“If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and the malicious talk; and if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness … your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations.” Isaiah 58
Why is it that news reporters and historians so often append seasons of the year to periods of social upheaval (Prague Spring, Winter of Discontent) when, frequently, these changes span far more than three calendar months? The recent Arab Spring – it began with a self-immolation and might well end with a nuclear war – has already lasted nearly two years.
To suggest that the Middle East has been in a state of constant conflict since Isaiah 2,600 years ago might be stretching it, but the modern Arab Spring was certainly in spate more than half a century ago, when, in the 1950s, Algeria rose up to untie the chords of the French occupation’s yoke. The finest film record of that uprising – indeed many would place it in the pantheon of all political cinema, alongside such classics as ‘Battleship Potemkin’ – has to be the 1956 ‘The Battle of Algiers’, which even-handedly depicts the FLN’s two-year struggle against the French occupation. The film is seldom out of the ‘All Time Top 100 Movies’ charts. And though it is probably not something director Gillo Pontecorvo would wish to hear if he was still alive, this minor masterpiece is regularly shown by the Pentagon to senior officers being posted to Afghanistan.
The best of the battle-scarred rest? (Spanish Civil War) Ken Loach’s poignant ‘Land and Freedom’; (Korea) the psychological thriller ‘The Manchurian Candidate’; (Ireland) ‘The Wind that Shakes the Barley’, also by Loach; (Vietnam) the ultra-harrowing ‘Deer Hunter’; (WW1) ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’; and (WW2) ‘Redemption’, if only for its amazing re-enactment of the Dunkirk evacuation. Almost as powerful as ‘The Battle of Algiers’, but made half a century later, using an eerie sepia-toned animation technique, the Israeli-made’Waltz with Bashir’ deals with the notorious massacre at the Sabra and Shatia Lebanese refugee camp. Rent it from Lovefilm or buy it from Movie Mail.
Finally, let’s hope British TV airs the US documentary ‘Bearing Witness’, about women journalists working in the world’s most dangerous conflict zones. One of these women, Marie Colvin, was killed in Syria in February. She was, as Jon Snow so eloquently put it, “the Martha Gelhorn of our age”.