Francesca Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Rome

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This review is in part a preview of the 2016 Popcorn Frights Festival in Miami, FL to take place over 12-18 August at the O Cinema Wynwood. The subject of this review Francesca will be playing on the 15 August at 7 pm EST. More information on the festival can be found at their website and Facebook. Tickets for the festival can be ordered here.

There are two opening gestures within the first ten minutes of Italian/Argentine horror production Francesca (it should say the most promising things to the movie that I had a lot of troubling squaring that it wasn’t a purely Italian production, in a manner that will be obvious by the first frame of the film and the end of this review) that bring attention to themselves in the most obvious manner and make clear what director Luciano Onetti (who pulled multiple duties as cinematographer, composer, editor and co-wrote the film with his brother Nicolás) intends to do both in style and storytelling. The immediate first gesture (after a dedication “A Mama” that takes a particularly ironic tone after the fact) is to actually have the frame of the film open itself up slowly to reveal the source of a windy soundscape of a dark sky until it reaches an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 – the preferred frame for anamorphic 35mm film in the 1970s.

Which seems like something absolutely disposable and hardly noted by a casual viewer of movies except as a slimmer wide frame than the US standard, until you realize that it is a ratio that is favored in many works of giallo pictures (an exclusively Italian genre Agatha Christie-esque murder mysteries with a particular flavor for bloody knife deaths that had its great run between the mid-1960s to the late 70s), particularly by giants to the genre as Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci. It’s a subtle stylistic move that clearly announces the intentions of the movie to sit comfortably alongside the greats of those artists from the very first frame – Don’t Torture a DucklingDeep RedThe Bird with a Crystal PlumageThe New York RipperOpera (it is also an aspect ratio shared with Suspiria, arguably Argento’s most famous feature, and while I personally am quite peeved by the idea of categorizing it as a giallo – it has supernatural story elements you will never find in any of the “grounded” giallo films – it is nonetheless considered one by enough people to at least receive a nod).

If that is missed by anybody, the second gesture I allude to is a big enough deal that it literally stopped me in my tracks and made me decide to really strap myself in for the movie I was watching. After a chilling moment of sadistic child-on-infant violence with credits overlayed on top of it, the movie proper feels ready to begin with a completely giallo-esque presentation of the unknown killer in bright blood red attire including raincoat, gloves, and later in the film a wide-brimmed hat, prepares to murder its first victim with a ritualistic atmosphere provided by the cuts Onetti gives in rhythm to the worshipful dark recitation of Canto III from Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, a piece which is continuously reference directly throughout the film (I also get tickled by the direct quotation of “Gate of Hell”, bringing to mind the OTHER great Italian horror subgenre). It’s a hypnotizing scene that draws you in with absolutely no trip in its deep pace – even the screaming of the gagged victim matches up to the magnificent rhythmic soundscape – before being absolutely thrown off that trance with a savage stab to the mouth, blood dribbling from the tape that bounds our victim so messily that we suddenly remember that we’re watching a horror movie. But that’s not what pulls me back.

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What really did was the fact that the credits – which, maybe I do not speak Italian, I was meant to believe were concluded – actually commence only after this woman has been murdered and the killer is now preparing her body for the daylight discovery of a witness walking her dog (Antonieta Bonarea) and the subsequent involvement of our investigating Detectives Bruno Moretti (Luis Emilio Rodriguez) and Benito Succo (Gustavo Dalessanro). Our detectives will come to discover that the disappearance of a young girl named Francesca from 15 years ago may have something to do with these murders. In any case, Francesca‘s concern with willing to completely pause its credits to dole out a very well-crafted scene that kickstarts all the plot tells me three things:

The first is a more overt announcement of the film’s giallo intentions, forgiving me for reading into the aspect ratio now that it’s willing to really put some blood and garish color (especially in the killer’s costume, absolutely the brightest color element in the whole film). The second is an intention to announce that this movie is not going to bother slowing things down and will absolutely run through its mystery with the briskest efficiency, regardless of the layers it may introduce to the plot. This is a promise the 80-minute feature makes very well good on, running so fast into moments that it’s willing to introduce the Detectives’ investigation of crime scenes, cut into a flashback of a witness’s memory, and then cut straight from that flashback to the scene chronologically AFTER the witness is being questioned even while his or her narration continues. Editing gestures like these simply want to move on to the next big kill moment and only leave the Detective’s untangling of the convoluted pattern of kills for the function of the genre and it shows a very delicate ability on Onetti’s part to make sure the audience is not in the slightest bored while telling them “if you’re lost, it doesn’t matter! Here comes the really good stuff, anyway” on to a moment where somebody gets a knife through the throat or an iron press to the face.

Which leads to the third and most telling thing about this move – Onetti is willing to stop the movie from properly starting because he’s really damn proud of his craft and wants you to see it. It is in itself an attitude of the film that is well-deserved in my opinion. What Onetti has done is built up a time capsule of a film from the ground up, using whatever budgetary and lo-fi limitations he has to simply add to the 70’s Italian aesthetic while being mindful of more modern visual language as to allow the genre more accessible to people who simply aren’t as familiar with the movement (though I can’t imagine anybody walking into this film without an idea of what it is) and invite their interest, anyway. This twist on lo-fi filmmaking is especially prevalent in the soft focus and lighting give that grimy old picture feel, accented by a subtle blue color tone (most obviously in interior sequences) that add to the bloated dead feel of the picture, before the presence of the killer’s red dress cuts into that soft tone and another throat. The editing is easily the most modern part of the film, though it favors using canted angles that give the film a 60s hallucinatory vibe, by matching up to the rhythm of the moment like that opening kill promised. Neither of them are the perfect work of a master with either dodgy cuts (a one-second cut at the very beginning calls way too much attention to a fake baby, even if its blink or you’ll miss it), somewhat alienating effects that are so outside the realm of the sort of sophistication Onetti mostly displays that I think it’d be an injustice to call them deliberate goofs (an establishing shot of a church tower warps and distorts like a cartoon manner that you’ll never find elsewhere), and a few completely out-of-focus shots that don’t work outside of the hallucinated moments of the killer’s presence. Still, that Onetti can single-handedly construct a genre picture that works in all the places where it matters AND keep a swift pace is impressive enough.

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And that’s without mentioning how the sound design is easily the most enjoyable thing about the movie to me. Either simply because Onetti wants to match up with the historical habit of Italian productions during that era overdubbing EVERYTHING (giallo or otherwise) or because Onetti knows the true value of a good horror soundscape or maybe both, the point is that Onetti announces before any visual alarm an insistence that something is wrong by heralding a trapped claustrophobic interior tone (sort a muffled form of the opening exterior noise) before really utilizing all the Creepy Sound Effects 101 to great effect: canned baby sounds from a doll (especially with the phrase “Mommy wants to play with you”), piano, all the sort of perfect things to get under your skin and get you ready for when the killer comes out. That these moments are usually preceded by mundane investigation scenes only allows our ears to really pipe up once we hear it coming and that Onetti’s score – while not exactly original – plays well-enough into the time period the film consciously sets itself in pulls double-duty on recalling the dark audial violence of Fulci and Argento and letting it pulsate through the spine-chilling moments prior to a stab.

The plot is of such limited concern to even the film itself that once it ties itself up, it gives the viewer no room to square its final twists and moves right on to the crimson-backgrounded credits (and slowly closes off that aspect ratio in the very same manner). To its credit, though, I think it ties itself up a lot cleaner than pretty much most giallos (certainly Twitch of the Death Nerve and StageFright, amongst my favorites of the genre) and Rodriguez and Dalessandro doing a better job than you’d expect establishing the complete fatigue in their detective characters coming from their stressful line of cases previous to this doozie. And just as well, because what we truly have here is simply a lovingly sincere attempt to not just function as “homage or love letter to the giallo” but to outright insist upon itself as a new entry into the canon.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t see myself having a problem with giving it that. Nothing about Francesca is cynical or throws itself as a cunning wink to the genre as a parody, which might not make it more interesting than a great straightforward genre film, but sometimes that’s all you need and the giallo movement has been in such a drought (I mean, Dario Argento HAS NEVER MADE A MOVIE SINCE OPERA AND ANYBODY WHO TELLS ME THERE ARE ARGENTO MOVIES AFTER THAT IS LYING). All its flaws are to my mind honest mistakes, made by a pair of brothers on their sophomore feature with limited resources or a stifling in creative decisions who worked on this with the whole of their hearts, and all its successes are enviously impressive that leave me with more than just a feeling that anybody who comes across this movie is liable to enjoy it as a fan of good enthusiastic horror work. It also leaves me insisting that anybody who has as much an eagerness to consume giallo works like yours truly actively seek this out and leave me to seek out the Onetti brothers’ first feature Deep Sleep. And that’s not even talking about my excitement for what’s to come in the future for them. New blood was exactly what this genre needed and we got it.

(P.S. stay after the credits for one more special moment – besides the fact that the frame closes itself in the same fashion as it opens.)

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We Came. We Saw. We Kicked It’s Ass.

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I’m older as hell now. I’m not the same kid who first saw Ghostbusters loving the hell out of it in the 1990s. I’m wiser – I don’t generally care for Dan Aykroyd’s writing and rest in peace to Harold Ramis, but he eventually fell off as well (but not before giving us Caddyshack and Groundhog Day so he was a very talented individual). Their 1984 Ghostbusters – which they wrote and starred in – lives and breathes in the atmosphere of 1980s Hollywood comedies in that it’s blatantly a movie riding on it being a high concept – rather than the Bill Murray star vehicle it now gets retroactively read as – of a bunch of guys, y’know… busting ghosts. Paranormal exterminators, that’s it. That’s a logline summary of the film to be sold. Plus it came from the 1980s, pound for pound the worst decade in American filmmaking to me. In my mind, Ghostbusters had every possibility of being a lesser film than it is.

Instead, what we got was lightning in a bottle – a movie that is completely aware of the scale of itself (because if you have a movie about guys busting ghosts, you’re gonna need some great effects) but dismissive of that to the point of just feeling like a hangout comedy. Which in itself, shouldn’t be a surprise coming from the men who were involved CaddyshackThe Blues Brothers, and Stripes – all shaggy comedies based in just putting characters in a location and interacting that had some kind of aimlessness to them – not just Aykroyd and Ramis, but star Murray and director Ivan Reitman. I can’t think of many movies that are able to take these two blatantly unmixable masters – the big damn sci-fi/horror spectacle and the dudes just being dudes – and even attempts to please them both (the closest I can think of is This Is the End, but man, the high-concept is such a fucking garbagefire that it only works by being a hangout stoner comedy). Ghostbusters accomplishes both elements with flying colors, plus Aykroyd and Ramis somehow discipline their episodic style of writing early in their careers (probably meant to allow improvisation of the Second City and Saturday Night Live alums that show up in their movies – something which is certainly present in Ghostbusters as well) to actually craft a plot that’s nothing dense, god forbid, but one where the conflicts and relationships develop and events have consequences and we can actually see how the movie builds itself up to a climax that is absolutely delicious in its ambition.

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That plot being the startup of said Ghostbusters service after three professors in New York are ejected from their university as they regard their studies as useless with no application or ability to bring in sponsors. What were those professors studying? Parapsychology. Yep, I can’t really blame the university there, especially when our introduction to the most casual man in that trio, Peter Venkman (Murray), is of him using a ESP tests to court a girl and viciously torment another a guy. Fucking A, come to think of it, practically everything about Venkman as a person – this scene, the antagonistic attitude he gives to albeit a pretty huge jerk, the annoying relentlessness in which he pursues a client named Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver), the fact that he brought 300ccs of Thorazine to a date – is odious by all means, he should be an immediately dislikable person. But hell, Bill Murray in all his casual sarcasm and deadpan attitudes to even the most alarming of situations is such a fun and frankly cool bringdown from the severity of New York’s imminent destruction that we enjoy his presence. Plus if the movie were really intending for us to find Venkman to be such a complete creep, he probably shouldn’t be having such dynamite chemistry with Weaver as romantic foils, even when it involves Barrett showing Venkman the door. It’s essentially the Ferris Bueller effect – the character is a complete shit of a person, but the performance to bring that character to life has too much charisma to even consider hating him. And this meant to be a compliment – we want to love these characters and Ghostbusters lets us.

Murray is obviously the guy who’s taking over the show, but Ghostbusters can’t maintain its hangout feel without at least the illusion of a strong ensemble and the strength of the supporting cast is not at all an illusion. Calling Ramis as Dr. Egon Spengler and Aykroyd as Dr. Ray Stantz as supporting characters is dismissive, since they are just as much involved in the particulars of the plot and they both pull off characteristics that make them pleasant presences – Aykroyd with his boy-ish naivete and enthusiasm behind each step they make in discovering paranormal activity (my favorite bit of acting here by him is his despondence at mortgaging his home by Venkman’s influence, followed one cut later by his excitement to use that money to buy a fire station) and Ramis, who was always limited in his acting (my god, ragging on the recently deceased fucking sucks, I wish this review existed pre-2014), using that wooden lack of expression to stress the completely deadpan focused nature of the character and especially illustrate his divide from humanity even in spite of his undisputed intelligence – but Murray’s feat-on-the-ground attitude is why we hover to that character and know him to be the real star of the show. Weaver is undoubtedly the most normal of the bunch and still brings inner life to Dana that makes her far from boring – ie. making it obvious she is somewhat charmed by Venkman is completely inner commentary, her lines are basically “get out”. Rick Moranis and Annie Potts are lovable caricatures, even in their limited screentime.

Ernie Hudson as later recruit Winston Zeddmore is the odd man out of the main cast and unfortunately it’s not through any fault of his own – as great as it is to have an everyman in the group (it actually adds to the low-key working class platform of the Ghostbusters’ existence – “if there’s a steady paycheck in it, I’ll believe anything you say” he tells Potts’ character shortly before an exhausted Venkman and Stantz waltz in with cigarettes dangling from their mouths; his interactions are no different from watercooler or lunch break dialogue intermingling personal life with work), the character feels entirely like a fourth wheel to what’s actually going on. This is as a result of the apparent shrinking of the role since he received the role in lieu of the original choice, Eddie Murphy leaving for Beverly Hills CopIn all truth, the role just feels like it’s thankless and hanging there, something Hudson himself expressed dismay over. The poor guy was shafted here, but he still gamely exists in the film and makes himself known.

Anyway, the cast is not the only thing that lifts the movie to being such a classic standard of 1980s comedy that other 1980s comedies hardly came even close to, although they are singlehandedly the reason the movie is so compulsively rewatchable that I would dare to claim I am not the only person who has fresh as hell memories despite the last time I watched it being 2013. This is a movie about GHOSTS. We need GHOSTS. WE NEED THE SPOOKS, YO.

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And y’know, horror maybe. And Ghostbusters especially seems eager to at least promise the atmosphere of a horror film between Laszlo Kovacs’ darkened lighting for moments where the paranormal is up and Elmer Bernstein’s genre-based darkness in his score. The movie takes its concept seriously which is honestly something of a compliment to its audience that we rarely see in this day and age of post-modern sarcastic quips and tones in the face of death (fucking Joss Whedon). I know that’s weird to say just after I complimented Murray for his attitude, but that’s kind of the thing… Murray almost derails that for the movie, while Aykroyd and Ramis and company all cover for him and it’s enough to provide dignity to the threat but not enough to spook me. I don’t think anybody could really walk away from seeing Ghostbusters as very scary and even as a child I didn’t find myself very shaken by it.

But that doesn’t matter to me, what matters is do the ghosts have weight and by word they do. Not only because they are taken seriously, but because the effects used to bring them to life is outstanding. There’s some dodgy puppetwork, but mostly it’s a hell of a fantastic bunch of monstrous designs and movements. I can’t figure out which is my favorite ghost – the translucent and jiggly Slimer (joked as the ghost of John Belushi by the cast and crew, so y’know, look! They rag on the recently deceased too!) or the absolutely hilarious contradiction of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. I mean, I guess I’d lean to Stay-Puft as he is the root of my favorite scene in the whole movie: a monster B-movie homage of giants crushing buildings and threatening everyone (all with a big smile on its face that can’t help feeling genial due to the character’s nature as a marketing mascot) and an explosive climax that the movie totally earns.

Altogether, Ghostbusters is a movie that doesn’t float on charm, it’s the super gorilla glue that holds all of its great yet contradictory elements together to be the entertaining and rewarding watch it is. It’s easy to believe a whole generation has tied themselves irrevocably to this film. The movie is likable and admirable on every front and one of the finer studio comedies in the history of a genre that doesn’t really get much visual love from being made by studios. I’d recommend it if it weren’t obvious everybody who would bother reading this review has already seen it and knows how damn good it is.

And hell yeah. A whole review without once naming the elephant in the fucking room. Y’know the one. That remake. The really shitty one. Ghostbusters II

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Revolution Calling

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When I was a young child beginning to grow especially large in my cinephilia, I got to asking my dad what his favorite movie was. “The Battle of Algiers”. Oh cool, a movie from our country – Algeria – as my dad started going into what the movie was about and in terms of how it related to our history as a country finally emancipating from the French after a long war.

Or at least I like to think, because child me had that shit go in one ear and out the other.

Flash forward to maybe late 2000s, when I’m a teen and browsing the movie selections at video stores and I am first introduced to the Criterion Collection home video and figure it as a sort of public canon of films, since they are selective as to which films they bring to the ranks to begin with. Only a strictly prestigious distribution company would allow the likes of Armageddon and The Rock within their ranks. OK, so not as flawless a record, but I catch in the Criterion section of this video store The Battle of Algiers and recall my dad singing its high praises, even if I didn’t really recall what those praises were exactly. I guess it’s more than just my dad’s favorite movie, it’s a well-regarded piece of film canon.

I didn’t pick it up then.

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Before I move on, probably better to hit upon the history behind the story The Battle of Algiers tells: In the late 1700s, negotiations and diplomacy between France and Algeria was a huge misnomer for what went on between the two states: Charles X – the Bourbon King – and Hussein Dey – the Ottoman ruler of Algeria – fucking hated each other and kept slighting each other one after the other, hurting the possibility of compromise and negotiation. By 1830, France became exasperated enough that they took to invading the capital of Algiers under the command of Marshall Bugeaud and a method of devastating the entire native population of Algeria through “scorched earth” tactics of extreme inhumanities and continuous bloodshed until they muscled France muscled itself into completely occupying and dividing Algeria in 1848. While the violence toned down after that year, for a century, relations between France and Algeria had been hostile and based in stifling the Muslim population until Front de Liberation Nationale was fomed in 1954 to regain independence for Algeria by any means necessary.

FLN was not the first or only of these groups to be formed but it was the one that apparently hit hardest as it spearheaded guerilla warfare and reopened the chaos and violence against the French occupation until French President Charles de Gaulle finally relented with a vote for Algerian independence in 1962 (I find it nothing less than providence that the American Day of Independence and the Algerian Day of Independence – the two nationalities with which I proudly I identify – are in fact consecutive… July 4th and July 5th) and Algeria has been since slowly rebuilding itself as a nation to this day. These events have been a shadow over Algerian history since and its most formative years.

That takes care of the historical context. Fast forward to 2011 and my first face-to-face introduction with The Battle of Algiers as a film itself…

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In one of my college courses, we watch the very first few minutes of the film depicting a man in the aftermath of a particularly torturous interrogation by the French counter-insurgency in the presence of Col. Mathieu (played by Jean Martin, based on several French figures including Colonel Roger Trinquier and General Jacques Massu who oversaw the counter-insurgency in the real-life conflicts). Apparently the interrogation has been successful as they extracted from their subject the location of the hiding face of the rebellion himself, criminal turned FLN leader Ali la Pointe (Brahim Haggiag) and are on their way to take him down.

Two things hit me about the snippet of the film that we just watched: the hyper-realist style that director Gillo Pontecorvo, cinematographer Marcello Gatti, and editors Mario Morra and Mario Serandrei adapt to their content feels like a documentary or newreel presentation of completely unglorious elements of warfare you would not expect newsreels to have such access to. A man is completely beaten and humiliated and ashamed and it’s captured in grainy black-and-white cinematography with lighting more to accent the ugliness of the situation than to remind us that we’re watching a dramatization of these events essentially, the editing style of this scene is the only element that seems to adopt a more movie-style in its efforts to capture continuity of this – though Morra and Serandrei also are willing to let shots simply linger and overlook the officious yet destitute space this interrogation takes place in. It was unmistakably an aesthetic demanding that you recognize the real inhumanity of the scene without the artifice of it, while distancing yourself and making note of that distance in its documentary style, the sort of distance you get watching news footage of a war zone.

The second thing that hit me was that I recognized the tortured figure. Personally. He had been long passed since I last saw him as a child, but the man was my upstairs neighbor back in Algeria. Which made for a really uncomfortable watch in my classroom, seeing him act out being beaten. And when I finally got to watching The Battle of Algiers later that year, he was not the only face I’d be able to pick out from Bab el Oued in Algiers.

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That’s the thing I have to acknowledge about Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers. These elements of both personal recognition with some of the faces and places that Pontecorvo shot the film in that lead to a resonance that jumps right over the line of personal bias with the film. This was MY home they shot The Battle of Algiers in, these people were there for my childhood, this is my nation’s history that they’re planting into the streets I lived in. That’s not something I can pretend doesn’t affect my high enthusiasm for the film.

The other is that these elements of hyper-realism: the camera acting as a journalist, the editing adding emotional impact to moments (my favorite cut – indeed the very first image that comes to mind is when we’re introduced to la Pointe as a character and he witnesses with a charged fever the guillotine execution of a man from his prison cell; the shot immediately after we see decapitation from his point of view doesn’t even wait for the transition to complete before slamming into the daggered eyes of la Pointe noting his potential fate), the usage of local Algerian actors and very few familiar faces (Martin is a better known theatre actor in France than a film actor; Saadi Yacef, the real life leader of the FLN now sitting in the Council of the Nation is another recognizable face) are all expected of an Italian filmmaker in the neorealist movement of 1960s and all are continuously present in the film, but to scenes of extreme brutality and violence on both sides.

We are now meant to reckon with the reality of bombings occurring in the Casbah – a scene that most essentially showcases that Pontecorvo, Morra, and Serandrei know exactly how to use film technique to draw out tension in a heartstopping manner that recalls the famous opening scene to Touch of Evil in my mind, ticking down how distance and time left for our subjects before the bombs to be planted will explode; later on touching on that humanitarian aspect of neorealism to have our three central bomber characters interact with the French citizens they target and use it as coming of a cruel punchline where suddenly the faces in the crowd are granted personalities seconds before they are to become casualties – and a difficult scene Algerians beating a man to death for drinking to illustrate the adoption of Sharia law on the streets. The immediacy of these images and moments as we watch recalls the dark violence of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which is also for my money the only movie that could actually use such realist framing of violence to an off-putting (and shallower) end.

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Wait a second, both of those last scenes were portraying violence perpetrated by the Algerian rebels in a reprehensible manner, shouldn’t we be rooting for them? Most critics would use these depictions to argue that The Battle of Algiers is a film neutral in attitude towards the conflict, but I don’t think that’s the case. I find the movie heavily skewed on the side of the Algerians. My answer to that is quite complicated: the movie spent much of its time before this climactic bombing portraying the French counter-insurgency as inhumane and callous to Algerian lives and much of the same camera techniques looking over the dead casualties of the bombing parallel earlier shots overlooking dead Algerians. And I think it is necessary to drawback away from identifying the French as faceless tyrants simply ready to be punched in the face by the FLN – which I think also is aided by Martin’s casting in the film, something which especially pays off in a scene where he intellectually matches with the press during a conference discussing how the conflict has progressed. The Algerian rebellion may have the more impassioned argument (Haggiag gives la Pointe a coolly restrained attitude for many tense moments punctuated by moments of vocalized anger in the thick of a fight – he’s a guy looking for a reason to hit something rather and having found one, decided not to question it), but the French are the more satisfied orators of the sophistication and patience of their techniques, brutal as they are (in the press conference scene, there is made reference to the mysterious circumstances of FLN leader Ben M’Hidi’s alleged suicide, which was always made dubious based on Islam’s prohibition of the act. Pontecorvo and company completely play this sketch scenario as an obvious cover-up, forseeing the reveal 34 years after this movie’s release that M’Hidi WAS in fact summarily executed). The ugly side of wars like this is that it’s always going to end up lives being lost, real full lives that we are faced with in the bombing scene.

But even that’s not what I think Pontecorvo and screenwriter Franco Solinas have in mind. The truth is that there’s no point where we are made to QUESTION the FLN. We are simply shown that these are things that happened regardless, there’s no punitive moment for this crime as opposed to the French counter-insurgency given all the villainous angles – they fucking waterboard a man at one point, and The Battle of Algiers is still notably on its side and the point to be made behind it is that: sometimes, violence IS the answer. It’s not pretty, it leaves behind a large mess afterwards for the nation to clean itself, but this was the only way FLN could fight against the French Occupation and make progress enough to earn its independence. The movie is using this as a rallying cry that revolution is a messy, bloody affair and that very rarely will you move forward by standing still and peacefully.

It’s a strong fucking message, one that forces a question of morality and pragmatism and it’s not even something it’s completely convinced by with a nightbound scene where Ali discusses the strike with a leader and is told violence is not the complete means. I’m not sure I completely agree with it, I’m not even sure how I parse it when the landscape used to illustrate this is my home and the places I grew up. But it’s there: Pontecorvo and company want to push you to realize that “this is how far things go when the stakes are this heated”. Does that make it a piece of propaganda? Undeniably so, it even acknowledges this in the same night discussion by addressing that the FLN actions are meant to mobilize people and having Martin discuss the battle of ideals with figures in his office – both in Algeria and France – yet it’s a towering achievement in speaking to the audience the varied veritability of cinema to communicate the ideals of its filmmaker and amplify its emotions with each cut and shot.

In the end, the movie hits me as both a cinephile and an Algerian and just as a person. It resonates in the side of me that recognizes that its an invaluable document of a history that bleeds into my country and even my family. It resonates with the side of me that sees that any element of a film can be used to speak to the audience in different tones and attitudes. And it resonates with the side of me that thinks that sometimes it’s harder to fight – physically or intellectually or emotionally – over something you need, a dignity you are entitled to, an independence that was stolen, an identity, and that’s going to take its price on you, but it’s imperative that you fight. And keep fighting and don’t count the cost until after you’ve done.

It’s an ugly truth and a hard pill to swallow, but I wouldn’t feel half as free as I do in either nation of mine – America or Algeria – if the people who established them didn’t swallow that truth first and fought my battles for me.

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