A genuinely prophetic movie—if one based on past events—Gillo Pontecorvo’s radical Arab drama shows the rough-and-ready future of warfare: waged street by street, by participants of indeterminate allegiance, resulting in massive collateral damage and the ruination of the homeland. Famously, the Pentagon had a screening in 2003. This was one of the few unlaughable instances of military strategizing, so strong is the film on tactics. The Battle of Algiers retains a shocking sense of urgency—even if the era when Americans could view it with impartiality has long since expired.
For a change, let’s reclaim the artistry: Maneuvering on location in the Casbah, Pontecorvo’s camera is clear-eyed and doesn’t always resort to handheld jostling. You can’t call this objectivity; it’s closer to an ominous witnessing of implacable events. Only one professional actor was hired, France’s Jean Martin, a leftist who protested the Algerian War. His character, a commanding colonel, is the opposite of Rumsfeldian. There are no wordy flourishes or evasions—only a terse acceptance of “all the consequences.” Finally, master composer Ennio Morricone was riding high with Sergio Leone’s spaghetti Westerns when he landed this gig. You can hear his guitars pluck with menace; this time, the showdown is global. Essential viewing.
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