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Saturday, February 12, 2005

Viva le Resistance?

A couple of weeks ago, Sundance channel ran "The Battle of Algiers." I taped it because it was up against Bush's "State of the Union."

Last night, I watched this powerful 1965 film (released originally in 1967), which is about the Algerian resistance to more than a century of French colonization (or occupation?)

Roger Ebert reviewed it in May 1968 -- and again in October 2004. During Vietnam, Ebert wrote this:
It may be a deeper film experience than many audiences can withstand: too cynical, too true, too cruel and too heartbreaking. It is about the Algerian war, but those not interested in Algeria may substitute another war; "The Battle of Algiers" has a universal frame of reference.
This is all still true.

During the 2004 presidential eleciton, Ebert wrote this:
It involves the proving-ground of the emerging tactics in Algeria from 1954 to 1962, as France tried and failed to contain a nationalist uprising. Methods that were successful in Algeria would be adapted by Castro and Guevara in Cuba, by the Viet Cong, the Palestinians, the IRA and South African militants, and are currently being employed in Iraq.
Even though the film looks like an old documentary, every shot was apparently filmed live for this movie.

In 2003, news organizations reported that the Pentagon was screening it.
The strength of "The Battle of Algiers," the reason it is being viewed in the Pentagon 35 years after its making, is that it is lucid and dispassionate in its examination of the tactics of both sides.
If you don't want me to spoil the movie, don't read further.

The film ends with the counterinsurgency French military leader killing or capturing all the rebel leaders and declaring the uprising over. Victory had been achieved:
The FLN has been eliminated. Two years later, the film notes, "for no particular reason that anyone could explain," the uprising began again as mobs poured out of the Casbah and overwhelmed the police. In 1962, the French granted Algeria its freedom.
Along the way, French forces used various kinds of nasty interrogation techniques, including torture.

It didn't work.

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