The Battle of Algiers (1966) | Gillo Pontecorvo’s masterpiece of political cinema resonates in a newly restored 4k release
From CultFilms comes the release of the newly restored 4K version of The Battle of Algiers, which arrives for the first time in the UK in dual format (Blu-ray/DVD).
A blistering attack on the savagery that was endured in order for Algeria to attain independence from the French, 1966’s The Battle of Algiers is one of the most influential political movies of all time and won many awards for its Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo.
The film concentrates on the years between 1954 and 1957 when guerrilla fighters began operating in the Casbah, the citadel of Algiers, which became a flashpoint for the French to regain territory. Told in flashback, it centres on one cell within the National Liberation Front (the FLN), which includes Ali la Pointe, a petty criminal who politically radicalised while in jail, then recruited by FLN commander El-hadi Jafar; Larbi Ben M’hidi, a top FLN leader, and three women who carry out a series of bombings.
Shot in a documentary style, using the actual locations of key events, and drawing on local people to dramatise the major players (including Algerian activist Saadi Yacef, whose 1966 memoir Souvenirs de la Bataille d’Alger inspired the film – he plays El-hadi Jafar and also produced), Pontecorvo’s film possesses a realism that continues to astonish. It remains the perfect marriage of politics and cinema – like an Algerian take on Roberto Rossellini’s quintessential neorealist masterpiece Rome Open City (1945) fused with striking Eisenstein-esque visuals and the political eye of Pasolini.
Although made as a propaganda piece, the Algerian-Italian co-production is remarkably un-partisan in its approach: with the murderous consequences of the guerrillas’ bombing campaign and the French torturing their prisoners being given equal emphasis throughout.
The arresting opening sequence in which the camera looks out over the roof tops of Algiers sets the forceful tone of what follows, and the scene in which the French colonel, Mathieu (played by the film’s only actor, Jean Martin) proudly leads his paratroopers through the street is at once heroic but also utterly futile (it’s also a telling statement on colonialism).
But it’s the film’s vast crowd scenes that will stay with you forever – that and the carefully-curated score, which skilfully weaves Ennio Morricone’s action movie beats with indigenous drumming, the ululation chanting of the Casbah women, classical ostinato composition and Bach’s St Matthew Passion.
Digitally re-mastered in 4K and restored preserving the grainy, newsreel look that the director Gillo Pontecorvo designed, the restoration was made by the L’Immagine Ritrovata with the participation of the director’s son, cinematographer and director Marco Pontecorvo, in collaboration with CultFilms and was nominated for the Best Restored Version Award at the 2016 Venice Film Festival.
Special features include:
• New extra on the 4K restoration
• The Making of the Battle of Algiers (interview with Director Gillo Pontecorvo)
• The Real Battle of Algiers (interview with producer Saadi Yacef, head of FLN guerrillas in Algiers)
• Our War for Freedom (interview with FLN fighter Zohra Drif Bitat)
• Exclusive Presentation by director Paul Greengrass
• Exclusive interview with director Ken Loach
• Booklet hugely informative essays on the genesis of the film and it’s cinematic legacy