Gillo Pontecorvo

The Battle of Algiers Movie

Looking for any excuse, Landon Palmer and Scott Beggs are using the 2012 Sight & Sound poll results as a reason to take different angles on the best movies of all time. Every week, they’ll discuss another entry in the list, dissecting old favorites from odd angles, discovering movies they haven’t seen before and asking you to join in on the conversation. Of course it helps if you’ve seen the movie because there will be plenty of spoilers. This week, they bow to the ethical and empathetic complexity of a movie violently opposed to the inhumane destruction of conflict: Gillo Pontecorgo’s The Battle of Algiers.  In the #48 (tied) movie on the list, resistance fighters hoping for Algerian freedom from France square off against French soldiers — each employing their own methods of madness — with regular citizens in the crossfire.  But why is it one of the best movies of all time?

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Criterion Files

I’ve watched Gillo Pontecorvo’s landmark film The Battle of Algiers (1966) many times. I remember the circumstances of viewing each and every time, because each time I see it, it affects me more profoundly than the last. The film alone is astounding, distressing, exhausting, shocking, beautiful, and it still feels urgent forty-five years after its release and more than fifty-five years after the events depicted in it took place. I’m both surprised and thankful time and again that such a film was ever even able to get made. I rarely write about my personal relationship to a film as I believe it risks obscuring the critical lens that I wish to take to it, but the fact that each time I watch The Battle of Algiers is different than the last speaks rather appropriately to the film’s historical role. As famous screenings and topical revisitations conversantly continue to take place around the film, it acquires new historical profundity and greater relevance as time moves forward, hardly speaking exclusively to the 1957 battle of the film’s title.

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Culture Warrior

Today is the day of the midterm elections, a day which will mark the stark transition from functionaries on the center who can’t accomplish anything holding office to functionaries on the right who are too busy yelling in every direction to accomplish anything holding office. Under that grand political tradition whose unwavering slogan is “Losing = Tyranny,” much has been made from candidates on the far right (who will become mainstream right if elected or exponentially grating windbags if not) about staging an armed revolution if, y’know, that whole democracy thing doesn’t work out for them. Well, before the pasty and overweight turn off the Fox News echo chamber and actually embody the daunting degree at which human action can precede human thought by taking arms against an administration that has done nothing to challenge their 2nd Amendment rights, I’d like to use the history of cinema to illustrate what true revolt against actual political oppression looks like.

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published: 11.26.2014
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published: 11.26.2014
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published: 11.21.2014
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published: 11.21.2014
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