Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Battle of Algiers

The Battle of Algiers is an almost documentary-style drama about the Algerian War of Independence, shot on location by director Gillo Pontecorvo with a grittiness that is unusual for the period. The awkward staging of some of the more violent moments and the frequent reliance on overdubbed dialogue, especially with Arabic-speaking characters, damages the believability of the film somewhat, but it's still pretty noteworthy for its time. It doesn't hold back on much, sugar coating the actions of neither the French occupying police nor the terrorists leading the rebellion. The movie is bloodless, but the widespread violence of the events still gets across well. Prisoners get tortured, officials get shot, and innocent people get bombed on both sides. My favorite part of the production was probably the score, which makes sense since it was worked on by Ennio Morricone. I'm pretty sure the military theme was used in the Morricone-heavy score of Inglourious Basterds, and the numerous recurring pieces set the tone well.

The story focuses on a man named Ali, who leaves prison and enters the ranks of the FLN, the terrorist group fighting against the French. He gradually makes his way up the chain and meets leaders in the resistance as the stakes ramp up and Algiers turns into a war zone. It's almost hard to pick sides in the movie, with the side getting the most attention being violent terrorists, and the French taking few opportunities to make themselves look better. A good portion of the movie kind of feels like it's just repeatedly showing the same sort of thing over and over again, though there is a trend in the balance of power that is pretty significant, and a few sequences elevate themselves above others with their power and the skill of their creation. It's far from my favorite story of war and politics, but it's a pretty remarkable one to come out in the sixties, and only a few years after the real events it depicts. It's certainly an important moment in cinema history.

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