Auteur Gillo Pontecorvo’s masterpiece about Algeria’s 1954 uprising against the French is a Frankenstein’s monster of a film: history electrified into pulsating life. Using a black-and-white newsreel style, he captures a city at the breaking point. Along the winding lanes of the casbah, in the trendy French clubs, no one is safe from terrorism. More astonishing is the use of nonprofessionals: They’re all superb, including Saadi Yacef, the cool leader of the FLN rebels, who plays himself, and Haggiag as a brooding hothead. Pontecorvo captures the moralistic fervor of the guerrillas, the broiling anger of the mobs, the way the violence escalates from random vigilantism to organized assassinations. In one hold-your-breath sequence, three Arab women doff their robes and veils to pass as Europeans through checkpoints and plant bombs.
EXTRAS Excellent, but sample sparingly; en masse, the seven documentaries — talks with filmmakers, rebels, terrorism experts, French military — can overwhelm, turning the film into a college seminar alternately on movies and terrorism.