By Danny Peary
The Battle of Algiers fits my category Movies That Should Play in Sag Harbor. Fresh from the New York Film Festival, Gillo Pontecorvo’s seminal political thriller begins a week stint this Friday at the Film Forum in New York City, Landmark’s Nuart in Los Angeles, and E Street Cinema in Washington, D.C., followed by a major city roll-out through the fall. It’s essential viewing–the Pentagon even studied it in regard to Iraq—so don’t miss it, especially because to celebrate its 50th anniversary, there is a new 4K restoration. This is what I wrote on its 20th anniversary in 1986:
An extraordinary, revolutionary film by Gillo Pontecorvo, who directed and wrote the script with Franco Solinas. Covering the pivotal years, 1954 to 1957, in the Algerian struggle for independence from France, the Italian director gives us a fictionalized account of real and representative events that took place during the National Liberation Front’s guerrilla war against the French, led by a criminal-turned-revolutionary known as Ali La Pointe (Brahim Haggiag). It shows not only how to conduct an urban guerrilla war (the reason it was studied by America’s Black Panthers) but also makes a case for the necessity of violence in revolution. Equally important, it shows how oppressors—the French, in this case—conduct counterrevolution. The French colonel (Jean Martin, the film’s only professional actor) realizes that imperialists will eventually be ousted by colonized peoples, but he plays his historic role. He is a torturer, an insensitive murderer. He realizes that to get to the leaders of the underground the French forces must first eliminate those revolutionaries who are less insulated—they will work their way up the ranks. Fascinating and thrilling; the entire film looks like a documentary. Pontecorvo just borrowed the cinema vérité style to lend authenticity to his film, even having cinematographer Marcello Gatti use grainy stock. You won’t believe the shots of women planting bombs and those of innocent people being killed aren’t real. You’ll also feel like you’re watching history when the French close in on some holed-up Algerian leaders. The finale, in which Algerians “spontaneously” march en masse down the steps of the city is exhilarating—it comes right after the French think they crushed the revolution! Music by Ennio Morricone. Also with: Saadi Yacef (as Jaffar), Mohammed Ben Kassen, Tommaso Neri.