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Saturday, 21 February 2004

FILMS SEEN: ´Algiers´ Implies Vietnam
(To be re-released nationwide 5 March; Ritz Five, 214 Walnut Street)
''The Battle of Algiers'' is no cinematic classic, but a film which undoubtedly be remembered fondly in the film libraries of the Museum of Modern Art and the National Film Board. Unfortunately the same will be not be possible at the Cinématheque Francaise. ''The Battle of Algiers'' was banned in France.

The film is demandingly pertinent, not so much for its excellent historical documentation but because of its timely, although loose, parallels between the French colonization of Algeria and present American military involvement in Vietnam.

''The Battle of Algiers'' dares to submit to its American audience the opinion that we, like the French, will be repulsed in our colonalist aggression. To be sure, the French put down the liberation battle in Algiers against their National Liberation Front, as the Americans have thwarted, too, several attempts for Vietnam liberation. The Algerian NLF´s resistance was poorly timed and sadly ill-directed. It was based on sporadic acts of terrorism with no wide based of violent popular revolt.

In December, 1960 the people of Algiers (with no external provocation by the French) exploded onto the streets screaming like savages. The mass rebellion, without disciplined leadership, had begun. It was this final rebellious upsurge, with the roots of freedom in all the people, that ousted the French.

This similar cry of the people of Vietnam (even those gagged by the obsequious Court Jester Ky) raises the immediate question that ignores whether we should be Vietnam, but asks if we can remain there much longer without killing them all.

I was frankly and happily surprised to find that ''The Battle of Algiers'' was an acutely objective film. I thought it would be tilted in favor of the Algerians. It is not. For Gillo Pontecorvo, its Italian director, the horror of Algerian terror is no less brutal than French torture chamber tactics.

When Colonel Mattieu says, ''I´m not a sadist,'' while corresponding scenes of torture are shown, I sensed that not only Mattieu (the leader of the French Occupational force) but the rebels were victimized by their own terror, bred in frustration and helplessness, only to create, what seems, more needless bloodshed.

The photographer has created a newsreel image with his sharp jump cutting. This makes for a ''you are there'' impression which is strikingly effective. All the actors are amateurs except for Jean Martin as Colonel Mattieu. I seem to recollect Martin's face from some low-grade French ''gangster'' pictures with the likes of Lino Ventura, Eddie Constantine, and Jean Marais. If I'm right, he's graduated to a film that deserves his presence.

''The Battle of Algiers'' is currently at Cinema II.

(This review, by Richard Carreño, appeared the The Washington Square Journal, the daily newspaper of New York University, in 1967, the time of the film's first American release.)