History Lesson: How a '60s Film About Algeria Resonates Today

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The Battle of Algiers grabbed audiences in 1965 with its stark depiction of Algerian rebels' bloody, victorious war against French colonial authorities. Now Criterion is releasing the DVD with many extra features, including commentary by Richard Clarke, former U.S. counterterrorism czar. Clarke spoke with TIME's Carolina A. Miranda.

WHY IS THIS MOVIE IMPORTANT? It raises the right issues. Can you go after terrorism by just killing terrorists? When the movie ends, the French have captured and killed all known terrorists, but in the process they bred another batch.

HOW IS THE FILM ANALOGOUS TO THE CURRENT WAR ON TERRORISM? After 9/11, the President asked for a chart of al-Qaeda managers so that as we captured them, he could cross out their names. I had a flashback to the movie where the French colonel, Mathieu, crosses out the names of terrorists, thinking he is winning. I thought, Oh, my God, the President wants to do the same thing — probably with the same degree of success.

HAVE YOU SUGGESTED THAT THE WHITE HOUSE SCREEN THE FILM? I suggested it to Condi Rice.

THE DVD HAS A SHORT FILM ON DIRECTOR GILLO PONTECORVO'S RETURN TO ALGERIA, IN WHICH HE NOTES ALGERIAN CONTEMPT FOR THE WEST. WHY DO YOU THINK THIS EXISTS? It's a residual colonialism issue. Al-Qaeda says the U.S. invasion of Iraq is an attempt to reinstall colonial rule. That resonates. It wasn't long ago--1920--that the Iraqis had an insurgency against the British. In the 5,000-year history of Iraq, 1920 was yesterday.