Filmmaker Gillo Pontecorvo died at 86 in Rome on Thursday. Pontecorvo was the director of the amazing, Battle of Algiers, which is about a chapter in the Algerian war of independence from France. This film has a diverse audience (NYT):
“The Battle of Algiers” won the Golden Lion for best film at the 1966 Venice International Film Festival. (Mr. Pontecorvo directed the festival for four years, starting in 1992.) But its legend grew as it was used as a kind of training film by both urban guerrillas and the authorities trying to suppress them. The Black Panthers studied the film in the 1960’s, and in 2003, months after the war against Iraqi insurgents began, the Pentagon screened the film for military and civilian war planners.
Its been interesting looking at what is out there regarding this film. The American Conservative opines:
In Algeria, torture worked. What the film doesn’t show is that in France, though, the public started to lose the stomach for the “necessary consequences.” Alarmed that the politicians might throw away their fallen comrades’ sacrifices, the paratroopers threatened to drop on Paris in May 1958 unless Gen. Charles de Gaulle became France’s strong man. Once in power, however, that great patriot resolved to cut and run. He had to weather two coup attempts and countless assassination plots, but, minus the Algerian tumor, long-suffering France emerged peaceful, prosperous, and democratic.
Sounds familiar! doesn’t it? Here is a link to Democracy Now’s take on the film and it’s implication for the current war and the role of torture. There is more extensive discussion of the Algerian Revolution and the film at the Monthly Review.
Most of the articles I read, are made uneasy by the fact that Pontecarvo was a member of the Italian Communist Party, and even if they like the film they have a queasy feeling about it. I think the film is a lot more complex and as such its difficult to co-opt it with complete ease by anyone who wants to draw easy lessons for our current dilemmas.