Sight & Sound Poll 2012: The Battle of Algiers

Every ten years since 1952, the world-renowned film magazine  Sight & Sound has polled a wide international selection of film critics and directors on what they consider to be the ten greatest works of cinema ever made, and then compiled the results. The top fifty movies in the 2012 critics’ list, unveiled August 1, include twenty-five Criterion titles. In this series, we highlight those classic films.

In an era when even superhero movies routinely mimic vérité grittiness, one might expect Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1966 The Battle of Algiers to have lost some of its ability to astonish. But this benchmark work of documentary-like fiction filmmaking, dramatizing Algerians’ fight for independence from their French occupiers in the 1950s, remains remarkable for its authenticity, and unparalleled for its pulse-pounding action. With the look and feel of newsreel footage, The Battle of Algiers plunges you into a world you never doubt the reality of—and a struggle in which both sides resort to terrifying and brutal tactics. Pontecorvo’s carefully rendered aesthetic is so convincing in its verisimilitude that filmmakers today still marvel over how he accomplished it. In this clip from a extra on the Criterion edition of the film, Spike Lee, Mira Nair, and Steven Soderbergh do just that.

The you-are-there immediacy of The Battle of Algiers is overwhelming. After watching this excruciatingly tense passage from the film, you may also wonder how Pontecorvo pulled it off.

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