The Battle of Algiers

This post is in the theme Influences on my own Creative Work. Read the first.

January 15, New York: From the moment this film began, or more specifically, from the moment the Ennio Morricone score kicked in, I was falling in love all over again. The Battle of Algiers tells the story of the Algerian insurgency against French occupation in the 1950s. Though we see a carefully balanced portrait of pain on both sides, we spend a lot of time running up and down the warren stairs of the Casbah. We see a relatively true depiction of the Algerian War, shot just a couple of years after its conclusion.

I love this film because not a lot of other films have been made like this one. To broadly categorize it, The Battle of Algiers is a documentary-style narrative film. This is a set of techniques largely over-used in recent years: hand-held camera, real locations. But Gillo Pontecorvo (the filmmaker) surpasses the borrowing of aesthetic and makes something that sits between genres. His film looks almost identical to the newsreel footage of the day and moreso because he only cast a single professional actor. And so we follow normal people up and down those Casbah stairs, through checkpoints, into crowded cafes, and meanwhile, that Morricone score keeps ratcheting the tension higher and higher.

Leaving film school, I chose a documentary path, away from the narrative feature film aspirations I entered school with. It’s unlikely at this point that I return to narrative filmmaking in my career, but if I were to make a narrative film I would want it to feel like this— borrowed from another visual genre in such a way that you forgot that you are watching a narrative film. As unlikely as it is that I’ll return to narrative, it’s even more unlikely that I will ever have the opportunity to make as courageous or powerful of a film as this one. Deeply complex, provocative, and true. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Seriously, buy Battle of Algiers.

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