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Black and white and relevant – Battle of Algiers


Something about Matt Suib and Nadia Hironaka’s “Whiteout” at Locks Gallery tripped my memory of another desert/militarist/high contrast black and white moving picture, The Battle of Algiers. (Note: Whiteout really doesn’t bear strong resemblance to the 1966 movie but nevertheless the sand, the b&w…I guess I’m suggestible.  See a few images of Whiteout at flickr, and more on the Locks show in Weekly Update next Wednesday).

Battle of Algiers, Ali Le Pointe gets a gun for his first terrorist act for the revolution. Before he is radicalized Ali was a petty criminal in and out of jail. He is the most fierce of the revolutionaries.

I watched The Battle of Algiers on Netflix last night (it’s an “instant play”).  While it’s is not a documentary at all the movie feels like one, with realistic settings and a day by day, moment by moment chronological telling of the story.  I hadn’t seen it since the movie came out and it stands up well. The sound is poor, although the music, by the film’s director Gillo Pontecorvo and Ennio Morricone of spaghetti western fame is great — with a pounding rhythm and intermittent discordant screeching of horns.   And the images, the pacing, the storytelling…all are compelling.

Not surprisingly, the parallels with Iraq are absolutely uncanny.

The tale has a guerilla insurgency made up of FLN Islamic terrorist cells fighting against a Western-trained army that is mired in the country and hates its role of policing. Most chilling is the press conference in which the charismatic French army commander (a decorated Nazi fighter in World War II) is asked point blank about the issue of prisoner torture, and his answer is basically if the goal is to retain Algeria as a French possession — it was — then any means are justified. Later you see the torture and it’s as you would expect…unspeakably horrible.

Iraq is not Algeria and Al Queda is not the FLN. But this movie is a slice of history that bears remembering.

Watch the movie trailer here or at the link above to get the feel of it.