Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Battle of Algiers

Just watched Gillo Pontecorvo's film, The Battle of Algiers. One I'd highly recommend -- an essential film, and I can readily understand, finally having seen it, why the film has become so popular in recent years. The film deals with the (ultimately successful) insurgency in Algiers in the 1950s and 60s, which saw Muslims fighting the French colonial government. Though the film is obviously on the side of the insurgents, and seems to have been made as an attempt to offer hope and strength to those who would take up arms against their oppressors, it is complex and intelligently-crafted enough that it doesn't fall into the rather easy trap of demonizing the French -- which itself is no easy task, since the French used torture, which is a very difficult thing to show on screen without one identifying absolutely with its victims (consider Salo). The film has a grainy, documentary-style feel and stars non-professional actors; it's an intense and complex film experience of considerable relevance, raising questions of whether terrorism can be successful, how a government should respond to it, the legitimacy of torture, and so forth. Most interestingly, the people at Criterion -- at whom I'm still a little pissed about over their rough handling of Cassavetes scholar Ray Carney, but I guess I'll let that slide for now -- have organized some really exciting extras, including an Edward Said -narrated documentary on Pontecorvo and a special-for-this-disc interview with "former counterrorist experts" Richard A. Clarke (who I believe turns up in Fahrenheit 9/11, saying none-too-kind things about the Bush administration) and Michael A. Sheehan. Christopher Isham of ABC interviews both men, asking them their opinions of the film and the lessons its offers; what's fascinating is the extreme delicacy with which the three men approach criticising the Bush administration. They engage in this odd task of drawing lines to read between; one almost wonders if the interview was scripted in advance, since they manage to constantly imply that the US reaction to 9/11 has been heavy-handed and misguided without every directly saying as much. The care with which they speak is extremely revealing of the current political climate in the US.

Anyhow, the film is a must-watch, and its actually available at some Rogers Video locations and other large local chains. Too bad Pontecorvo has made so few films; he's approaching 90, now, so I'm guessing there'll be nothing else from him. Burn!, with Marlon Brando, is also a great film -- a new print was screened a few months ago at the Cinematheque, which, we hope, means that eventually it will come out on DVD. There's only one other film of his available in that format at present, The Wide Blue Road, about class struggles among fishermen. Sounds a little less compelling, but it's highly praised, so I guess it's one to seek out...

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