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Gilles Pontecorvo


Trying in vain to find reference in the English news media (I couldn't find any comment or obituary in the New York Times) to the death of Italian filmmaker Gilles Pontecorvo (The Battle of Algiers, Burn) Thursday, I was beginning to wonder if I had been mistaken. So, I checked the French magazine Le nouvel observateur which contained a short appreciation of a director who was nominated three times for an Academy Award for his most well-known film. I don't think Pontecorvo ever won an Oscar, which probably had more to do with his politics (Communist) than any deficiency in artistic quality or integrity.

By coincidence, only last week I rented The Battle of Algiers (which I first saw about 25 years ago at the Cinematheque in Paris I think) prompted by a comment in Tony Judt's book on post-war Europe about this "memorable" film. For young political activists like me in the late 60s, it was seen as the seminal examination of the brutality on both sides of the war for Alergian independence from France. It justified our commitment at the time to a somewhat naive anti-colonialism, and to the sense that profound changes were underway in the world. Pontecorvo gave those feelings a commanding voice in an intense and harrowing film.

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