The Battle of Algiers (1966)
Back in the days when we considered George ‘Dubya’ Bush an idiot president, on the eve of the second gulf war, the cowboy-in-chief was sat down by his advisers in the White House nickleodeon and shown this 1966 drama about French colonial folly and the actualité of urban guerilla warfare. Rotten Tomatoes doesn’t record what the president made of Gillo Pontecorvo’s newsreely neo-realist masterpiece – but we can maybe piece that together ourselves in light of the carnage wreaked across western Asia in the years since Dubya’s victory.
It’s true, there’s a Potemkin-like greatness to Battle of Algiers – and a great spit of automatic gunfire in every other scene. Everyone gets shot in the back, seemingly. It’s so ahead of its time, made when asymmetric combat was newly a la mode, and captured in those handheld cameras is a movie which unpacks itself like a checklist of revolutionary praxis: designation of the target, selection of the killer, hand-off of the weapon, priming of the bomb, breaching of the checkpoint, explosion in the cafe, terror in the souk, torture of the suspects, radicalisation of the group….the anatomy of a conflict rendered in smirched monochrome with non-actors by a journalist with the eye of a Marxist poet.