Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo)


Widely heralded as one of the most historically significant films of all time, watching "The Battle of Algiers" is like watching a riveting, 2-hour newsreel footage, complete with all those 'blink and you'll miss it' moments of candid power. But more importantly, what makes "The Battle of Algiers" a fine film is its incredibly unbiased and objective depiction of the Algerian revolution; a quite tricky feat perhaps, considering the fact that for films like this, it's quite difficult not to choose sides. But by choosing not to be emotionally partisan, "The Battle of Algiers" was able to realistically reconstruct the events and make them flow in an intensely natural way.
On one side, there's the radical group called the National Liberation Front (FLN), whose tactics border on outright terrorism. While on the other, there are the French paratroopers, whose interrogation methods and counter military acts border on the atrociously inhumane.  Gillo Pontecorvo, the film's director, is quite adamant in highlighting the fact that in the bigger picture, none of them (the FLN and the French military) are completely righteous nor utterly justified in what they do and that the film's real protagonist is not the French's Colonel Matthieu (played by Jean Martin) or the FLN's Ali La Pointe (played by Brahim Hadjadj) but the Algerian people themselves. Ultimately, "The Battle of Algiers" succeeds as a film that deals with the universal language of revolution and as a stunning portrayal of an otherwise obscure fragment of history.
Speaking as a citizen who is born and raised in a country (the Philippines) that had its fair share of political uprisings, I can easily connect with the Algerian revolutionaries' fevered sentiment towards freedom and colonial deliverance. But what I cannot particularly embrace in the Algerian Revolution is the unnecessary bloodshed, which was starkly captured by the film's black and white photography (by Marcello Gatti) and was intensified by Ennio Morricone's iconic musical score.
Personally, I did not enjoy "The Battle of Algiers" that much because, after all, there's no way that the film is an entertaining one to watch. It's never a film that wholly glorifies the Algerian Revolution and carelessly trivializes the violence involved in it. Instead, the film shows the titular conflict merely as one thing: a bloody footnote in human history. And for this, I praise the Algerian government, which has commissioned the film's creation, for not peppering it with spirited propaganda. With a faceless crowd as the protagonist and with no sides taken, "The Battle of Algiers" is a clear-cut proof of how neutrality can make a cinematic difference.

(Note: In 2003, the film was screened in the Pentagon to highlight the pressing problems faced by the United States in its invasion of Iraq. Quite ironic, isn't it?)


No comments:

Post a Comment

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Ivan6655321's Schneider 1001 movies widget