Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Battle of Algiers

Directed by Gillo Pontecorvo.
1966. Not Rated, 121 minutes.
Brahim Hadjadj
Jean Martin
Yacef Saadi
Ugo Paletti
Fusia El Kader
Mohamed Ben Kassen

Native Algierians try to drive French colonialists out of their country. Based on occurences during the Algierian revolution. It's a rather matter-of-fact retelling of events that take place over a decade or so. When watching it for the first time, it feels choppy. There's a conversation or two, then something happens and before it seems to reach a conclusion or what we would think of as a logical transition point, it suddenly skips ahead several months or years in some cases. However, by the end its achieved an odd but meticulous and unbelievably effective continuity. It's also incredibly even-handed as we're not sure who we're supposed to be rooting for. Are the so-called revolutionaries, actively engaging in terrorism our heroes? What about the French colonialists attempting to co-opt a foreign land into their empire, denying a nation of people their independence? There are no easy answers. When the climax comes, we expect for the movie to show its hand, to let us know which side it's on. We think we know, but the outcome is presented more as a victory for one of the two evils, and not necessarily the lesser or greater one. This is an exhausting, powerful and brilliant piece of film that, given the events of the last decade, has gained new relevance. Subtitleophobes beware, we're speaking multiple languages and no English.

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