50 years ago, the revolutionary masterpiece The Battle of Algiers by Gillo Pontecorvo won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. To mark the anniversary, the film has been restaured and CG Entertainment launched a campaign to published this new edition (in Italian). To support the initiative, they asked me to engage in a conversation with this great work of art. My thoughts are below and this is the link to support the campaign.
We live in dark times, in a precarious equilibrium between fear and inurement. The big engine of the empire huffs and puffs, hit at its core by lone wolves and organised terrorists. The chasm between us and them grows wider, defined by shortcuts and superficial understandings that seem convincing because are worded in the incontestable language of reassuring populism. We live in dark times that are nurtured by historical courses and recourses: History does not teach, human kind does not learn from past mistakes, the thirst for revenge is more satisfying than the desire for transformation. The dystopia of the present builds isolating and fragmentary geographies, designed in the negative and founded on divisions. In this grim picture, instead of the possibility of encounters, the only thing that seems to multiply are separating devices and mechanisms of exclusion: concrete walls, thousand-eyed drones, coils of barbed wire.
Fifty-two years ago Gillo Pontecorvo shot The Battle of Algiers, a revolutionary film that – by telling the story of the Algerian resistance and the initial steps of the liberation movement that led to the dramatic, but necessary decolonisation – still speaks to the present with immense relevance.
The historical terms may have changed, but the substance remains the same. Oppressors, fascisms, colonialisms both past and present reiterate trite arguments to perpetuate their own existence and assert an idea of an immutable past to legitimise their privileges. The benevolent paternalism of power, the infantilisation of the Other, the discrimination on the ground of religion and skin colour survive their own stupidity.
In response to an unjust and apparently immutable status quo, resistance – in its political, civil, disobedient, armed forms – continues to live and reclaim the right of self-determination, of an equal access to resources, of the possibility of being the author of one’s own history.
1957 Algeria is Palestine during the Intifada, it is Kashmir in the bloodied summer of 2016, it is the protest of American Indians in the Standing Rock Reserve.
Some time ago, in a conversation that soon became heated, a friend encouraged me to grow up and be more realistic saying that in the wake of the violence of those in power, it is the duty of the oppressed to acknowledge the disparity of means and accept a compromise. He told me to learn to tell idealism from realpolitik: it is time to grow up and face reality as sacrifices for freedom have never lead anywhere.
It is true, in days of migrant boats lost at sea, of refugee camps surrounded by electrified enclosures and of right to movement denied on the grounds of religion, it is time to grow up and be more realistic by acknowledging that we are constantly encouraged to bet on survival and to forget our existence.
To resist is to exist – to live to the full in the name of equity and freedom. It is to propose a model that counters obscurantisms that, in the name of dubious immediate benefits, desiccate the roots of rights, the values of diversity, the need to express one’s self beyond categorisation and pigeonholing.
In The Battle of Algiers, on the sixth day of the general strike organised by the National Liberation Front, a French gendarme on the megaphone reminds the local population that France is their true homeland, that France knows what is better for their future and encourages them to mistrust the “terrorists” who are trying to manipulate them.
In a moment of great poetry, Omar , a young militant who is only just a child, sneaking between coils of barbed wire manages to steal the megaphone from the French police and shouts to the crowd: “Algerian brothers, brothers, be brave, resist. Resist! Don’t listen to what they say. Algeria will be free.”
It is with the innocence of this child, an innocence that survives in spite of war, that we have to look at the future, at the potentials of a non-homogenised tomorrow, holding tight our sacrosanct right to exist and to resist.