This past weekend the Los Angeles Times ran an article on the emotional risks of 9/11 themed entertainment ten years after the tragedy. In truth, these themes began appears shortly after 2001, but it was controversial. This was despite the fact that few seemed to doubt who was truly at fault in the scenario. Taking this into consideration, then consider Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers, which arrived a mere four years after the resolution of the Algerian revolution against French occupants. Even to this day The Battle of Algiers is groundbreaking and technically perfect film in nearly every aspect. I can only imagine what it must have been like to see it in 1966.
Although the liberation of the Algerian people didn’t come until 1962, the film takes place during a crucial year much earlier on in the revolution. We see the end of many members of the FLN, the underground Algerian force, as they are hunted by the French army, headed up by Colonel Mathieu (Jean Martin). What sets The Battle of Algiers aside in many ways is its refusal to give the audience a protagonist to latch onto. There are no stars of the film, nor are there any heroes or villains. Both sides are seen to do some horrendous things, and although it is quite clear that sympathies lie with the Algerian people, we probably grow to understand Colonel Mathieu just as well.
The focus instead of on a protagonist, instead lies with the people. There are faces we see repeated times, some more significant than others, but it is more important what is happening in the revolution than any one individual’s contribution or experience. They are a collective people, united in the protest. This protest seems entirely just, and yet the violence of it is hardly easy to watch. Teenage boys shoot French police officers, bombs are set off to kill French civilians, and even the Algerian people turn against each other. The FLN declares smoking and drinking inappropriate during the revolution, and we watch as a group of children drag an intoxicated man down a flight of stairs to an unknown fate.
This is all much more effective because of the style in which Pontecorvo approached the subject. With no leading protagonists, and violence seen from both sides, the film feels unbiased. This paired with Marcello Gatti’s unbridled photography and Ennio Morricone’s understated score makes The Battle of Algiers feel more like a documentary than a narrative film. Its brilliance is only matched by the treatment on this two-disc Blu-ray collector’s edition.
Disc one includes high definition digital transfer of the film, which was supervised by Gatti himself. This disc also includes the documentaries Gillo Pontecorvo: The Dictatorship of Truth, and Marxist Poetry: The Making of “The
Battle of .” Also included are interviews with many directors who have been influenced by this remarkable masterpiece, as well as a production and trailer gallery. The second disc includes Remembering History, which is a documentary on the actual Algerian experience in battling for freedom. There are also excerpts from another documentary about the use of torture during against the Algerian people in order to end the revolution, and another documentary in which Pontecorvo returns to Algiers three decades later. The set also has a 55-page booklet with essays, script excerpts and photos, making this a must-have collection. Algeria