Neo-realist classic of the Algerian Revolution more relevant than ever

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Terror Firma

Almost 40 years after its initial award-winning release, Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle Of Algiers is still searing with political urgency. Paying meticulous attention to the rules of neo-realism (street-shooting, non-professional actors etc), Pontecorvo films the 1954-62 Algerian Revolution as a punishing hand-held documentary. There are some minor characters here, including Nation Liberation Front leader Ali La Pointe (Brahim Haggiag) and icy French Lieutenant Colonel Mathieu (Jean Martin), but the movie’s protagonists are the populace of Algiers?depicted as odious coffee-sipping French colonials (boooh!) or righteous Arab revolutionaries (hurrah!). Lauded, bizarrely, for his alleged ‘objectivity,’ Pontecorvo ingeniously deploys everything from an emotive Ennio Morricone score to repeated scenes of French brutality in order to highlight the plight of disenfranchised Arabs and to, gasp, politicise ‘acts of terror.’ A thrilling film, shocking and often unsubtle, it’s also an eerily prescient snapshot of 21st-century global politics.