[Marxism] Gillo Pontecorvo
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Fri Oct 13 19:34:40 MDT 2006
NY Times, October 14, 2006
Gillo Pontecorvo, Director of Battle of Algiers, Dies
By ELISABETTA POVOLEDO
ROME, Oct. 13 Gillo Pontecorvo, the Italian
filmmaker who explored terrorism and torture in
colonial Algeria in the powerful and influential
1965 classic, The Battle of Algiers, died here on Thursday. He was 86.
His death was confirmed by a hospital spokesman,
Nicola Cerbino, but no cause was given, The
Associated Press said. Other news reports said he
had suffered a heart attack a few months ago.
A documentary maker for much of his career, Mr.
Pontecorvo made only a handful of feature films,
writing and directing them. Most have political
overtones. In his first, The Wide Blue Road
(1957), the theme is class struggle in a fishing
village; Kapo (1960), an Academy Award nominee
for best foreign film, depicts the lot of a
Jewish girl in a World War II concentration camp;
Ogro (1979) concerns terrorism in Spain at the end of the Franco regime.
Another major film, Burn! (1969), starring
Marlon Brando and released by United Artists,
centers on a slave revolt against colonial
masters on a Portuguese-controlled Caribbean
island. Though set in the 19th century, it
contains overt references to the films own time.
But Mr. Pontecorvo will be remembered best for
The Battle of Algiers, a stark portrayal, shot
in black and white, of the bloody uprisings that
led to Algerias independence from France in
1962. Admired and honored when it first appeared,
it received renewed acclaim when it was
rereleased in the United States in 2004. A. O.
Scott, writing in The New York Times, called the
film astonishing cinema vérité and a political
thriller of unmatched realism and a combat picture remorseless in its clarity.
The movie was based on a book by Saadi Yacef, who
had been the leader of the insurgent cell in the
Algiers Casbah that the French crushed in 1957.
He survived capture and, after Algerian
independence, approached Mr. Pontecorvo to make the film.
Had it been up to Yacef, the result would have
been pure propaganda, the author Michael
Ignatieff wrote in The New York Times Magazine in
2004. Pontecorvo held out for a deeper vision,
and the result is a masterpiece, at once a
justification for acts of terror and an unsparing
account of terrors cost, including to the cause it serves.
The film depicts a cycle of escalating violence
and torture as revolutionaries of the National
Liberation Front attack fellow Arabs and the
French police, who then retaliate, only to provoke more attacks.
Mr. Yacef also produced the film and had a
starring role as the leader of the
revolutionaries. Indeed, the cast of the film,
shot on location in the Casbah, consisted almost
entirely of nonprofessional actors, adding to its grim documentary quality.
The Battle of Algiers won the Golden Lion for
best film at the 1966 Venice International Film
Festival. (Mr. Pontecorvo directed the festival
for four years, starting in 1992.) But its legend
grew as it was used as a kind of training film by
both urban guerrillas and the authorities trying
to suppress them. The Black Panthers studied the
film in the 1960s, and in 2003, months after the
war against Iraqi insurgents began, the Pentagon
screened the film for military and civilian war planners.
In a 2004 interview with The International Herald
Tribune, Mr. Pontecorvo said he had found the
Pentagons interest in the film a little
strange. The most The Battle of Algiers could
do, he said, is teach how to make cinema, not war.
Gilberto Pontecorvo was born on Nov. 19, 1919, in
Pisa, Italy, one of 10 children of a wealthy
Jewish industrialist. He was a steadfast
Communist, and his older brother, Bruno
Pontecorvo, became a prominent nuclear scientist
who defected to Moscow in the 1950s.
Mr. Pontecorvo moved to Paris after the Mussolini
government passed laws in 1938 discriminating
against Jews. When Nazi forces invaded Paris in
1940, he moved to St.-Tropez. He later joined the
anti-Fascist resistance in Italy, becoming leader
of a faction in Milan. He was a tennis teacher, a
deep-sea diver and a newspaper correspondent in
France before he turned to film.
After the war, he became an assistant to the
directors Yves Allégret and Joris Ivens in Paris.
Returning to Italy, he made documentaries. Though
he stopped making feature films in 1979, with
Ogro, he continued to make documentaries, shorts and television commercials.
He is survived by his wife, Picci, and three sons, Ludovico, Marco and Simone.
Mr. Pontecorvo was to lie in wake at City Hall in
Rome until Saturday morning. The Italian news
agency ANSA said that the government of Algeria
had sent a crown in his honor to be placed near the bier.
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