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Groggy
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« Reply #10740 on: July 27, 2012, 06:38:28 AM »

Very well said, Drink. I'm with you on this one. Afro

My main criticism, having done some research on the period, is that the French side focuses almost solely on the police/military response to the FLN. The pied noirs living in Algeria are only shown as either bullies or victims, when they agitated as actively and violently as the Algerians. Maybe a passing mention that they had been established as a permanent population in Algeria for 130 years prior to the war, and arguably had as much "right" to be there as the Arab Algerians. Or that Algeria was a French state rather than a mere colony. It's much more problematic than, say, India, where British presence was confined mostly to military and government infrastructure.

That said, you're absolutely right that Pontecorvo is honest and fair-minded enough to present a complex depiction of a messy, inhuman war. His Ogro (dealing with Basque terrorism in Francoist Spain) is even more interesting in this regard, albeit not as dramatically effective. A leftist film that isn't bloody-minded agitprop is always welcome.

PS: Ebert isn't entirely correct regarding the music. Sad music does play over the bombed-out café and French civilians being killed. It's definitely a way of differentiating innocent victims from "deserving" ones but more subtly than he suggests.

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« Reply #10741 on: July 27, 2012, 06:55:51 AM »

For interesting take on Colonel Matthieu's character, I've always liked this piece:
http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2005/09/the-dark-soul-of-colonel-mathieu

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« Reply #10742 on: July 27, 2012, 03:07:12 PM »

I like the film, but it doesn't explain why France lost Algeria. In fact, at the end we see the French Army capturing the last of the holdouts of the cell we've been following, and it seems that the status quo has been reestablished. How, then, did the FLN prevail? What happened of course is that the French at home lost all stomach for the conflict, and in spite of the Army's successes, pulled its support. This was seen as a betrayal by many (cue the intro to Day of the Jackal). None of this was tactical and so couldn't fit into the necessarily limited scope of Battle For Algiers, but still, you get to the end of the film and, if you have no other info, end up scratching your head a bit.

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« Reply #10743 on: July 27, 2012, 03:09:42 PM »

Groggy: Thanks for the link. Very interesting article. (is the comment below the article yours? It sounds just like what you wrote in the post above  Wink) As I mentioned before, I don't know anything at all about the history, so I'm just judging the film by the what I saw it portray.

Notice that Colonel Mathieu never actually addresses the real issue of whether the French should be in Algeria; that is accepted as a given. His discussion with reporters doesn't revolve around "should we be here?" but "given that we should be here, how do we do that most effectively?"

There's no doubt that the killer who can justify his killings with cold logic isn't any less evil; maybe he's even more evil. The Nazis didn't simply say "we're going to kill the Jews because we want to kill them"; they used all sorts of scientific "studies" and other "evidence" to intellectually support their position. I don't know if they believed in that nonsense in their heart of hearts, but it doesn't matter. I once read somewhere about how Dr. Mengele was conducting one of his brutal "medical" experiments on a 12-year old boy, and he explained to the boy with cold logic that he was Jewish and why he deserved to die... I'm definitely not comparing the French to the Nazis, and I don't think the author is either; I'm just agreeing with the broader point, that a murderer who can justify his actions with cold logic and a seeming cultured intellectualism, is the most dangerous of all.

However, I go a step further than the author does: he seems to believe that if Mathieu had actually believed in the ideals of patriotism, colonialism, or nationalism, then he would be a better person. I don't believe that shit. (Not that those 3 terms are necessarily synonymous ).How many hundreds of millions of people have been killed by uniformed men in the name of patriotism or nationalism? Uniformed men who killed for no other reason than the fact that it was by the order of their president? Men who were fighting on the side they were fighting on only because of their uniform, cuz they happened to be born in that country. Well, people who join a side of a conflict and wear a uniform, only because it's the uniform of the country they live in, are no less murderers than anyone else. Maybe they're even more dangerous. So I disagree with the author's assertion that Mathieu would be any more acceptable if he actually did believe in the cause of patriotism or nationalism...There is good and there is evil, and being on the side of evil isn't even slightly more acceptable just because you believe in fighting for the uniform or the country. A country is just a political border, and a uniform alone is not a justification for killing.


Maybe Pontecorvo is challenging us in that way: challenging us to first say "Mathieu seems to be a pretty decent guy," while then wondering how we could have possibly had any sympathy for a cold-blooded killer just because he uses nice justifications and speaks with respect about his enemy.... But on the other hand, is Pontecorvo making a similar immoral justification for the terrorist acts? All too many times, I've heard it said about certain terrorists, "I don't support their actions, but I understand what would drive them to do it." Usually, that's a thinly disguised justification for said actions.


It's amazing that despite how much the world has changed in the past half-century, military experts are still using this movie when teaching about urban warfare.

« Last Edit: July 27, 2012, 04:45:34 PM by drinkanddestroy » Logged

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« Reply #10744 on: July 27, 2012, 03:18:26 PM »

I like the film, but it doesn't explain why France lost Algeria. In fact, at the end we see the French Army capturing the last of the holdouts of the cell we've been following, and it seems that the status quo has been reestablished. How, then, did the FLN prevail? What happened of course is that the French at home lost all stomach for the conflict, and in spite of the Army's successes, pulled its support. This was seen as a betrayal by many (cue the intro to Day of the Jackal). None of this was tactical and so couldn't fit into the necessarily limited scope of Battle For Algiers, but still, you get to the end of the film and, if you have no other info, end up scratching your head a bit.
Yes, after capturing the cell, it just says that two years later, for no apparent reason, the uprising started again and was successful.

I guess that's the point (and of course this is very applicable with many of the conflicts today): while the local populations can never compete in firepower with the big armies, they may have a greater will to win, a bigger stomach for a long-term fight, and eventually win a war of attrition against a stronger enemy. This is especially true when the army insists on fighting by the accepted laws of war, while the resistance fighters have no such concerns. But the fact that France had no concerns about laws of war and was willing to use terrorist methods to fight the terrorists, yet still couldn't contain them, is perhaps even more puzzling, or illuminating, depending on how you wanna look at it.

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« Reply #10745 on: July 27, 2012, 04:48:29 PM »

I like the film, but it doesn't explain why France lost Algeria. In fact, at the end we see the French Army capturing the last of the holdouts of the cell we've been following, and it seems that the status quo has been reestablished. How, then, did the FLN prevail? What happened of course is that the French at home lost all stomach for the conflict, and in spite of the Army's successes, pulled its support. This was seen as a betrayal by many (cue the intro to Day of the Jackal). None of this was tactical and so couldn't fit into the necessarily limited scope of Battle For Algiers, but still, you get to the end of the film and, if you have no other info, end up scratching your head a bit.

Certainly the ending is the movie's weakest part. Pontecorvo abandons his docudrama pretensions for straight propaganda. Equivalent demonstrations did occur in the Arab quarter of Algiers but nowhere near as violent as the strikes being organized by the pied noirs. Let's not forget De Gaulle's ascension to power was initiated by a European riot in Algiers. Let alone the Barricades Week in fall '60, the General's Putsch and the OAS terror campaign when things went south.

One has to consider two things when leveling this critique: a) it's a primarily Algerian film in perspective; b) it's a groundlevel view of the Battle of Algiers, eg. a specific campaign in the war. No mention is made of the violent guerilla warfare outside of the big cities. The infighting within the Algerian resistance (basically the FLN vs. everyone else) isn't even mentioned. Certainly higher-level French decision making isn't discussed at all. All fall outside the film's scope and I don't think it's lesser for it.

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« Reply #10746 on: July 27, 2012, 04:58:57 PM »

Certainly the ending is the movie's weakest part. Pontecorvo abandons his docudrama pretensions for straight propaganda. Equivalent demonstrations did occur in the Arab quarter of Algiers but nowhere near as violent as the strikes being organized by the pied noirs. Let's not forget De Gaulle's ascension to power was initiated by a European riot in Algiers. Let alone the Barricades Week in fall '60, the General's Putsch and the OAS terror campaign when things went south.

One has to consider two things when leveling this critique: a) it's a primarily Algerian film in perspective; b) it's a groundlevel view of the Battle of Algiers, eg. a specific campaign in the war. No mention is made of the violent guerilla warfare outside of the big cities. The infighting within the Algerian resistance (basically the FLN vs. everyone else) isn't even mentioned. Certainly higher-level French decision making isn't discussed at all. All fall outside the film's scope and I don't think it's lesser for it.

I guess the issue is whether it's omitting certain inconvenient elements of the story in order promote its point of view (unacceptable), or if it's just omitting those elements because you can't fit everything into a 2-hour movie, and those elements aren't necessary to the story that the movie is addressing. As a general point, I don't think that the fact that "it's a primarily Algerian film in perspective" would makes it acceptable to omit any necessary facts; that's what distinguishes documentary from propaganda. (This statement is entirely theoretical; only someone who knows the story can apply it to this movie).

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« Reply #10747 on: July 27, 2012, 05:01:42 PM »

Well, it isn't a documentary. Arguably it's propaganda as it was largely funded by the Algerian government. I think most of those omissions can be put down to scope; there was a conscious decision to focus it on the street-level violence rather than high-level politics.

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« Reply #10748 on: July 27, 2012, 05:10:25 PM »

Quote
Maybe Pontecorvo is challenging us in that way: challenging us to first say "Mathieu seems to be a pretty decent guy," while then wondering how we could have possibly had any sympathy for a cold-blooded killer just because he uses nice justifications and speaks with respect about his enemy.... But on the other hand, is Pontecorvo making a similar immoral justification for the terrorist acts? All too many times, I've heard it said about certain terrorists, "I don't support their actions, but I understand what would drive them to do it." Usually, that's a thinly disguised justification for said actions.

The characterization of Mathieu is very troubling. On my first few viewings I definitely saw him as sympathetic. Unquestionably he's a better-drawn character than any of the Algerians, the nominal protagonists. Rewatching the film with the above critique in mind, though, I can certainly agree with the author's take.

But if we accept that, how valid a characterization is he? There's no question that the French officers in Algeria were fanatics: they overthrew one government and many tried to oust De Gaulle later on. They put a higher premium on patriotism and "the glory of France" over loyalty to a President. Not to mention they came from a military system that largely encouraged independent action over "following orders." Marcel Bigeard's probably the closest historical analogue to Mathieu, and he never turned against De Gaulle. He's certainly an exception to the rule, though.

Maybe this is just the history geek's complaint. Probing it though, it's clear Mathieu was characterized as he was, precisely in pursuit of a rhetorical point. For all his intelligence, skill and occasional likability, he lacks real commitment - he's just a cog in a machine. Perhaps this is to contrast the human Algerians, devoted to a cause if nothing else, with an inhumanly professional French officer? If so that makes a very different point in a very different fashion.

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« Reply #10749 on: July 27, 2012, 05:40:30 PM »

The characterization of Mathieu is very troubling. On my first few viewings I definitely saw him as sympathetic. Unquestionably he's a better-drawn character than any of the Algerians, the nominal protagonists. Rewatching the film with the above critique in mind, though, I can certainly agree with the author's take.

But if we accept that, how valid a characterization is he? There's no question that the French officers in Algeria were fanatics: they overthrew one government and many tried to oust De Gaulle later on. They put a higher premium on patriotism and "the glory of France" over loyalty to a President. Not to mention they came from a military system that largely encouraged independent action over "following orders." Marcel Bigeard's probably the closest historical analogue to Mathieu, and he never turned against De Gaulle. He's certainly an exception to the rule, though.

Maybe this is just the history geek's complaint. Probing it though, it's clear Mathieu was characterized as he was, precisely in pursuit of a rhetorical point. For all his intelligence, skill and occasional likability, he lacks real commitment - he's just a cog in a machine. Perhaps this is to contrast the human Algerians, devoted to a cause if nothing else, with an inhumanly professional French officer? If so that makes a very different point in a very different fashion.

(All I really know about the attempted assassination of de Gaulle is from The Day of the Jackal  Wink), but was that due to patriotism and glory of France, or due to the fact that these guys had spent years risking their lives fighting for a cause, only to see de Gaulle just give it away, like he wasted all those years of their lives.

(And btw, personally I don't see anything less fanatical/extremist about devotion to patriotism than devotion to a president).

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« Reply #10750 on: July 27, 2012, 06:30:39 PM »

Quote
was that due to patriotism and glory of France, or due to the fact that these guys had spent years risking their lives fighting for a cause, only to see de Gaulle just give it away, like he wasted all those years of their lives.


These are men who'd lived through one betrayal (or perceived betrayal) after another: the fall of France and the Gaullist/Vichy split, the indignity of Indochina, the craven handling of the Suez Crisis. Thus officers, by necessity, pursued individual interpretations of loyalty and patriotism. Add a perpetually unstable post-war French government that rose and fell seemingly every other week. Then a feeling that with the war, not only France's colonial possessions were endangered but France itself. Couple that with a sense that De Gaulle was personally beholden to them for helping him take power. Voila, you have the OAS.

Quote
personally I don't see anything less fanatical/extremist about devotion to patriotism than devotion to a president

I was trying to make the opposite point. The OAS were self-described fascists who murdered thousands of civilians, both in France and Algeria. At various points they fought the FLN and the French government simultaneously. Their "higher" form of patriotism consisted of a very personal, outdated view of France's destiny and place in the world.

PS: Any French/historically-knowledgable poster is welcome to correct me if I get something drastically wrong.

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« Reply #10751 on: July 28, 2012, 08:29:57 PM »

Farewell to the King - 5/10 - American deserter Nick Nolte becomes king of a Bornean tribe, leading them in a guerilla war against Japanese troops. John Milius provides another riff on Conrad with this overstuffed WWII saga. Awkward character development gives way to routine action, cribbing entire sequences from Lawrence of Arabia and The Man Who Would Be King. Everything feels rushed and overwrought, perhaps due to cuts, or perhaps Milius was just sloppy this time round. Nolte is either very good or very bad; he's certainly more interesting than the amateurish supporting cast (even James Fox).

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« Reply #10752 on: July 28, 2012, 10:02:04 PM »




I was trying to make the opposite point. The OAS were self-described fascists who murdered thousands of civilians, both in France and Algeria. At various points they fought the FLN and the French government simultaneously. Their "higher" form of patriotism consisted of a very personal, outdated view of France's destiny and place in the world.

PS: Any French/historically-knowledgable poster is welcome to correct me if I get something drastically wrong.

sorry, I misspoke. I meant to say that "I don't find anything less fanatical about devotion to a President than devotion to patriotism." I think it's all bullshit. A president isn't necessarily any more moral than is an abstract concept like patriotism.... I'm certainly not defending the actions of these French officers; I was just commenting on what I saw as your implication that in general, devotion to a President is less fanatical than devotion to patriotism.

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« Reply #10753 on: July 28, 2012, 10:13:03 PM »

Thinking more about that article on Colonel Mathieu. I have to say that no matter how bad Mathieu is, the worst actions in the movie are committed by those women of the FLN who plant those bombs. Sitting there and casually sipping a coke while calmly looking at the baby eating ice cream whom she is about to blow up, is something that we don't see Mathieu ever doing. She doesn't at least try to get the baby away, or show the slightest bit of inner conflict; Mathieu shows more complexity/concern for his opponents. (Not that murdering adults is really any less evil than murdering children, but it is at least in the language of cinema). This is no way condones any actions by Mathieu; but if someone wants to argue that Mathieu is one of the worst characters in movie history, then so are those women.

------------

Also, I was thinking that perhaps showing Mathieu as somehow conflicted was the worst sort of trickery by Pontecorvo, for the following reason: perhaps you can say that if the movie had portrayed the FLN as unambiguously good and the French as unambiguously evil, then nobody would accept a word the movie says, it would all be dismissed as propaganda. However, by purporting to portray the French leaders' inner conflicts, it allows the viewer to say, "this movie is trying just to portray the facts, as they are." So when they subtly make us believe that Mathieu is the epitome of all evil (as the author came to believe after several viewings), we accept that, because we believe the movie was attempting an honest portrayal. And ditto for the FLN's actions: by portraying the atrocities that it commits, we can tell ourselves that the movie is trying to be honest, and therefore accept the movie's ultimate view of things. So, perhaps I am just playing devil's advocate, but I think you can make an argument that the movie's purported "honest" portrayal is actually its biggest treachery and its way of suckering you in to what is ultimately a very opinionated position?

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« Reply #10754 on: July 29, 2012, 02:07:50 PM »

Galileo (1975) - 8/10 - Fine adaptation of Brecht's Life of Galileo, transferred to the screen mostly intact. It works surprisingly well: Brecht's play is much more challenging, intellectually and artistically, than its spiritual successors (A Man for All Seasons, The Crucible) and the force of ideas proves compelling. Topol's boisterous performance is frequently criticized but he worked alright for me. And the supporting cast! John Gielgud, Edward Fox, Michael Lonsdale, Colin Blakely, Margaret Leighton, Patrick Magee, John McEnery, Michael Gough.

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