The 1960s marked a turning point in the relationship between film aesthetics and politics. Two films from this period demonstrate the breadth with which these themes may be explored. Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers (La bataille d’Alger, 1966, ITA), co-written with Franco Solinas and sourced from Saadi Yacef’s firsthand account of the Algerian revolution in Souvenirs de la bataille d’Algers (1962), fictionally represents the formation of the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) and its struggles against, and eventual victory over, French colonialism. The film operates within the style of neo-realism and follows a recognizable narrative arc. Contrary to Pontecorvo, Japanese director Nagisa Oshima abandons the neo-realist tradition in his Death by Hanging (Koshikei, 1968, JAP), a film based on a true story of a Korean rapist and murderer and his fictionalized execution. Oshima projects his tale through the theatre of the absurd, employs non-continuity, and presents an unfamiliar narrative trajectory. Both Pontecorvo’s and Oshima’s styles nevertheless engage difficult if not radical political concerns.

           The two films present opposed methods of approaching political subjectivity and alterity, thus both works take ‘fight or flight’ as a central theme: as a literal fight against French colonialism and a literal flight from Japanese state politics. Moreover, both the characters in the films as well as the directors wrestle with political themes and unstable terms such as ‘terrorist’, ‘Korean’, ‘Algerian’, ‘citizen’, and ‘nation’. These words are uttered, performed, and explored to uncover the ways each produce conflicting meanings and effects dependent upon the spaces in which protagonists appear.

           In this essay I examine the status of political representation in Algiers and Death by Hanging. The latter is a direct response to the type of aestheticizing of politics in the former, a film that Oshima provocatively called a “trashy” melodrama. I turn to Jürgen Habermas and his concepts of the “ideal speech situation” and “communicative competence” to assess Algiers. Habermas, we will see, cannot account for the formation of political subjectivity in the film. I then place the film and Habermas against Death by Hanging and Jacques Rancière’s theory that politics substantiates itself in disagreement between the state and those who have “no part” in its direct operations. The theoretical conflict between these two contemporary political philosophers is thus preceded by the conflict between Pontecorvo and Oshima. My investigation ultimately furthers our grasp of Habermas’s and Rancière’s political theories and the differing modes of aestheticized politics in cinema.

           On one hand, Algiers prompts historical questions integral to Algeria and French colonialism, and in fact Pontecorvo’s work has informed a number of other revolutionary-themed films (Gross 22-23). On the other, Oshima’s film provides a rich conceptual framework in assessing, more generally, the difficulties in being named and interpellated by the state—concerns still pertinent today—and further, addresses conceptual and practical responses to state politics: potentially, fight or flight. Death by Hanging’s absurdism takes shape as a productive flight from the dominant modes of group-interest politics. Oshima visually argues that politics, put in Rancière’s terms, occurs at the moment when those who do not speak or understand the dominant political discourses nevertheless attempt to be heard and understood.


           Habermas’s project in The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (1962) is to transmit the social and cultural history that brought the public sphere into existence. The public sphere has its beginnings in 18th century Europe. The salon and coffeehouse were places of critical engagement with the arts and this, Habermas argues, is the start of the public sphere. These exclusive and intellectualized establishments were not policed by authority; the spaces were left free to their own devices, partitioned off from the State and private sphere. Such was the project of the enlightenment: create a space where men can gather to argue about the common good. These salons, coffeehouses, and similar venues shared three traits: (1) social hierarchies and statuses were dissolved; (2) areas of inquiry that were previously unquestioned were problematized; and (3) the discussion was inclusive: Everyone had to be able to participate (36-37). But this beginning has its negative characteristics. These salons were comprised mostly of middle and upper class men, necessarily well-educated, and despite bringing both bourgeois and nobles together, the debates were still very much behind closed doors (35). Indeed, the public sphere discussed by Habermas was clearly filled with personal motivation, self-interest, and selfishness. But it was the formation of this public sphere that eventually allowed political debate to flourish; individuals came together to form individual and group interests that could be transferred to the political arena (55-56).

            The next step for our brief study of Habermas’s system is to assess his views on the political agent’s appearance in the public sphere, i.e., what kinds of goals and what kinds of language and grammar should be employed in the political arena. “Towards a Theory of Communicative Competence” (1970) targets Noam Chomsky and his notion of linguistic competence. According to Habermas, Chomsky asserts that linguistic competence is the mastery of an abstract system of rules “based on an innate language apparatus, regardless of how the latter is in fact used in actual speech” (361). This is a sort of monologism, a speaking to oneself. The ability to transmit information seems to be all Chomsky gets at (360-361). Habermas writes that presupposing the ability to transmit information is to first produce a situation or system of ordinary-language communication, what he terms an “ideal speaker” situation. Participation in communication is better described and understood as processes of “communicative competence.” A speech situation is possible not because of one’s innate linguistic apparatus, but the persons involved must have previously acquired the basic qualifications of speech and symbolic interaction (role-behavior) (366-67). Communicative competence and the mastery of an ideal speech situation is precisely the mastery of “dialogue-specific universals.” Most importantly for Habermas, in addition to proper use of pronouns and other general rules of speech (its place in space and time, context and expectation, recognition, no privileged speaker, etc.), is the intended consensus (368-72). This is so because all speech is directed towards truth, and from there, towards conceptions of freedom and justice (372). Thus every individual has the apparent capabilities to participate under the Habermasian language system. If we follow Habermas’s speech rules, we can come closer to reaching the truth of our shared social and political situation, and mutually agree upon political concepts and action. The truths that are generated are not pre-established prior to debate, but arise in the ideal speech situation through our shared understanding of language rules and games.1


           Rancière has problems with Habermas’s theory of communicative competence. Consensus is in fact the cancelling out of politics. It incorporates all of the population and puts them into a political order, a political community reduced to the relationship of interests and aspirations of the differing parts. Consensus is defined as group-interest politics that concerns itself with gaining an “optimal share” of the objective givens to (ideally) wave away potential conflict and disagreement amongst differing groups—politics becomes the police order.2 Individuals are no longer allowed their political subjectivity, their ability to disagree, and the sensible is separated from itself. Thus consensus is not merely the mode of peace and reasonable discussion about social/political issues; it is a reduction of the heterogeneity of vantage points for a “field of perception-in-common.” It is an affirmation that preconditions exist for a rational and univocal political choice. It is the negation of democracy through the disallowance of people to appear as such (“Dissenting Words” 123, 125; “Ten Theses on the Politics of Aesthetics” 32; Disagreement 102; The Politics of Aesthetics 80-93).

           Disagreement is the mode of the political agent. The term is best explained through the concept of “literarity,” which is an excess of words, words that can be uttered uselessly and unnecessarily, and exceed designation. Rancière’s take on language is explicitly opposed to those who claim that there is a mode of speaking correctly. He also opposes those who deny excessive speech in an effort to maintain power. This is the foundation of the human being as a political animal and a political subjectivity; politics is a question of what can be said and making it visible, and the possibility of excess words rupturing the distribution of the sensible (“Dissenting Words” 115).3 The political subject appears in the public sphere/political arena to disrupt the allotment, ordering, and distribution of what can be said and done by: (1) an overflowing of words and (2) by subjectivization, i.e., the extraction of individuals from dominant categories of sense perception. This subject is part of the demos, the people who have no part in the distribution of the sensible, i.e., no qualifications to have a hand in ruling. Rancière stresses that it is not a socially inferior category he describes; rather, the political subject is one who speaks when s/he is not to speak, partakes in what s/he is not supposed to take part in. The demos are not the sum of the population, or a disfavored element (proletariat), or an ideal representation—they are the specific subjects who are outnumbered in the sense of counting in the respective whole of the population and distribution of the sensible (“Ten Theses…” Theses 3 and 4). Thus we find not only politics, but a poetics of politics in Rancière’s work, in making the words of the demos visible despite their possible incomprehensibility. Poetics here means reconfiguring the distribution of the sensible, as opposed to a “hermeneutics of suspicion;” poetics takes seriously the utterances by those who have no part (“Dissenting Words” 115-16).

            Disagreement is firmly opposed to Habermas’s communicative rationality, a model presupposing pragmatic constraints which force interlocutors into a sphere of inter-comprehension and “dialogue-specific universals.” Rancière’s position is one without set orders or objects of political discussion and agreement–both object and speakers are not pre-established (“Dissenting Words” 116; “Ten Theses…” 24). A poetics of politics challenges what counts as legitimate political speech and thus Rancière posits a simultaneous engagement of a poetics of knowledge. This latter poetics is the direct challenge to pre-established discourses and objects of debate such as truth, freedom, and justice, to refer to Habermas’s options for ideal political discussion (“Dissenting Words” 116). Disagreement is thinking through the various discourses and languages in a manner so that everyone can actively create a common world of experience. In other words, disagreement is creating connections between invisible objects and discourses and making them visible.


           Pontecorvo’s 1966 film The Battle of Algiers is shot in a documentary mode to convey a sense of authenticity. It also follows closely the tradition of neo-realism as expounded by Italian neo-realist scriptwriter Cesare Zavattini. Neorealism was a movement that showed things as they are, however harsh, and its protagonists were not Hollywood-like heroes. The filmmakers would incorporate non-professional actors, work with spontaneity on real sets, and use dialect. Indeed, Zavattini argues that technical flourishes in films detract from real issues depicted in a film (“Some Ideas on the Cinema” 916-924).4

           Adopting a neo-realist style for a filmic representation of a major political conflict seems appropriate. The story of Algiers is set in the late 1950s and weaves in and out of a key group of Algerian revolutionaries and the French military personnel trying to subdue them. Pontecorvo does not take an explicit side, although the focus is mostly on one Algerian man. Ali La Pointe (Brahhim Haggiag) is not the leader of a band of revolutionaries, but one of the many participants in the war against French colonialism. However, by the end of the film and given Pontecorvo’s arrangement of the sequences, Ali evidently plays a vital role in the future success of Algerian independence.5

           After Algiers’s release, the film was highly praised by audiences and critics in Japan. Nagisa Oshima felt, however, that the film did not deserve such attention. First, Oshima took issue with the film’s melodramatic quality; even the music is overdone, he writes in “On the Attitude of Film Theorists” (1967). Oshima classifies Algiers’s genre in this short article, apart from what we may typically label it—Algiers is more easily categorized as a dramatic political film.6 It is Pontecorvo’s overly sentimental plot—not that Pontecorvo’s history was inaccurate but the ordering of the pieces of the story appealed to spectators’ emotions—, the spectator’s identification with character, and the catharsis of the film’s conclusion that I believe Oshima dislikes. Thus the film’s praise stems from its content and spectators’ association with genre rather than the artistic merits of the work. At the time, the fact that a film is made about national independence is naturally a “good thing”, writes Oshima (142). However, Oshima was also critically invested in the present and future of cinema, thus he produced pages of writing on the state of cinema during his lifetime.

           Oshima’s second major criticism is that towards the end of the film Ali is dramatically killed which, for the moment, quashes the rebellion in Algiers. Three years following, in late 1960, almost overnight tensions flare up again and Algeria eventually succeeds in their efforts for national independence. The film states that “No one knew” why or how the struggle was resurrected. This is unacceptable for Oshima, as the lack of (filmic) response on this uprising entails a personal motive on Pontecorvo’s part. There seems to be an obvious connection between the story of Ali and the 1960 uprising, for the event of Ali’s death directly followed by the uprising is clearly an intentional move. The director likely wants us to believe Ali’s sacrifice contributed to revolution thus, according to Oshima, the story takes on an overly sentimental quality. If there was room for critique—Oshima thinks there could have been a critique of the Algerian present—the interval between Ali’s death and the uprising would have been the space to do so. Instead, viewers get a “trashy” melodrama and critics could not get beyond its success as entertainingly documenting racial and colonial struggle (Oshima 139-43). Films should, when they are historical, “contain premonitions of the future,” i.e., speak to the present and how the present has taken up the depicted historical events (143).

           Pontecorvo instead flees from the opportunity. He communicates for the public sphere in a way that could be described as an ideal speech situation (a recognizable genre) and with communicative competence (a film with linear and narrative continuity). His documentary mode in the style of then contemporary art cinema, the possibility for character identification, and particularly the sentimental ending attempts to level the political complexities of the real Algerian situation, notwithstanding its historical accuracy. He appeals to a wide audience and, according to Oshima, at the expense of a critical investigation of the Algerian revolution and the larger concerns of political agency. Indeed, the co-scriptwriter of the film Solinas stated, “Political films are useful, on the one hand, if they contain a correct analysis of reality, and on the other, if they are made in such a way to have that analysis reach the largest possible audience” (“An Interview with Franco Solinas” 37-38, italics mine).

           One of the key concerns Oshima draws out of the film’s reception is that “several would-be politicians have interpreted the contents… as promoting their own interests and they used it for their own political ends” (140). However, this is untenable for the Japanese director’s theory of film. He bluntly states, contrary to Solinas, “Films can’t be used for political purposes.” They are only political in so far as they move the spectator, which is to say, the spectacle itself has no inherent political qualities. Yet the scene of Ali’s death could move the spectator, writes Oshima; there is no doubt about the possible political engagements one could have with Algiers. For instance, in the climactic sequence of the film, the French military await Ali’s surrender: he has hidden himself away, behind a wall in a room of an apartment building with three others, including a young boy. If he does not comply, they will dynamite the building and everyone inside. He could be spared, but he will not open his mouth to speak to his oppressors for he cannot trust them and, with their violent efforts against the Algerian revolutionaries, surely they could not understand him. Ali seals his lips and his fate. With dramatic cutting from Ali’s cache to bystanders in tears, uttering prayers, or symbolically comforting a crying baby, the French army sets off the explosion. Critic Matsuda Masao saw Ali’s silence as the silence of the “lower classes,” marking what he calls a “nonpolitical consciousness.” Silence, for Masao, can nevertheless be politically mobilized, as demonstrated by Algiers and the subsequent revolution three years after Ali’s death (qtd. in Oshima Cinema, Censorship, and the State 141).

           It is this particular moment in the film that points at a glaring limitation in Habermas’s ideal speech situation: Algiers makes it apparent that not everyone can speak within the confines of so-called political speech. Were Ali and the French to discuss colonialism and independence, the latter group would fail to grasp the significance of the words. Instead, Ali must choose silence and Pontecorvo suggests that this silence was luckily the catalyst of the later revolution. However, what the film also reveals is that we need a new way of theorizing politics and language. Oshima disagrees with Masao’s interpretation of the film and, in fact, Oshima writes that what Masao had to say about Ali’s silence is not really in the film but merely his own projection. Oshima posits his own account of political agency and language in a film made two years after Algiers. In Death by Hanging, Oshima fights for a more Ranciérian theory through which he critiques Japan’s recent discrimination of Koreans, capital punishment, the “trashy” melodrama, and the role of the film spectator.


           Oshima visited South Korea several times in the early 1960s and even produced two documentaries, one about veterans and another about a young girl working as a prostitute. On one of his visits, he sees tremendous national consciousness, but then suggests the need to “dismantle the framework of… national consciousness” to fully engage with Japanese-Korean relations (Cinema, Censorship, and the State 62). Indeed, the complicated history of these relations—including Japan’s decades-long colonial rule of Korea and the discrimination of Koreans living in Japan as their home nation split into two in the late 1940s, leaving the North Koreans effectively stateless—resulted in international disaster (Ryang Koreans in Japan 1-11). It is this recent history that Oshima was keen to investigate, but not through a political hero. A Korean criminal would be more appropriate for the director’s aims. “Needless to say, both crime and the Korean problem are ultimately national concerns” (Oshima Cinema, Censorship, and the State 166).

           But it is in the interests of aesthetics and spectatorship that Oshima’s Death by Hanging becomes most valuable. Much of what Oshima will depict resonates with Rancière’s politics of aesthetics, particularly in “The Emancipated Spectator” (2004). In this piece, Rancière attempts to overcome the opinion that spectacles are passively consumed (271): spectators neither know the thing they are looking at, its conditions and appearance, nor can they act or intervene on what is perceived. According to this position, without knowing there is no acting (272). For Rancière, Plato attempted to reconcile the discrepancy between spectacle and knowledge by suggesting an organization of theatre according to its true essence, for then spectators would abandon their isolated passivity and become a community that can enact democratic principles (272, 274). Plato thus argued that theatre should be pedagogy. Plays that perform pedagogical functions will minimize the passive element of spectatorship and, through certain content and form, “[the spectator] will know what has to be done… [which] make[s]… him an active participant in the communal world” (Rancière 277). But Plato’s account is merely the distribution of the sensible, the allotted places and capacities or incapacities attached to them. Further, according to Rancière, this view of spectatorship emphasizes too much of the master-student relationship, where the former provides the latter with the information he must passively consume.

           Rancière’s political subject is something different in that s/he disrupts the distribution of the sensible and can become emancipated from the practices of such master-student relations. Rancière suggests that the spectator is already in a mode of observation, selection, comparison, and interpretation when engaging with a work of art. Looking at the spectacle is an action preconfigured by sense perception: spectators are always ready to reconfigure and interpret the world (277). There is thus not a “privileged medium,” such as the theatre, which calls people to action or provides them with knowledge; our normal situation is always in the mode of spectatorship, i.e., making “associations and disassociations” and working them out for ourselves (279). This is how the individual becomes political; he or she interprets and actively engages with the spectacle while simultaneously reconfiguring normal modes of seeing.

           Nevertheless, some spectacles are prone to or trigger certain responses. The warm reception of Algiers may have resulted from a Habermasian communicative competence, the apparently universal categories of the ‘common good’, and sentimentality of fictionalizing political action. Death by Hanging, perhaps Oshima’s most well-received film according to Annette Michelson,7 will not provide a definition of the common good, nor will the director succumb to the form and style of melodramatic “trash.” Inducing a Rancière-like mode of spectatorship is where Oshima excels. His films provide filmic space for interpretation and creation of political subjectivity.

           The first images are text: Have you ever seen an execution chamber, have you seen an execution? The closed space of the execution chamber can be thought of as an exclusive space for politics, i.e., the decision to continue to uphold a death penalty is debated amongst leaders of state and the chamber is its final result. The execution chamber excludes the voices of the criminals and oppressed; the regime has determined their fate and by the time a person enters the space, any political action or argument is too late. The film then opens up this place of death. The first sound of the film is a narrator describing the space; he seems to follow the camera through an average looking bungalow that houses the execution chamber and the moveable Christian-Buddhist chapel. There is then a (fictional) prisoner and his subsequent execution. This is only the beginning of the film; his death does not come after two hours of identifying with the character and surely not as a melodramatic climax. Most importantly, the end of the film thanks the spectator for bearing witness to the event. By witnessing this event, Oshima ethically implicates the viewer. He does so not by rational argumentation, but by venturing into the realm of the absurd.

           Martin Esslin states that the “Theatre of the Absurd strives to express its sense of the senselessness of the human condition and the inadequacy of the rational approach by the open abandonment of rational devices and discursive thought” (24).8 Based on the real story of a Korean criminal in Japan, Ri Chin’u, who had killed and raped two women, Death by Hanging fictionalizes his execution and absurdly, its failure. After the button is engaged and 18 minutes between hanging and legal pronouncement of death pass, the doctor discovers R.’s (Yun Yun-do) heart still beating. R. is taken down and revived. The characters in attendance—a doctor, an examining magistrate, a priest, some officials, and education officer—observe that the executed man has suffered amnesia, and R., to the lament of the officials, cannot be hung again until he realizes who he is and the accompanying guilt. The officials decide to reenact his crimes in order to jog his memory, going as far back as R.’s family home with a poor drunken father, a deaf mother, and several siblings to care for. The performance escalates and there is much frustration in rekindling R.’s memory. The interrogation of R.’s past results in the Education Officer (Watanabe Fumio) committing R.’s crime on a helpless victim. With this act, the officials see R’s plight, come to understand the nature of crime, and most importantly, the difficulties Koreans face while living in Japan.

            The Education Officer’s slain girl quickly reawakens and she becomes the older sister that R. never had (Koyama Akiko). She symbolizes the pride of Korea and explains to R. that his crimes were not caused by desire or passion, the motives given by the Examining Magistrate, but revenge against Japanese imperialism. However, R. cannot accept either justification for the crime; the person that he became after his execution is neither the murderer nor Korean nationalist. Oshima does not provide an answer to the problem of ‘who’ he has become, as if the problem of identity will result in a positive outcome (as Ali chooses silence to then become a revolutionary martyr). Further, R.’s tautological answers to the Examining Magistrate’s questions—“You are a Korean.” What is a Korean? “You committed rape.” What is rape? “You will be executed by the Nation…”—puts the character squarely within Rancière’s political mode of disagreement and “literarity”; put in the context of this issue’s theme, it is a flight from the dominant modes of political discourse. This man cannot use the language of the State and the State can only understand its citizens when they speak with competence. Once the prisoner begins to question his execution, the State cannot adeptly reply to R.’s interrogation of law and language. Is it wrong to kill? asks R. Yes, say the officials. Is it wrong to kill me? he asks further. No, they reply—and R. objects to the contradiction in rational argumentation. The vicious circle of capital punishment repeats, he suggests, as each murderer is put to death until no one is left. The Examining Magistrate tries to defend the barbaric practice by naming the Nation as the executioner, thus there is no vicious circle. The Magistrate flees from responsibility as it is not he who hangs the victim. Yet R. will not be killed by an abstraction, and a nation cannot make one guilty, he says. Oshima writes in a note on the film, “The two contexts in which the nation believes it is permissible to kill people are the death penalty and war. We say no to the death penalty and war. We object strenuously to their existence. However, our objections will carry no weight unless articulated by an ideological level that transcends the nation” (166). Death by Hanging is this articulation, an international language in moving-images, a re-distribution of the sensible, a fight via flight for a different sort of politics and conceptualization of the political agent.

            It is not merely the words uttered by the officials and R. that point to the film’s alternative to Habermasian politics. Stephen Heath accomplishes a short sequence analysis of Death by Hanging in his essay “Narrative Space” (1981). He identifies an extra space in the film, what he calls a “hollow”. Heath’s analysis demonstrates that R. is never quite where he should be in the framed space; he “has neither voice nor look” (65). Rarely do we cut to R.’s look at the officials or some other prop in the scene; he is the main character but we do not identify with his perspective or see him captivated in vision. Additionally, R. cannot speak in the manner of the officials nor does he understand their frames of reference. Thus the Education Officer’s voice consistently follows R. as if from a place of narratological omnipresence, and further, he attempts to direct R.’s actions and thoughts. Thus there is another film below the surface, i.e., a film about R. as a political subject, a film we only see through not seeing it: “something remains over…, something that Oshima’s films constantly attempt to articulate as a new content… in the exploration of the political relations of the subject and the subjective relations of the political. In that double and simultaneous movement lies a utopianism of another space…, a radically transformed subjectivity” (66).

            Oshima offers us more than a melodrama. The characters in the film appear as political subjects when called upon for keen observation and interpretation. With the collection and recollection of the images and sounds of Death by Hanging, the spectator too becomes a political agent via Oshima’s practice of filmmaking which falls outside the dominant classification for filmed images, i.e., the demand from consensus politics to provide viewers an opinion, argument, or coherent plot according to dominant cinematic rules, forms, narrative trajectories, and genres. Heath notes this as well: “The intensity of Oshima’s work lies in a ‘going beyond’ of content that constantly breaks available articulations of ‘form’ and ‘content’ and poses the film in the hollow of these breaks” (64). In Oshima’s auteurist approach, the director commands an active engagement with foreign political concepts and challenges existing ideas on the relationship between form and content in the practice of filmmaking. Oshima demonstrates that the form can carry the political weight as much as the content. While the style of neo-realism may have been effective for the goals of The Battle of Algiers, my comparative analysis of these two political filmmaking juggernauts suggests that politics is not merely direct action—as Algiers directly narrates a history—but can effect change through absurdity and film form. Unfortunately, our contemporary political films—particularly war films—draw more on Pontecorvo’s legacy than Oshima’s. My aim here was to rekindle not just an appreciation for Oshima’s political interventions, but articulate his usefulness for both contemporary filmmakers and political theorists.

Troy Bordun
Trent University
  1. The word ideal must be stressed; these are only ideas and in the mastery of communicative competence we can only anticipate the ideal speech situation.
  2. Police is neither repressive nor controlling—it is a “principle of saturation”, a mode of the distribution of the sensible where there is no supplement or lack. It is the fitting into place of all the members of society, “groups performing specific functions and occupying determined spaces”. The police establish borders and outline ways of doing, making, and communicating. Politics is what ruptures this order by introducing a supplement or lack (Rancière “Dissenting Words” 124; “Ten Theses…” Thesis 7).
  3. When Rancière refers to the distribution of the sensible, he means the allotted places and forms of perception made available to subjects, or the preconditions for what can be said, done, and made. Distribution is both inclusive and exclusive, allows participation and excludes from it; sensible is what is available to the senses, “the self-evident facts of sense perception that simultaneously discloses the existence of something in common and the delimitations that define the respective parts and positions within it” (The Politics of Aesthetics 12; “Ten Theses…” Thesis 7).
  4. See Peter Matthews, “The Battle of Algiers: Bombs and Boomerangs”, for more on the film’s connection to neo-realism.
  5. For the history of the Algerian conflict, see Alistair Horne’s A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962 (1978). For a treatment of a contemporary film and the prolonged effects of the war, see James Penney’s “‘You never look at me from where I see you’: Postcolonial Guilt in Caché.”
  6. For Linda Williams (“Film Bodies”), the melodrama is often synonymous with woman’s films or “weepies.” These types of films depict some of kind private affair, either familial or romantic, and Williams identifies its key component not in its semantic qualities—its building blocks—but by the narrative and the spectatorial response. She describes the melodrama as a narrative that fulfills the spectators’ expectation of sadness and tears; in the melodrama, spectators know the character(s) will succumb to some kind of tragedy or tearful resolution, and in turn, the spectator weeps as well (or feel some kind of sadness or tearful joy). Oshima seems to use melodrama to mark this sort of overly sentimental narrative and the accompanying excess: tearful joy.
  7. Oshima took Death by Hanging to Cannes in 1968, but the event was cancelled due to the student riots. Nevertheless, he took it to Nice and found acceptance among the students there (Oshima 15). The Criterion Collection released a long overdue Blu-ray of the film in February 2016.
  8. Many other critics note the film’s Brechtian influences. See “Donald Richie on ‘Koshikei.’”

Esslin, Martin. The Theatre of the Absurd. 3rd ed. New York: Vintage Books, 2004. Print.

Gross, Larry. “A Blast from the Past that Continues to Resonate.” Film Comment 40.1 (2004): 22-23. Online.

Habermas, Jürgen. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. Trans. Thomas Burger. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1991. Print.

—. “Towards a Theory of Communicative Competence.” Inquiry 13 (1970): 360-375. Print.

Heath, Stephen. Questions of Cinema. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981. Print.

Horne, Alistair. A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962. New York: New York Review of Books, 2006. Print.

Matthews, Peter. “The Battle of Algiers: Bombs and Boomerangs.” The Battle of Algiers. Criterion Collection, 2004. DVD booklet. 6-11. Print.

Michelson, Annette. “Introduction.” Cinema, Censorship, and the State: The Writings of Nagisa Oshima. Ed. Annette Michelson. Trans. Dawn Lawson. Cambridge and London: The MIT Press, 1992. Print.

Oshima, Nagisa. Cinema, Censorship, and the State: The Writings of Nagisa Oshima. Ed. Annette Michelson. Trans. Dawn Lawson. Cambridge and London: The MIT Press, 1992. Print.

Penney, James. “‘You never look at me from where I see you’: Postcolonial guilt in Caché.” New Formations 71 (2010): 77-93. Online.

Rancière, Jacques. Disagreement. Trans. Julie Rose. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, 1999. Print.

—. The Politics of Aesthetics. Trans. Gabriel Rockhill. London: Continuum, 2004. Print.

—. “Ten Theses on the Politics of Aesthetics.” Trans. Rachel Bowlby. Theory and Event 5 (2001). Print.

—. “Dissenting Words.” Diacritics 30 (2006). Print.

—. “The Emancipated Spectator.” ArtForum, March (2007): 270-281. Print.

Richie, Donald. “Donald Richie on ‘Koshikei (Death by Hanging).’” The Japan Times. Jan. 17, 2013. <;. Online.

Ryang, Sonia. “Introduction: resident Koreans in Japan.” Koreans in Japan: Critical Voices from the Margins. Ed. Sonia Ryang. London and New York: Routledge, 2000. 1-11. Print.

Solinas, Franco. “An Interview with Franco Solinas.” The Battle of Algiers. Criterion Collection, 2004. DVD booklet. 28-40. Print.

Williams, Linda. “Film Bodies: Gender, Genre, and Excess.” Film Theory & Criticism. Eds. Leo Braudy & Marshall Cohen. 7th ed. New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. 602-16. Print.

Zavattini, Cesare. “Some Ideas on the Cinema.” Critical Visions in Film Theory: Classic and Contemporary Readings. Eds. Timothy Corrigan & Patricia White with Meta Mazaj. Boston & New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2011. 915-924. Print.



  1. Pingback: Death by Hanging contra The Battle of Algiers, by way of Ranciere | PHOTOGÉNIE·

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s