiers to Mohamed and Keltoum Yacef, who were bakers. His schooling was interrupted by World War II when the Allies commandeered his school for use as a barracks.

After the war Saadi was apprenticed to become a baker as well. He also played soccer for one of Algeria’s top teams, the Union Sportive de la Médina d’Alger, from 1952 to 1954. By then he had also been pulled into the growing anticolonial movement.

In addition to his daughter Zaphira, Mr. Yacef, who lived in Algiers, is survived by his wife, Baya Boudjema Yacef, whom he married in 1965; four other children, Salima, Saida, Omar and Amin; and nine grandchildren. .

The revolution that Mr. Yacef helped further was known for atrocities on both sides, and Mr. Pontecorvo’s film, which focused on the fighting in Algiers from 1954 to 1957, did not pull punches.

“Apart from Orson Welles, no one before had so imaginatively imitated the look of a newsreel,” the film critic Stuart Klawans wrote in The New York Times in 2004, “although Welles had pulled the trick only for the ‘March of Time’ segment of ‘Citizen Kane,’ whereas Mr. Pontecorvo kept up his illusion for 123 minutes.”

The movie won the Golden Lion in Venice, that festival’s top award, and in 1967 it was chosen to kick off the New York Film Festival. It was nominated for Oscars for best foreign language film, screenplay and director.

The movie has been studied over the years both by militant groups like the Black Panthers and by the Pentagon. Mr. Yacef, who later in life served as a senator in Algeria’s national assembly, readily acknowledged that orders he had issued resulted in many deaths, but he drew a distinction between actions committed in the cause of liberation and the actions of more recent groups in exporting terrorism. He had particular disdain for suicide bombings, a tactic his resistance fighters did not employ.

“The fight gave meaning to our lives,” he said in 2007. “We weren’t in it to die.”

Source link

Related Articles

Leave a Comment

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More