Director's 'Battle of Algiers' became a classic

Politically passionate Italo helmer Gillo Pontecorvo, whose realistic re-construction of urban clashes between Algerian nationalists and French troops, “The Battle of Algiers,” became a black-and-white classic and won the 1966 Golden Lion in Venice — the fest he became artistic director of in 1993 — died Oct. 12 in Rome. He was 86.

Born Gilberto Pontecorvo in Pisa, one of 10 children of a wealthy Jewish family of textile industrialists, Pontecorvo at first studied chemistry, then became a journalist after moving to Paris to flee Italy’s 1938 racial laws.

In 1941, having joined the Communist Party, he returned to Italy, where he headed the Milan anti-fascist partisan Garibaldi brigade and took the nom de guerre Barnaba.

After the war, Pontecorvo turned to filmmaking, as an assistant first to Gallic film noir helmer Yves Allegret and then to Italian comedy maestro Mario Monicelli.

His first feature, 1957’s “The Wide Blue Road,” starred Yves Montand as a fisherman who, in his struggle to make ends meet, resorts to dynamite instead of nets to score his catch. It was followed by “Kapo,” about a Jewish girl who leads an escape attempt from a concentration camp.

Subsidized by the Algerian government, “The Battle of Algiers,” which used many non-pros and has a newsreel-like graininess enhancing its authentic feel, is considered Pontecorvo’s most important film.

Banned for many years in France, pic was screened by the Pentagon in 2003 for its employees as a primer on terrorist insurgency with analogies to Iraq.

Pontecorvo’s “Burn!” in 1969, starred Marlon Brando as a mercenary stirring revolt on the Caribbean island of Queimada.

In 1992 he was appointed director of the Venice Film Festival, which he revitalized during his five-year stint, mainly by bringing back some glitz thanks to his many friends in Hollywood.

Pontecorvo is survived by his wife, Picci, and three children, one of whom, Marco Pontecorvo, is a cinematographer whose credits include HBO’s “Rome.”

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