It was after seeing Rossellini’s Paisan that Gillo Pontecorvo decided on a career in filmmaking and Rossellinian neorealism is evident in both his breakthrough film, Kapo (1959), and his most celebrated work, The Battle of Algiers (1966). Much of Kapo rings harrowingly true— a young Parisian Jewish girl, sent to a concentration camp, passes for gentile and becomes a collaborator of the Nazis— but the finale nosedives into kitsch when love and redemption bloom with the arrival of a hunky Russian soldier. A tremendous step forward, The Battle of Algiers is the most extraordinary film about a revolution since classic Soviet cinema. Pontecorvo marshals the images with masterly economy, achieving a detailed documentary effect without using any newsreel footage. The underrated period epic Burn (1969) is also concerned with revolution in a colonial setting, in this case, a Caribbean island. As its central character, a Machiavellian English agent provocateur, Marlon Brando gave one of the most outlandish and intelligent performances of his career. But, caveat emptor, the Reade is showing the Italian-language version, in which the actor has been dubbed with a flat and characterless voice.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 23, 1999