View Full Version : Political Masterpiece

oscar jubis
01-22-2004, 09:03 PM
What an appropriate time to re-release a film that chronicles the struggle of Algerians to rid their land of the occupying French Colonial Government. Mr. Pontecorvo's film won the 1966 Golden Lion at the Venice Film festival for its "you-are-there" depiction of revolutionary activity against a greater power. War as a game in which every side loses. Powerful and relevant as ever.

01-22-2004, 09:26 PM
I really need to see this film. I hope it'll come to my side of the desert soon.

01-23-2004, 12:39 AM
Two comments:

Given that almost 40 years have passed since the making of the film, I would have expected another to rival its documentary sense of reality. I haven't seen anything like this though.


While the film is partisan (rightly so), it is even keeled and that really drives home the sense that war, terrorism is a losing cause for both sides and one that only feeds the other. Our current administration seems not to know this.


oscar jubis
01-23-2004, 01:00 AM
Originally posted by pmw
I would have expected another to rival its documentary sense of reality.

How about 2002's Bloody Sunday.

Our current administration seems not to know this.

Rosenbaum writes "The film was screened for Pentagon employees last august, though one wonders how helpful it might have been"...

01-23-2004, 01:09 AM
I had heard that the film was screeened at the pentagon. First, what an interesting choice; someone must have thought they would learn something from it. Very interesting. I wonder what the dialogue after the screening was like?

Chris Knipp
01-23-2004, 05:39 PM
Michael Kaufman in the NYTimes September 7, 2003 wrote:

[Compared to the young "radicalized" US anti-Vietnam War viewers who first watched and rewatched the film in the Sixties, siding with the insurgents,] . . .The Pentagon's showing drew a more professionally detached audience of about 40 officers and civilian experts who were urged to consider and discuss the implicit issues at the core of the film the problematic but alluring efficacy of brutal and repressive means in fighting clandestine terrorists in places like Algeria and Iraq. Or more specifically, the advantages and costs of resorting to torture and intimidation in seeking vital human intelligence about enemy plans.

As the flier inviting guests to the Pentagon screening declared: "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."

The idea came from the Directorate for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict, which a Defense Department official described as a civilian-led group with "responsibility for thinking aggressively and creatively" on issues of guerrilla war. The official said, "Showing the film offers historical insight into the conduct of French operations in Algeria, and was intended to prompt informative discussion of the challenges faced by the French." He added that the discussion was lively and that more showings would probably be held.

No details of the discussion were provided but if the talk was confined to the action of the film it would have focused only on the battle for the city, which ended in 1957 in apparent triumph for the French with the killing of La Pointe and the destruction of the network. But insurrection continued throughout Algeria, and though the French won the Battle of Algiers, they lost the war for Algeria, ultimately withdrawing from a newly independent country ruled by the F.L.N. in 1962. . .

If indeed the government is currently analyzing or even weighing the tactical choices reflected in "The Battle of Algiers," presumably that is being done at a higher level of secrecy than an open discussion following a screening of the Pontecorvo film. Still, by showing the movie within the Pentagon and by announcing that publicly, somebody seems to be raising issues that have remained obscure throughout the war against terror.

The full text of Michael Kaufman's NYT article can be found at http://www.glo.org/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=1101

01-27-2004, 04:02 AM
Where is "Algiers" being re-released? The US only?
No mention of it anywhere near here...

Chris Knipp
01-27-2004, 11:05 AM
All I could find is this: January 9, THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS (re-issue) (Rialto) (NY - Film Forum, LA - Laemmle Westside Pavilion, Laemmle Sunset Plaza 5, Laemmle Playhouse 7, Chicago - Music Box, DC - Landmark E Street Theater, Landmark Bethesda Row). No word of release here yet (SF Bay Area) but I think it is coming wider for sure.

Oscar seems to know better how to find this info.

01-29-2004, 09:30 PM
I would like to see this film as well; anyone know if it's available on DVD or VHS? I guess I could run a search myself.

Certainly, it's relevent to an extent to our current situation in Iraq, though even the most cynical amongst us must admit there are differences. The French were in North Africa (and other parts of Africa as well) primarily if not entirely to reap the economic benefits of colonialism. And they were there indefinately, that was their plan. The US entered Iraq under the pretext of national security, and even with the current fiasco about WMD, one must admit that Saddam was not the most stable of the world leaders. And, although the next Iraqi leader will undoubtedly be more friendly with the US than Saddam was, you still can't argue that the US is looking to maintain a perpetual "direct" presence in Iraq.

Without having seen the film, I would say that the most interesting parallel theme between that situation and the current one would be the battle for public opinion, the battle of perception. In both situations, there seems to exist the ongoing perception of the brutalizing force of an oppressive foreign regime, regardless of its reality in fact. Particularly when the socieities in question have suffered such oppression (and continue to do so) at the hands of their own people. And, then there's the perception in the land of the "oppressor" of justification; doing what's right or at least what's justifiable under some pretext.

That's my political rant. I know this is a film message board. Sorry. Oh yeah, one more thing: Cheney should be impeached, or at least forced to resign. He was the mastermind of the WMD fiasco, and he set into motion the whole web of lies, misrepresenations and illusions that was used to justify the War. And now he should be called on it.

oscar jubis
01-29-2004, 09:56 PM
A vhs version was released in North America in 1993, which means most rental copies are ruined, but check with your local store just in case.

New Re-release dates
February 13: Boston, Seattle and Frisco (Castro Theater)
March 5: Philly
March 12 (my b-day!): Atlanta
March 19: San Diego
April 16: Austin

More dates added depending on box office .
A dvd release before year's end is a sure bet.

Chris Knipp
01-30-2004, 01:11 AM
Tell us, Oscar, What's the best website for locating this information? I haven't been able to find it this time.

oscar jubis
01-30-2004, 07:34 AM
There is usually a link to a film's official site in each film's IMDb's main page. When there isn't, find out the name of the distribution company and go to its website.

Chris Knipp
01-30-2004, 10:52 AM

02-02-2004, 10:12 PM
I kept thinking about this film... and reading posts... and wondering when I saw it... and then it dawned on me, that I had seen it in film school along with a film by Costa-Gravas called, "Z". Both films used a "documentary" style, lending realism to their story telling. However, "Battle" was done earlier, during a time of relative innocence in filmmaking. There was a great bru-ha-ha over the fact some people couldn't tell if the film was real or not. Ah, the power of cinema... or is that cheese?

Chris Knipp
02-03-2004, 12:55 AM
The Battle of Algiers--among political films, it has to be one of the most famous. I can't remember when I first saw it--maybe after the fact. What I do know is that Gino Pontecorvo never made another film, but he didn't really need to. I have a somewhat rough copy of it in my personal video library, but I'm going to go out to see it when it gets to the Bay Area. "Z" is exciting stuff too, but I'd say more commercial -- it's not really a textbook on anything the way Battle of Algiers is. This one has played a unique role. I wonder if there are other examples anybody can give, of films that actually became like a textbook on revolutionary politics.

oscar jubis
02-03-2004, 01:11 AM
LA BATALLA DE CHILE (The Battle for Chile)
Part I: La insurreccion de la burguesia
Part II: El golpe de estado (The coup)
Part III: El poder popular (The people's power)

Chris Knipp
02-03-2004, 11:45 AM
Never heard of them, but I see that one or all of the parts were shown at the Human Rights Watch Festival in London in 1999. Where did you see it?

02-03-2004, 12:42 PM
Gillo Pontecorvo made a film with Marlon Brando named BURN!, which Brando says contains his best acting performance.

Chris Knipp
02-03-2004, 02:20 PM
I'm sorry to be such a bad movie geek. I'll try to check my facts more carefully in future. That was something I read a long time ago--but certainly not before 1969, Burn's date--I guess you could maybe say Battle of Algiers is Gillo's only really successful film. I'm saying that without seeing the Brando flick; but at least we know it's obscure, whereas Battle of Algiers is pretty famous.

02-03-2004, 02:56 PM
No worries, Chris

You're right- Algiers is the only sucessful film he's done, and BURN! is a film a friend and I watched while getting drunk back in 1999 and we laughed a lot. The film is pretty cheesy, although you could tell everyone involved was trying to be serious.

Chris Knipp
02-03-2004, 08:11 PM
That's what I gathered. I don't guess you can trust actors on what their best roles are.

02-06-2004, 06:39 PM
Especially Brando... I wouldn't call "Burn" cheesy; moldy is seems more correct, and in the same vein.

Chris Knipp
02-24-2004, 02:38 PM
I saw the movie at the Castro Theater (one of the Bay Area's best old movie houses) Sunday. To say it "holds up" is an understatement. It's visually splendid and the music by Morricone and Pontecorvo is unique. I posted a review on my website: http://www.chrisknipp.com/writing/viewtopic.php?t=260. There I also appended the shrewd, informative article by Stewart Klawans from the NYTimes archive, plus Michael Kaufman's piece on the Pentagon's interest which I excerpted earlier, I believe, and which is available on the Common Dreams website.

As Oscar pointed out, the full distribution schedule is to be found on http://www.rialtopictures.com/battle.html It's been added to since earlier entries in this thread. I wonder if it will get wider distribution in view of the great interest. Oscar predicts a DVD release this year, but if you're hungry to see it at home, it's already available on VHS. Note: the IMDb listing under "Battaglia di Algeri, La" has some reviews, but the Film Forum website may have more and better article links. See: http://www.filmforum.com/films/algiers.html

I am not sure I would call this a mock documentary and I prefer to place it in the Italian neorealist tradition. Not that it doesn't seem "real" and refer to "real" events, but there are limits to where documentaries can go which Battle of Algiers surpasses. This is simply great filmmaking, and a case where everything clicked.

*These last two links will expire in time.

03-04-2004, 07:08 PM
The link you provided Chris takes one to NPR and "All Things Considered" review by David D'arcy. The review is very thorough with interviews with the filmmaker, the man who inspired the film, and those in Washington at think tanks and in the administration, with parallels between Algiers, the French, Iraq and the US.

In addition to those, there are links to reviews in the Washington Post and the New York Times.

By the way, I've been to the Castro, theater that is.

Chris Knipp
03-05-2004, 12:18 AM
Yeah, there are a lot of good short pieces on the film out right now. The Castro, like the Grand Lake in Oakland, has a functioning Wurlitzer and a grand auditorium.