Monday, December 29, 2008

My #6 All Time Favorite Film:The Battle of Algiers

I know a lot of people have never heard of or seen this film. I finally got to see the unedited version of this film back in 2004. A simple way to describe this film is this.

"The Battle of Algiers" is a film commissioned by the Algerian government that shows the Algerian revolution from both sides, The French and the Algerian. The French foreign legion has left Vietnam in defeat and has something to prove to the people of France and to themselves. The Algerians are seeking independence From France. The two clash. The torture used by the French is contrasted with the Algerian's use of bombs in soda shops. The scenes of torture by the French and the use of Women as bombers by the Algerians leaves no doubts that both sides want to win this war.

For those who do not know the US Pentagon showed this film back in 2003 to try and explain what could and what was going on in Iraq with this statement.

"How to win a battle against terrorism and lose the war of ideas. Children shoot soldiers at point-blank range. Women plant bombs in cafes. Soon the entire Arab population builds to a mad fervor. Sound familiar? The French have a plan. It succeeds tactically, but fails strategically. To understand why, come to a rare showing of this film."

This is why I had a huge problem with the Pentagon stating that they did know how terrorist were thinking. If they watched this film, they got a textbook on how the enemy will win with a guerrilla warfare campaign.

Since I first saw the film back in 2004 and with the continual watching of this film on DVD. I am still amazed how much new information I catch with each showing of this film.

What really takes this film into the next level is the direction by Gillo Pontecorvo. He shoots the film in black and white and experimented with various techniques to give the film the look of newsreel and documentary film. The effect was convincing enough that American reels carried a disclaimer that "not one foot" of newsreel was used.

I recall seeing that disclaimer back in 2004 and when I saw the final scene of this film. I really thought that I was looking at an old newsreel. It looked that real and the film basically said that the Battle of Algiers will continue.

Another thing I loved about this film was that, it shows both side of this conflict. Neither side is an angel in this film. All sides are shown with their ideas and how they will do whatever it takes to win this war. Please look at how the police are killed in this film by the Algerians and how the police proceed to plant a bomb where civilians live at. Neither side is wrong and both sides feel that they are right.

If you are looking for a French Hero in this film, then the film gives you one in Colonel Mathieu (Played by Jean Martin). What I later discovered about this man was that Martin had also served in a paratroop regiment during the Indochina War as well as the French Resistance, thus giving his character an autobiographical element. He was able to draw upon his real experience and was able to show that the French side has a man who was willing to do exactly what his country wanted to and needed him to do to win this war. (Martin subsequently lost several jobs because he condemned his government's actions in Algeria.)

If you are looking for an Arab hero in this film, then the films gives you one in The film begins and ends from the point of view of Ali la Pointe, played by Brahim Hagiag, who corresponds to the historical figure of the same name. He is a criminal radicalized while in prison and is recruited to the FLN (National Liberation Front) by military commander El-hadi Jafar, a fictional version of Saadi Yacef (a producer and a writer of this film) played by himself. You are shown what he will do to win freedom for his people.

At the time of this review this film is #174 on IMDB's Top 250 This is my all-time favorite French film.

If you are looking for a real look at war where everyone is wrong and no one is truly right, then this is the film for you. Hopefully you with think is is worth you time to try and track down a copy of this film and watch it. The films' language is French and Arabic, so please do not let the need for subtitles deter you from watching a very important film about the insanity of war and those who wage it.

No comments: