Tonight I finished watching Gillo Pontecorvo's riveting 1965 film about the Algerian struggle for independence. In a word or two: rent it. For me, it was nothing short of amazing. I'm too tired to write a proper review, as it were, but it's a film about which much has been said. I would point those interested to the review published last year (maybe two years ago?) in New York Magazine when the film was released on DVD.
Some quick facts:
- Based on a book by Saadi Yacef, the real-life rebel leader of the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN), who plays a fictional version of himself in the film, which he produced after approaching the director
- Used as a training film by the Black Panthers
- Screened by the Pentagon prior to the Iraqi occupation
- Amazing realism; hard to believe none of it is documentary footage and that all but one of the actors are non-actors
- Shot in B&W
- Ennio Morricone film score
- French w/ English subtitles
- Nominated for Best Director, Best Foreign Film, Best Screenplay by the Academy Awards and received the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival
- Features a few torture scenes that really put the Abu Ghareb atrocities in focus; yet, they're not the prolonged, gruesome scenes that typify today's films
- Sympathetic (perhaps rightly so) to the Algerian point of view
While there are loads of differences between the French/Algerian engagement and the U.S/Iraqi occupation, this is a timeless film that shows exactly how violence and terrorism can escalate on both sides until the only damage being perpetrated is collateral.
Some of the best dialogue comes during a press conference with one of captured rebel leaders, Ben M'Hidi, who stands up to the media in the most composed and dignified manner. His suit is wrinkled yet immaculate, and he wears his glasses poised just so, while the military commander stands nearby, ready to end the show at a moment's notice. One reporter respectfully asks, "Isn't it cowardly to use your women's baskets to carry bombs which have taken so many innocent lives?" M'Hidi replies coolly, "Isn't it even more cowardly to attack defenseless villages with napalm bombs that kill many thousands of times more? Obviously planes would make things easier for us. Give us your bombers, sir, and you can have our baskets." When asked if he thinks the liberation movement has any chance of succeeding, he states that the liberation movement "has more of a chance of defeating the French Army than the French have of changing the course of history."