Last week, at Sam Houston’s weekly classic language foreign film festival, Dr. Pease showed the film The Battle of Algiers by Gillo Pontecorvo. The film was about the Algerian revolution against French imperialism in the 1950s. This movie is especially relevant today, because it bears striking similarities to the United States’ current situation in Iraq.
The Battle of Algiers was a praised and successful movie for several reasons. It was shot on location and with many of the original buildings, because it was filmed so shortly after the events took place. The director’s style existed somewhere between neo-realism and a sort of documentary. These on-site and realistic war films are still seen today.
Perhaps most importantly, the movie was directed so as to be as objective as possible. Pontecorvo did his best not to needlessly glorify the FLN (Front de Liberation Nationale) and demonize the French.
The movie opens up to a tortured prisoner who’d just given up secret information. This scene was somewhat reminiscent of another torture scene from Open City, shown earlier this semester. Ali La Pointe, the movie’s protagonist, is next shown surrounded by countless military goons. Thus begins another movie where the main character won’t survive.
The movie flashes back to Ali La Pointe’s introduction to the FLN, Algeria’s national resistance. Ali comes to embody the common man swept up in revolution. He is transformed from an ordinary man with a light criminal record to a high ranking revolutionary.
The FLN began by purging their own people of corruption and unorganization and then started attacking the French with terrorist tactics. It brings to mind the quote “Violence can be used for good,” from V for Vendetta. The French responded in kind and the fighting only escalated.
The movie was ultimately more sympathetic towards the Algerian cause, though not just because they were eventually the victors. Most of the violent scenes focused on the Algerians rather than the French. Only in one scene did the camera pan around to the innocent French civilians that were murdered. The director never did close-ups of the soldiers that were shot down or the families they left behind.
Towards the end, when reporters were grilling the French colonel about his interrogation methods, he responded, “Should France stay in Algeria? If yes, then you must accept all of the consequences.” That line is especially relevant today. Americans who want or wanted to stay in Iraq were unwilling to commit to what needed to be done to fight with military and terrorist insurgents. The people wanted to stay and fight, but forced the military to tie their arms up.
Today and tonight, Dr. Pease will be showing Lola Montes by Max Ophuls. Next week is Kurosawa’s adaptation of Macbeth, Throne of Blood, just in time for Shakespeare’s birthday.
The film festival is continuing every Tuesday at 3:30 and 7 p.m. in the Evans building room 105. All students and faculty are invited. Admission is free to anyone interested. Until then, see you at the movies!