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William Kellys War
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Thursday, October 30, 2014 - Edition No 921 

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BATTLE OF ALGIERS, THE

SYNOPSIS:
In 1954 Ali La Pointe (Brahim Haggiag) is a petty thief from the Casbah, the poorest Arab quarter of Algiers. Enraged at the French colonialist treatment of his countrymen he joins the FLN (National Liberation Front) and, after his trustworthiness has been tested, soon finds himself engaged in a guerilla campaign, becoming one of the four leaders of the movement. Leader of the French forces is Colonel Mathieu (Jean Martin) a rational and intelligent man who resorts to ruthless tactics, including torture, in order to crush the revolt.

Review by Jake Wilson:
Remember when armed revolution was flavour of the month in both America and Europe, and a film that made heroes out of Arab "terrorists" could get praised in the New York Times? Me neither. But if the political moment of The Battle Of Algiers seems impossibly remote, the film still speaks to us as a historical document and as a study of the morality of violence. When is killing civilians justified to serve a "higher" purpose? What about torture?

These questions are as up-to-date as ever, though I'm not sure the filmmaker, Gilles Pontecorvo, has thought hard enough to give very satisfactory answers. Consciously, his stylistic aim might be to fuse the neo-realist view of cinema as a window on the world with Sergei Eisenstein's radical notion of cinema as a series of physical and intellectual shocks.

The roving crowd scenes, shot with the telephoto lens, seem aimed at simulating the chaos of life in the raw, while minimising individual psychology in order to focus on the shared struggle. But this could also be understood as a formalist or escapist approach, freeing us to experience violent acts (massacres, bombings) largely in terms of exciting, pleasurable sound and movement.

At the least, the audience is invited to enjoy the thrill of violence in a righteous cause: a thrill enhanced rather than undercut by the sensation of moral vertigo. Superficially, such pleasures (guilt pangs and all) aren't so different from those offered by many a Hollywood blockbuster, then and now. Ennio Morricone's score inevitably invokes the spaghetti Westerns he worked on at the same time, while many of the techniques pioneered here were taken up in the 1970s work of Hollywood directors like William Friedkin.

What all this means politically I'm not sure. I'll just say that one of the strongest and most "modern" scenes in The Battle Of Algiers shows a trio of Muslim women applying makeup and getting into Western clothes in preparation for a bombing mission. Tense drumming makes these beauty rituals seem like primitive, magical preparations for war. It's a frank blend of exoticism, eroticism and foreshadowed horror - hinting at something beyond the filmmaker's supposedly noble, impersonal desire to commemorate a collective experience he did not share.



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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 1

BATTLE OF ALGIERS, THE (M, 1965)
(Algeria/Italy)

La battaglia di Algeri / La bataille d'Alger

CAST: Brahim Haggiag, Jean Martin, Yacef Saadi, Samia Kerbash, Ugo Paletti, Fusia El Kader

PRODUCER: Yacef Saadi, Antonio Musu

DIRECTOR: Gillo Pontecorvo, Franco Solinas

SCRIPT: Gillo Pontecorvo (idea by Yacef Saadi)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Marcello Gatti AIC

EDITOR: Mario Morra, Mario Serandrei

MUSIC: Ennio Morricone, Gillo Pontecorvo

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Sergio Canevari

RUNNING TIME: 123 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Potential Films

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 10, 2004 (Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra)







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