Battle of Algiers is now open for discussion

Our August 2007 film selection, Battle of Algiers, is now open for discussion. Members who would like to Post an Official Commentary here are welcome to do so (Contact Ron or Roger if you would like to have posting priveleges to this blogsite). Anyone, member or not, can place brief comments here by simply clicking on the comments button.


One thought on “Battle of Algiers is now open for discussion

  1. Terrorist Prime

    Gillo Pontecorvo is one of the most intense of the so-called “political directors”, and he has been described as a “volatile maverick”. A former Communist and resistance fighter (WWII) himself, his first foray into directing films was as a documentarian; much like Werner Herzog. He won some acclaim for his film KAPO (1959) with Susan Strasberg. It was not uncommon of him to spend several years doing research for one of his films. He turned down twice as many films as he directed, only credited with 20 films from 1953-1997. After THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS (1966), he went on to direct QUEIMADA (BURN) (1969) with Marlon Brando. Another fine film came later, OGRO (1979), about resistance during the Franco regime. But oddly only ALGIERS and BURN are available in DVD or VHS.

    Pontecorvo could have been a film composer as well, and again like Herzog he spent a long time working on the film scores with whatever composer he hired. For ALGIERS he hired the young Ennio Morricone, and then fought with him the entire time. They did come up with a very haunting and subdued score however. Pontecorvo was working initially with Franco Solinas on a script called PARA, for paratrooper. The main character was a European who got caught up in the Algerian war for independence. Paul Newman was being considered for the part. But then Yacef Saadi, the former FLN leader, came to them with his script about the Algerian struggle –but they had to rewrite it. It was presented mostly as a political manifesto. Interestingly, Saadi was hired as a technical consultant, and got to play himself in the film.

    Pontecorvo was very fond of the Neo-realist cinema of post-WWII Italy, the films of Rossellinin, De Sica, and Fellini. He especially liked BICYCLE THIEF (1948). He decided to cast mostly non-actors for THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS. When he wrote a character, he had an image of their face in his mind. The Algerian who is being tortured in the opening scene of the film was a petty thief in real life, but the director “liked his look”. The condemned criminal in the prison sequence, who yelled “Vive Algeria!” was actually a condemned criminal who later was guillotined. He only used one professional actor in ALGIERS –the French actor Jean Martin to play Col. Mathieu. Brahim Hadjudj, who played the street thug and boxer, Ali La Pointe, had a great face. His piercing looks seemed to burn holes in the camera lens, much like a young Brando in VIVA ZAPATA (1952) –a classic film directed by Elia Kazan about another revolution, shot in black and white, using many unknown faces; like the uncredited Henry Silva.

    In 1965, Pontecorvo, squired about the Casbah by Saadi, was treated like a hero; all doors were open to him. It really was a remarkable achievement to film this movie only three years after the Algerians had won their independence. In 1995 when the director returned to Algiers 30 years later, on assignment for an Italian TV news show, the situation was dramatically different. Islamic radicalism had created an environment he was no longer welcome in. The specter of democracy, forever on shaky ground in Algeria since the FLN attempted to rule the country with a one-party system –was already nearly swept away.

    The movie was banned in France for over 10 years. At the Venice Film Festival, the entire French delegation walked out because of this film. In 1974, director Louis Malle screened the film in four theaters, and it became an instant classic. THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS (1966) remains a film like none other, a kind of reliving of the Algerian revolution, made with many of the participants. In 2003, the Pentagon screened the movie for our military and civilian “experts” in Iraq. The flyer for the screening read, “How to win a battle against terrorism, and lose the war of ideas.”

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