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Erik At The Movies: Films for Arab American Heritage Month


In honor of Arab American Heritage Month, I have compiled a list of three films that were all filmed in Arab countries, and prominently feature Arabs. I hope you all enjoy my reviews down below!

The Battle Of Algiers / معركة الجزائر / La Battaglia Di Algeri / La Bataille d’Alger ( 1966 / ١٩٦٦) (IT/DZ) =Should we remain in Algeria? If you answer “yes,” then you must accept all the necessary consequences.

Shortly after the restoration of the French Monarchy, the land that would become the country of Algeria was subjugated and annexed into the French Republic, and the Algerian People endured this oppression for 130 years. In 1954, the first attack in what would become the Algerian War began. Over the next eight years, the FLN undertook a guerilla campaign involving terrorist attacks and strikes, and eventually succeeded in securing an independent Algeria in 1962. The director, Gillo Pontecorvo, was a communist sympathizer, and he empathized with the Algerian people and received permission to film a reenactment of their fight for independence. The result is both one of the most controversial, yet also acclaimed movies of all time. This is also the first European film that directly dealt with the evils of colonialism.

The use of techniques from war reporting forces the audience to confront the fact that these events actually occurred, and this can make the film hard to watch at times. I found it easiest to view the film as a documentary, simply acknowledging the facts and not taking a particular side.

The score by Ennio Morricone was also fantastic, and was reused by Quentin Tarantino in his film Inglorious Bastards. Another interesting fact is that the film was actually screened by the Department of Defense several times in 2003 in the lead up to the Iraq War, as a training tool for soldiers to consider the logistics of guerrilla warfare in urban environments. Still, The Battle Of Algiers continues to shine as a true classic, and one of the all time great war films. Highly recommended.

Erik’s Rating: 9/10.
The Battle Of Algiers is available from the Criterion Collection, and streaming free on Kanopy.

Z (1969) (DZ/FR) =Any similarity to real persons and events is not coincidental. It is INTENTIONAL.

Bursting on with this bold declaration of intent, Z manages to engross the audience and forces them to think a bit more critically about what they are about to witness. The director, Cósta-Gavrás, is a Greek citizen who was living in exile during a right-wing coup that established a military junta from 1965 to 1973. Coming into power after they murdered a popular left-wing politician, they cracked down on basic human rights and dissent, and banned the public display of the letter Ζέτα, which roughly translates to “HE LIVES.” He took this history, and created a systematic deconstruction of everything the Junta stood for in the form of this film. It retells the same historical events surrounding the murder of Grigóris Lambrákis, and the subsequent coverup that soon followed.

The movie is also an excellent use of the Rashōmon effect, pioneered by the great Akira Kurosawa, where the same event is shown repeatedly from multiple contradictory perspectives in an attempt to obscure reality. Despite being in French, the production took place entirely within the country of Algeria, and it was actually their submission to the Academy Awards for that year. Surprisingly, it not only won Best International Feature Film, but also Best Editing and a nomination for Best Picture. Despite being over 50 years old, its message of political defiance manages to ring true even to this day. Highly Recommended.

Erik’s Rating: 9/10.
Z is available from the Criterion Collection.

Lawrence Of Arabia / لورنس العرب / Arabistanlı Lawrence (1962 / ١٩٦٢) (UK) = ‘Lawrence, only two kinds of creature get fun in the desert: Bedouins and gods, and you’re neither. Take it from me, for ordinary men, it’s a burning, fiery furnace.’ ‘No, Dryden, it’s going to be fun.’ ‘It is recognized that you have a funny sense of fun.’

When considering the merits of classic cinema, you must understand that some may contain outdated cultural depictions that have not aged well, but dismissing the film completely means shutting yourself off from otherwise great works of art. While Lawrence Of Arabia may not be without fault (Sir Alec Guinness in brown-face), it at least treats its non-white characters with some respect and decency. The rest of the film however, is nothing short of a masterpiece. It tells the story of T. E. Lawrence, a British officer who served during the First World War and helped facilitate the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire.

The scale of the picture is absolutely astounding, with its nearly four hour runtime and shots that contain hundreds of actors simultaneously. By filming in 70mm (the same format as Oppenheimer) they were able to capture a level of detail equivalent to 12k in each frame, and this allows for EXTREME clarity down to individual grains of sand. My favorite part of the film was marveling at how they were able to capture the beauty of waves of sand blowing across the dunes.

This is also the debut role of the great Peter O’Toole (who you probably recognize from his role as Anton Ego in Ratatouille) and he was absolutely fantastic as the titular T. E. Lawrence. The soundtrack is also iconic, and its main theme is one of the all time great compositions in the history of cinema. The film won Best Picture in 1962, facing steep competition from To Kill A Mockingbird, but I believe the right decision was made. For anyone who is willing to put up with the length, they will be rewarded with a true masterpiece.

Erik’s Rating: 10/10.
Lawrence Of Arabia is available for free on YouTube.

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Erik Larson
Erik Larson, Staff Writer
Hello! My name is Erik Larson and I am currently a staff writer at The Ville who specializes in reviewing the latest and greatest in film. In the words of game director Hideo Kojima: “70% of my body is made of movies.” You can find more of my movie reviews here at my Letterboxd: https://boxd.it/4N1v5

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