By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Apr 05, 2004 at 5:06 AM

{image1}Italian director and screenwriter Gillo Pontocorvo's "The Battle of Algiers" is a landmark film, one of those works one often reads a lot about but rarely has the chance to see on the big screen.

A neo-realist look at the revolts in Algeria that led to that country's independence from France, the hard-edged film won numerous prestigious awards when it was released in 1965. But, now it has taken on another dimension. Those engaged in the "war on terrorism" have been watching the film, hoping it can teach them something about the way terrorists think.

Commissioned by the Algerian government, one would expect Pontecorvo ("The Wide Blue Road") to have cooked up unabashed propaganda. But while the French certainly don't come across like angels, the film has a certain newsreel documentary feel and neither side emerges heroic.

Filmed in the grittiest black and white and with no holds barred, "The Battle of Algiers" is a moving and affecting work.

Sure, we see the French soldiers -- many of whom fought the Nazis while in the French Resistance -- taking blowtorches to the flesh of prisoners in torture scenes, but Pontecorvo also focuses his lens on European children eating ice cream in cafes moments before an Algerian-placed bomb reduces the place the rubble.

References to World War II and Vietnam and the French experiences in those wars are alluded to. In one scene a commanding officer uses his resistance experience to deny that his torture techniques could be compared to those of the Nazis. But, interestingly, he's the one who brings it up.

We all know how it ends -- Algeria is a free country -- but having a window into the struggle of a poor people submerged in colonialism for more than 150 years is a powerful one, especially since we know that despite battles lost, they won.

Like his gritty, realist "The Wide Blue Road," "The Battle of Algiers" champions the successes of regular folks without over-glorifying them and without ignoring their shortcomings and faults.

What it teaches us about terrorists, however, could probably also be learned from a film on the French or Italian resistances in World War II.

"The Battle of Algiers" gets what might be its first non-university airing in Milwaukee, beginning Friday, April 2 at Landmark's Downer Theatre. Don't miss it.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.