Dramatic Structure

Except for the bookends of Ali-la-Pointe hiding behind the fake wall, the film's structure is based on a chronology of actual events, and that is both its weakness and its strength. Chronology, in and of itself, is not dramatic, and may be just the opposite.

There is an "and-then-and-then-and-then" quality to the film that, if it were fictional, would not engage us very much. It is our belief that the characters in the film actually existed, and acted in the manner they did, that gives the film its power. But just think of the power if the characters and events had been actual. If it had been a real cinema-verite documentary, it would have been riveting.

Because of the strict adherence to chronology — and even more so because of trying to tell the whole story of the conflict from both sides and giving so many characters their rightful acknowledgement — the structure is necessarily fragmented, episodic. And because characters disappear from the film for long periods of time, especially Ali-la-Pointe, who we first assume will be the protagonist, it is difficult for us to gain emotional access to anyone. However, we do have an emotional stake in the F.L.N.'s cause. We want them to win their liberation from the French. But I think most of you will find yourselves somewhat removed from events for long stretches of the film. A lot of it, especially the time spent with the French paratrooper colonel, is expository in nature (all of the voice-over in the film is expository) and not dramatically compelling. We are getting facts. Again, if it had been a real documentary, if this same material had been rendered with the actual French colonel, it would have been fascinating. But a mere recreation of historical events, no matter how compelling they may have been, falls short of engaging us fully, and the biggest reason for that is because we are outside the characters' heads. For the most part we see the surface of things, and do not feel the inner life of the characters.

However, there are sequences that are constructed with some of the dramatic categories we have explored earlier, and these sequences are the most suspenseful. Two sequences stick out. The first is when Ali is given the test to shoot the policeman. It is a complete three-act dramatic sequence. Ali is given instructions in the first act. He attempts the assassination in the second. And here there is real dramatic elaboration. The moment is stretched to accommodate and convey all of the dramatic tension inherent in the situation. Then, in the third act, Ali fires at the policeman and discovers that the gun is empty. During this entire sequence we are totally engaged because we are anticipating, participating in the unfolding, and hoping and fearing. Another sustained sequence that is very effective in creating dramatic tension and emotional involvement — because it too has a beginning, middle, and end that allows us to participate in the unfolding — is the women planting bombs.

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