France, Gillo Pontecorvo (1965)
This political thriller wasn’t at all as dry and boring as I thought it would be. Shot much like a documentary, it follows the revolution in Algeria in the late 1950s to oust the French colonial power. I hesitate to call it a thriller, because it’s not one in the traditional sense of the word. It’s too realistic, and therefore uncomfortable and nerve-wracking, to be compared to the typical thriller of the today. The tension builds as the grass-roots terrorist organization gains strength, orchestrated by an organization composed of secret cells, carrying out quick attacks on the police and street bombings, as the French police and then special forces conduct an operation to hunt out and eliminate the rebels.
The trailer for Battle of Algiers notes two interesting points: That the film was screened by the Pentagon last summer, and that there’s not a frame of newsreel or documentary footage used. It’s sometimes hard to remember that what you’re watching isn’t the real thing, as the camera jostles through the crowded, winding streets of the Casbah. The action is shot in such a way that it feels like it’s all naturally happening in front of a fortuitously placed camera.
Almost thirty years after it was made (and banned from theatres in France) Battle of Algiers feels timeless and contemporary. Much is being made of it’s relevance to current world issues in the Middle East. You can’t help but think of today’s headlines as you watch a triple bombing carried out on-screen, as three women smuggle explosives through checkpoints and into cafes in the European quarter, filled with unsuspecting men, women and children.
Here’s the Gist: (If you’re like me…) just because film critics across the country are proclaiming this a groundbreaking political thriller is no reason not to see this film. [****]