Even though it's the wrong side of 40, Gillo Pontecorvo's 1966 classic The Battle Of Algiers remains as relevant as ever. So relevant, in fact, that not long ago Pentagon officials consulted it for tips on dealing with the Iraq situation ("How to win a battle against terrorism and lose the war of ideas," ran flyers for a private screening). A riveting reconstruction of the struggle for independence in mid-50s Algiers, its pseudo-documentary style still feels as headline-fresh as its content.
The realism is so persuasive that it's almost hard to swallow the opening titles' claim that no newsreel footage was used. It's October, 1957: cornered by French forces, National Liberation Front (FLN) leader Ali La Pointe (Brahim Haggiag) reflects on his rise from small-time crook to revolutionary. Flashbacks recount the escalation of hostilities between the Algerians and the French. The former's use of terrorist tactics (home-made bombs, cop killings) are met with brutal counter-measures, including torture (scenes of which originally fell foul of UK/US censors).
"BRACING WORLD CINEMA"
Ultimately, there's no question whose side Pontecorvo is on, but the impression left is one of balance rather than bias. The civilian cost is counted on both sides. La Pointe is no more a hero than the colonial Colonel Mathieu (Jean Martin) is a hate figure. Combine the lack of soapboxing with the bracing use of real locations, non-actors and Ennio Morricone's punchy score (arguably the only concession to melodrama) and you have a deserved place in the world cinema canon.
The Battle Of Algiers is released in UK cinemas on Friday 11th May 2007.