One of the most influential films in the history of political cinema, Gillo Pontecorvos The Battle of Algiers
focuses on the harrowing events of 1957, a key year in Algerias struggle for independence from France. Shot in the streets of Algiers in documentary style, the film vividly recreates the tumultuous Algerian uprising against the occupying French in the 1950s. As violence escalates on both sides, the French torture prisoners for information and the Algerians resort to terrorism in their quest for independence. Children shoot soldiers at point-blank range, women plant bombs in cafés. The French win the battle, but ultimately lose the war as the Algerian people demonstrate that they will no longer be suppressed. The Criterion Collection is proud present Gillo Pontecorvos tour de forcea film with astonishing relevance today.
What does the Criterion Collection do for the release of one of the greatest and controversial war movies you never
heard of? Fill a three-DVD set with more extras than one could imagine and give The Battle of Algiers
the attention it deserves. The film itself is gritty, with a neo-realistic, documentary-like look and feel, and the new high-definition digital transfer has done wonders for its quality while retaining its visual integrity. Assuming many have never heard of The Battle of Algiers
, this DVD set has provided a series of documentaries to fill in the many unknown gaps. The first two documentaries give a rich background on Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo ("The Dictatorship of Truth," 1992) and an exclusive making of the film ("Marxist Poetry," 2004). "The Making of The Battle of Algiers
" is a wonderful documentary filled with current interviews with Pontecorvo, cinematographer Marcello Gatti, composer Ennio Morricone, and various film historians, biographers, and actors. Disc 2 finishes up with a 17-minute documentary of five directors (Lee, Nair, Schnabel, Soderbergh, and Stone) discussing the importance and influence of The Battle of Algiers
on their careers and film in general.
The third disc focuses on the history of the French and Algerian conflict. Remembering History (69 minutes, 2004) is another exclusive documentary historically detailing the battle. It is followed by the chilling États d'armes (2002) which documents various French officers on interrogation, torture, and execution techniques used during the conflict. Another interesting extra is "The Battle of Algiers: A Case Study" (2004). This is a 25-minute conversation with Richard Clarke and Michael Sheehan (former State Department coordinator for counterterrorism) shot for ABC News discussing the film and its relevancy to studying terrorism today. Combine this with a 56-page booklet filled with articles, interviews, Saadi Yacef's account of his arrest, and biographies of French-Algerian war participants and you have yourself a full-fledged course in the film and the history surrounding it. The only minor criticism of this package is that the movie itself has no commentary track. However, considering the abundant historical and background material and directorial testimonials, a commentary track hardly seems necessary. The Battle of Algiers is a must-have for film, war, and history buffs alike. --Rob Bracco