‘Algeria War’ Catalyst and Actor Saadi Yacef dies at 93

Saadi Yacef, a revolutionary leader who fought against French rule in Algeria in the 1950s and subsequently started and played Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1966 film “The War of Algiers,” about the long-running anti-colonial struggle, died on September 10. in the capital Algiers. He was 93 years old.

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

Yacef joined opposition movements at a young age and in 1954 joined the Front de Libération Nationale, the FLN, the leading nationalist organization of the war of independence. The war lasted from 1954 to 1962 and ended with the liberation of the country from France.

He became the organization’s military chief in Algeria in 1956 and ordered bombings and other guerrilla attacks in the part of the city known as the kasbah until he was arrested by French paratroopers the following year. He was sentenced to death.

“When I was in prison, executions always took place at dawn,” he 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 another day. . But I was very sure that I would be executed.”

Charles de Gaulle, who was elected president of France in 1958, eventually freed Yacef. This started a completely different chapter in Mr. Yacef’s life. While in prison, he wrote “Souvenirs de la Bataille d’Alger” (“Memoirs of the Algerian War”), which chronicles a particularly violent three-year episode of the war.

After Algeria gained its independence, the FLN, which runs the country, wanted to commission a film about the freedom struggle led by Mr. Yacef.

“Back then,” he told Le Monde in 2004, “everyone swore on Italian neorealism. That’s why I went to Italy to look for a scriptwriter and director for the ‘Battle of Algeria’.”

With a script based on his book, he teamed up with Mr Pontecorvo, who is said to be considering his own movie about the Algerian War, which he hoped would turn Paul Newman from French paratrooper to journalist. Mr. Yacef and his supporters mixed this idea and Mr. Pontecorvo found Mr. Yacef’s script for propaganda purposes, but they continued to talk. Mr. Yacef arranged to bring Mr. Pontecorvo and his screenwriter, Franco Solinas, to Algeria for an extended period so that they could study the revolution, see the places where the war had taken place, and meet the people who were fighting.

NS result movieThe film, shot in Algeria, produced by Yacef Bey, premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 1966 and caused a sensation with its surprising realism. Some scenes, especially the bombing scenes, looked so realistic that during their premiere came a disclaimer saying that no newsreel footage was used prior to the film.

“There are several sequences that look very dangerous,” says director Steven Soderbergh said in a video For the Criterion Collection when it released a new version of the film in 2004. “I don’t know if you can do it now.”

Mr Pontecorvo, who died in 2006used almost exclusively non-actors, including Mr. Yacef, who played a character based largely on him.

“Pontecorvo insisted that I appear in the film,” he told Le Monde. “I had to act in movie moments that I had seven years ago. War, prison, torture – all this was still fresh in my memory.”

Saadi Yacef was born on January 20, 1928, in Algeria, to baker Mohamed and Keltoum Yacef. His education was interrupted when World War II seized the Allied school for use as barracks.

After the war, Saadi apprenticed to also become a baker. He also played football for Union Sportive de la Médina d’Alger, one of the best teams in Algeria from 1952 to 1954. By then, he had also been drawn into the growing anti-colonial movement.

In addition to his daughter Zaphira, who lives in Algeria, Yacef’s wife, Baya Boudjema Yacef, whom he married in 1965; the other four children, Salima, Saida, Omar and Amin; and nine grandchildren.

The revolution, which Mr. Yacef helped more, was known for atrocities on both sides, and Mr. Pontecorvo’s film, which focused on the conflicts in Algeria from 1954 to 1957, did not punch.

“With the exception of Orson Welles, no one had ever so creatively imitated the look of a newsreel,” the film critic said. Stuart Klawans wrote In the New York Times in 2004, “Although Welles only used the trick for the ‘March of Time’ episode of Citizen Kane, Mr. Pontecorvo maintained the illusion for 123 minutes.”

The film won the Golden Lion in Venice, the top prize of that festival, and was selected in 1967. To kick off the New York Film Festival. It was nominated for an Oscar for best foreign language film, screenplay and director.

The film has been scrutinized over the years by both militant groups like the Black Panthers and the Pentagon. Mr. Yacef, who later served as a senator in the Algerian national assembly, quickly admitted that his orders had resulted in many deaths, but he made a distinction between actions committed in the cause of liberation and those of more recent groups. exporting terrorism. He particularly disdained suicide bombing, a tactic that resistance fighters did not use.

“The struggle has added meaning to our lives” said in 2007. “We weren’t in it to die.”

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