The Battle Of Algiers (1966 – DVD)

Should we remain in Algeria? If you answer yes, then you must accept all the necessary consequences”

Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1966 film ‘The Battle Of Algiers’ still has a visceral immediacy nearly 50 years later, in part due to it being filmed and released less than 4 years after Algeria gained independence from French colonialists in 1962.  Pontecorvo shot the film based on Resistance leader Saadi Yacef’s memoirs and then actually cast Yacef himself in the film.  ‘The Battle Of Algiers’ is directed and edited in a compelling documentary style leading some distributors at the time to boast “Not one foot of newsreel or documentary film has been used”.  As you watch shocking footage of buildings being bombed, large crowds rioting and tanks rolling down confined streets, you do need to hold on to that thought.

The film chronicles the decent of both sides into nothing more than murder.  But the most shocking scenes concern the slide towards what are sometimes called “Enhanced interrogation techniques”.  The closeup of the broken, tear-stricken face of the unnamed torture victim in the opening scene is one of the most powerful images I’ve ever seen.  The parallels with the recent violent occupation of Iraq are depressingly obvious.  I was also entranced by the incessant heartbeat like drumming and chilling beauty of the musical score.  It was only after the credits rolled that I saw it was by Ennio Morricone, whose music always has a profound effect on me.

Watching this admittedly marvelous looking print on DVD is yet another reason why I’m thinking of getting a region-free Blu-Ray player so I can start importing Criterion Blu-Rays.  I’m sure this would look even better in HD.

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