“The Battle of Algiers” comes to Film Forum, July 6 – 12

“The Battle of Algiers,” a realistic view of a seemingly never ending conflict.

“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.

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About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on July 3, 2012, in Classics, Film Forum and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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