“The Battle of Algiers” comes to Film Forum, July 6 – 12
“The Battle of Algiers” (1965), director Gillo Pontecorvo’s documentary like recreation of Algeria’s struggle against 130 years of French rule, during the years 1954 – 1957, will have a run at Film Forum from July 6 – 12. It is valid to think that the Film Forum’s timing in showing “The Battle of Algiers” so close to July 4 is a patriotic gesture. There are definite parallels to be drawn between the American Revolution and the situation in Algeria. They are both stories about colonies rebelling against governing bodies. In fact, as fate would have it, there is only a one day difference in the respective dates of independence. July 5 marks the 50th anniversary of Algerian Independence, which did not actually happen until 1962. As a result one could have two legitimate interpretations for the Film Forum’s screening, although the comparisons do not stop there. The story is one that, while the players may change, history seems doomed to repeat.
“The Battle of Algiers” could have been taken from today’s headlines, from its depiction of random bombings, by both sides, to the use of water boarding and other forms of torture. The film is so realistic and relevant that in 2003 the Pentagon screened it for military personnel who would be occupying Iraq. On the other side of the equation I have heard that terrorists have studied the film for what practical information they might glean.
A major reason for the movie’s authenticity and relevance is the care and attention given to detail in both its planning and shooting. While parts of “The Battle of Algiers” look like actual footage of the revolt, everything has been staged. Prior to filming, Pontecorvo and screenwriter Franco Salinas conducted extensive research for six months. They interviewed thousands of witnesses from both sides of the conflict, reviewed police archives and studied newsreels from the period. The two men then took another six months to write the film’s screenplay. Pontecorvo was able to shoot on location in Algiers in both the European section and in the Casbah where, due to the extremely narrow streets, he was able to use only hand held cameras, which only enhances the film’s newsreel like footage.
Watching “The Battle of Algiers,” for the first time in several years, I remembered that my father used to say that the difference between a terrorist and a freedom fighter all depended on which side you supported. His statement is essential in appreciating this film. While the movie does try to be objective, it does lean on the side of the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) against the French occupiers. Yet another of Dad’s expressions came into play while watching “The Battle of Algiers”: “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”
Film Forum is located at 209 West Houston Street. For more information visit http://www.filmforum.com.
Posted on July 3, 2012, in Classics, Film Forum and tagged Algerian National Liberation Front, Film Forum, FLN, Franco Salinas, Gilo Pontecorvo, The Battle of Algiers. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.