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I wasn't even born in the 60s, which makes it impossible for me to comment on the historical accuracy of the events portrayed here, but apparently if you were able to remember the 60s then you weren't really there ... or so the saying goes! The Battle Of Algiers is a moment in history that I never knew had occurred, and most likely was the reason this movie was made so that it remain in the consciousness of humanity forever. The director may not have thought it would stand the test of time and still be remembered fondly (for want of a better word) by persons unknown, however it has just as much resonance in today's climate as it did when Terrorism was a word barely spoken of in society.

Battle Of Algiers, The
Movie
The native people of Algeria have had enough of their oppressive French masters for nigh on a century now. The Algerian locals have slowly but surely built up a resistance network to finally rid their country of this menace to their culture and general way of life. When this upsurge in resentment towards their foreign neighbours occurs, the residing government calls in a crack team of French military specialists to weed out this "native scurge" and allegedly restore peace and order into the community.

Based on the uprising of local Algerian nationals against the French colonists dictating their ideals for some 140 years, this movie could almost be seen as some sort of educational program on how to wreak havoc and chaos by the now-traditional methodology of terrorism. The organisational structure of command as well as various methods of deception is well documented here. The main difference is that the Algerians only targeted their French enemies whilst putting themselves and their own people out of harm's way, whereas today's "suicide martyrs" as it were seem hell-bent on being completely indiscriminate in who they kill just as long as the body count is of the highest possible number. Either way, I personally cannot fathom how any faction is able to garner sympathy for their cause by murdering so-called innocent victims; this can only fuel the fire of hatred by both sides of whatever conflict is being ensued at the time. Sure, it draws the world's media to the predicament in question, but ultimately this cannot be doing anyone any good ... and somehow I think these terrorists actually know it.

Politics aside though, The Battle Of Algiers challenges its audience to accept the use of bloody violence as both cause and cure of all skirmishes, whilst acknowledging that ultimately neither side are able to achieve their separate aims in the end. Even though this film was commissioned by the Algerian Government and shot in many of the same locales as the actual event itself, it is probably the most unbiased of (anti-)war movies ever made. The newsreel production values give it a thorough grounding of the perception that this actually happened, rather than it making you feel like you're just a distant and disinterested observer (as are with most other historical-based edutainment pieces).

A timely production for all generations, and unfortunately for us, now more than ever.

Battle Of Algiers, The
Video
Okay, this is where I'm supposed to say "The visual and aural quality is riddled with various artefacts which make for a less than pleasant movie-going experience" ... except that the last part of this sentence isn't entirely true. Regardless of what is wrong with this image, the end result is a surprisingly watchable transfer. No doubt the rushed production values were utilised to generate a documentary or newsreel feel to the audience, and most likely it was only given an extremely limited shoe-string budget as well. The image presented here is (and I quote) "Digitally remastered from a new print (restoring the film's newsreel look, as devised through painstaking experimentation with film stock, light and lab processing by director Gillo Pontecorvo and cinematographer Marcello Gatti)".

Battle Of Algiers, The
It is presented in a 1.78:1 ratio, which is modified from its original 2.35:1 format. I'm unsure as to whether the widescreen image has been cropped off the sides or if the mattes have actually been opened up, but my opinion of this rendering is that there are no restrictions within the viewing frame in any way that I can ascertain. For obvious reasons, this was shot with the lowest of low-grade black and white film stock to retain as much authenticity as possible that this is a documentary (or the impression of one). Resultantly, this showcases everything you would want to know about film artefacting, from general scratches to dirt and dust flying on and off the negative proper. That said, these elements are far less obtrusive than you would first imagine. Grain is varied in intensity throughout, but generally it has been cleaned up quite well and is even somewhat eliminated in certain shots.

Much care has obviously been taken to present the black levels as far down as they can possibly go without ruining the overall impact of each and every scene in question. As a result of this unwieldy assortment of images, the very bright daylight sequences tend to suffer the most since they become washed out, but these probably only count for about one-tenth of the entire film. The majority of sequences take place in either long narrow streets with multi-storey complexes either side, or indoors where the lighting ranges from well-lit to extremely dark. Thankfully, there is enough contrast in all these scenes so that you will not miss out on the most important aspects of what is being viewed. Ultimately, there is virtually no low-level video noise apparent and the few occurrences of overly grey contrasting is still supplemented by a decent enough shadow detail to keep things grounded. Compression artefacts are also non-existent, which is probably the second-most important aspect of this image.

Focus is naturally softer than others of this ilk, but the actor who plays the main character here has extremely piercing eyes that are very striking no matter what scene he plays in. On a technical standpoint, the video is much more watchable than you could ever expect from the source material, and hence this is why the rating is slightly above what should be given for the deficiencies inherent.

Battle Of Algiers, The
Audio
This soundtrack is just as scratchy as the film image itself. A complete rerecording was made to produce the voices, music and environmental sounds, again to give it a newsreel production feel to it. Since none of this is in English, I can only gather that the original Arabic and French dialogue is of sufficient discern ability to those who speak the languages, but don't quote me on that.

The thing that obviously betrays the authenticity of this soundtrack is the often mismatched lip-syncing and equally redubbed studio recordings. There is also another problem where a few phrases are obviously being uttered onscreen but there is no actual dialogue that is heard. The mono experience generated is naturally restrictive in fidelity but there is not much nagging distortion present that might try to override the sound that wants to come out. Surround and subwoofer speakers get nothing to do, so obviously there is no support given for the explosions or music. As mentioned earlier, the soundtrack has more snap, crackle and pop than a bowl of Rice Bubbles or indeed a badly stored vinyl record.

There are only English subtitles available for this feature and, whilst they are generally well written for grammar, there is a slight inconsistency with the use of quotes and italics. Also, there are a few phrases that have had no English translations made for the dialogue in question. You get the gist of it, though.

Extras
The main extra on this DVD is a retrospective Interview with director Gillo Pontecorvo, he speaks in his native Italian and is supplemented by English subtitles. He discusses his research of what took place in Algeria as well as the various personalities that he interviewed to tabulate a first-hand account of these events (one of whom appears in this movie recreation). He even recites some humorous anecdotes, which tends not to sit too well with the serious nature of the film he has made, but overall this is a nice addendum which enhances the information we absorb in the movie.

There is a Photo Gallery collection of images totalling over 100 or so shots taken on location, but the photographs are displayed in a half-sized window unfortunately. You will have to watch your clicks whilst navigating as eventually they will go back to the beginning without you being aware of it.

Battle Of Algiers, The
Overall
Deemed a masterpiece of then-modern filmmaking, the story encapsulated here is one that is just as relevant today as is our involvement in the first major war conducted for the 21st century. It's unfortunate that even as we venture forward into notions of peace in our troubled times, our need to destroy in order to avoid further destruction seems like the only solution in the eyes of our leaders. Whilst this film does not provide any answers in how to resolve our differences, it does at least reinforce the logic that there is no logic to inflicting harm against one another, as there is never any clear victor.


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