Saturday, 14 August 2010

'Should we remain in Algeria? If you answer "yes," then you must accept all the necessary consequences.'

Battle of Algiers
Gillo Pontecorvo
(1966 Rizzoli)

The Algerian War, the film brilliantly depicts the rise of grass root insurgencies against the French occupation among the Algerian faithful in the city of Algiers. The National Liberation Front organise, recruit and network. French rule attempts to counter this deploying paratroopers to disrupt and eliminate the FLN leadership. Lieutenant-Colonel Mathieu, military top brass and commander of the paratroopers is the principal French character, he's eloquent and ruthless in his hunt to exterminate the FLN. The Algerian protactagonist is Ali La Ponte, a street hustler who is seduced and indoctrinated by the FLN during some time in prison. Maybe the characters provide a semblance to each movement, but it's hard to identify with either character – the film doesn't want you to either – the characters introduce the viewer into each group's world and beliefs.

The film is action, a series of events, you do not to side with either the French of the Algerian FLN. You observe what both groups are passionately perusing. The cinematography is beautiful, the black and white contrast is astounding. The visual style draws on documentary – everything about the look and feel of the film is very real. The film is kinetic, the characters are always on the move, whether it's through the beautiful stone walled side streets of Algiers or Mathieu giving a press conference walking through corridors, a wonderful scene of exposition.

The depiction of French torture becomes slightly monotonous, body after body being thrashed, the viewer becomes numb to the violence, maybe Pontecorvo's intention. There are no heroes or villains in Pontecorvo's masterpiece, of course the depiction of guerilla warfare can be used as an allegory for today's conflicts, Iraq and Afghanistan. Paul Greengrass cites Pontecorvo's work as an inspiration and it's easy to draw parallels with United 93. However compare and contrast is not necessary to enjoy this wonderful rubric of ideologies.

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