Film-Forward Review: [THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS]

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Directed by: Gillo Pontecorvo.
Produced by: Saadi Yacef.
Written by: Gillo Pontecorvo & Franco Solinas, based on an idea by Saadi Yacef.
Director of Photography: Marcello Gatti.
Edited by: Mario Morra & Mario Serandrei.
Music by: Ennio Morricone.
Released by: Criterion Collection.
Language: French/Arabic with English subtitles.
Country of Origin: Italy/Algeria. 125 min. Not Rated.
With: Brahim Haggiag, Jean Martin, Saadi Yacef & Samia Kerbash.

DVD Features: "Gillo Pontecorvo: The Dictatorship of Truth" (37 min., 1992). "Marxist Poetry" (51 min. 2004): Making-of documentry. "Five Directors" (17 min., 2004): Spike Lee, Mira Nair, Julian Schnabel, Steven Soderbergh & Oliver Stone on the film's importance. Remembering History (69 min., 2004): reconstructs the battle of Algerian independence. "États d'armes" (28 min., 2002): documentary excerpt on the use of torture and execution. "The Battle of Algiers: A Case Study" (25 min., 2004): Richard A. Clarke & Michael A. Sheehan discuss the film's relevance with Christopher E. Isham of ABC News. Gillo Pontecorvo's Return to Algiers (58 min., 1992). Booklet (56 pages) featuring excerpts from Saadi Yacef's original account of his arrest, an excerpt from the screenplay, an interview with co-writer Franco Solinas, a new essay by film scholar Peter Matthews & bio sketches on key figures in the French-Algerian War.

The Battle of Algiers attempts to do what few war films either can't, won't, or don't know how to do. It illuminates both sides of the battle, creating in its wake an idea of war not as the strengthening of Man, but as his destruction. The film focuses on Algeria's response to its colonization by France. Oppression reaches its boiling point as the people of Algeria redefine guerrilla warfare in their strive for independence. Director Gillo Pontecorvo’s landmark film works in great part because it was shot on location only two years after the end of the actual conflict. There are explosions and crowd scenes that simply put today’s computer generation special effects to shame. Acknowledgment should also be made of Ennio Morricone's faultless score. His subtle dramatizing of the "battlefield" makes Pontecorvo's achievement all the more gratifying.

DVD Extras: All of the extras here are informative. Gillo Pontecorvo: The Dictatorship of Truth focuses on the upbringing of the director, tracing his life from a communist resistance fighter in Fascist Italy to his present career as a director of TV commercials. The piece explores why he hasn’t made a film in over 20 years. A series of interviews with current directors discuss the influence of Battle on their own work. Mira Nair declares that it is “the only film in the world I wish I directed.” Remembering History intricately details the conflict between France and Algeria with interviews ranging from surviving soldiers to Saadi Yacef, head of the National Liberation Front, the FLN. In the provocative “Case Study,” former terrorist czar Richard A. Clark declares that the methods used by the FLN were terroristic, but so was the reaction of France. Both he and Michael A. Sheehan, former State Department coordinator for counterterrorism, dissect the use of torture during the war, making the film overtly relevant today. The fascinating "États d'armes" charts the escalating violence in the conflict. And although it suffers from cheesy production values and a bit of scaremongering concerning the rise of Islam, “Return to Algiers” sheds light on the development of Algeria as a nation since gaining its independence. Michael Belkewitch
January 13, 2005



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