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Dan Heller's Movie Review of The Battle of Algiers


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Link To Movies/film-ratings.html Link To Movies/film-ratings.html Link To Movies/film-ratings.html algiers, movies, poster, photograph In 1966, the film, "The Battle of Algiers", had become one of the most important movies of the 20th century, though no one really knew it then. In the simplest terms, it is a drama portraying the Arabic uprising in the late 1950s against the French who occupied and colonized Algeria. But, more importantly, the techniques used by the terrorists would later turn out to be the blue-print for all Arab uprisings to come, including those in use today. In fact, it has been considered required viewing for anyone on both sides of the terrorist struggle, from the CIA down to the suicide bombers. Making a film with such balance is interesting to be sure, but that it maps so well to today's environment is eerie indeed. Lastly, the filmmaking itself uses techniques that would not be seen again for years to come. For all these aspects, the movie has become a cornerstone for vastly different reasons and contexts.

The plot essentially chronicles the uprising, suppression, and re-emergence of the Arabic battle for independence in Algeria. A small group of four men virtually single-handedly initiated, escalated and almost beat back the entire French infrastructure in the city of Algiers during the mid-1950s. The main characters of the film were ironically the very individuals who were involved in the real-life events, making the drama almost more documentary-like than what may have been intended. In today's terms, it would be as though Yassir Arafat and Ariel Sharon had made a peace deal, and joined together a decade later to make a film about what they were doing behind the scenes.

Because the film was shot in the 1960s, its black and white grainy look and at-times simplistic and almost robotic acting (by today's standards) tend to lessen the overall dramatic effect for anyone desensitized to such visuals by movies and television today. Yet, the technique of filming drama in a documentary style was almost unheard of in its day, and is still profoundly effective in this context. What's more, the use of counterpoint by juxtaposing violence and classical music wouldn't have been seen again till "The Godfather" almost eight years later. The impact remains strong, nonetheless, because of the gripping context in which these events take place.

Perhaps the most compelling aspect of the movie is the amazingly strong parallels between the events of the day and those of today's conflicts. One can not only draw the parallels in their actions, but there seems to be an odd appreciation for the duality of causes. Terrorism, for whatever you might think of it, is the most effective way for a small group of people to effect change upon broader society. But, even as the terrorists in the movie point out: it's only objective is to get to the negotiating table. Taken further, it loses its purpose. This is not yet a lesson learned by terrorists of today, who don't even want to negotiate; their acts seem to be the end in itself. Another profound difference between the terrorists of Algeria and those of the modern world: The French were outsiders who colonized a foreign country, so the terrorists had a simply-stated objective: go home. Today's terrorists have far more complex - not to mention long - lists of demands that often meander and contradict themselves.

The Battle of Algiers is playing only for a week at the Castro Theater, starting February 13, and I highly recommend it for anyone with a modicum of interest in placing today's terrorist agendas into proper historical context. The movie is also a must-see for anyone with an interest in film history or filmmaking itself.

You can find this movie on the internet database here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0058946/

You can listen to my audio review by clicking on the sound icon: Link To /Movies/Algiers/battle-of-algiers.wav

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