May 19, 2008

The Battle Of Algiers

What better time to watch a film about an occupying Western power that uses torture and brutal hypocrisy in the service of civilisation and democracy? The first time I saw "The Battle Of Algiers" was as some sort of tenth-generation samizdat copy in the same City University film course that got me to see la Jetée. It seemed more remote then, something to be studied as a self-conscious artefact of the 60's or of self-important European Cinema, like some sort of cross between a French gangster movie and half-forgotten black-and-white TV newscast footage of the Vietnam war from my childhood. Now it also seems more like a humane and generous attempt to show the human face of dehumanisation, to show in simple terms the deadly and deadening complexities of occupation, terrorism, "authenticity", and resistance.

Will there ever be an equivalent for Iraq? Probably not — whatever you might say about the FLN and the pieds-noir, there was a strong strain of Western influence and history underpinning the FLN, and a basic level of (wrong-headed) understanding of Algeria in the pieds-noir that few Americans are likely to be capable of in Iraq (there just isn't the shared history, for one).

(There was one jarring scene in the film where Colonel Mathieu off-handedly comments on how he'd like Sartre even less as an enemy (or something similar) — did the old windbag ever have that sort of influence?)

(Part of Flix).

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