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Why is this month an excellent time for a national reissue of "The Battle of Algiers," a 1965 production from Algeria and Italy that has been little seen since its original run?

It's not only because Gillo Pontecorvo's tough-minded film is a taut, suspenseful thriller. The bigger reason is the state of world affairs. So jolting is this movie's current relevance that it was reportedly screened at the Pentagon last summer as part of preparations for the occupation of Baghdad.

Although it was made almost 40 years ago, the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks and the ongoing violence in Iraq make "The Battle of Algiers" at least as compelling now as in the past. Like all masterpieces, it speaks to later ages as powerfully and intelligently as to its own.

And one of its many messages to us is that the beginning of the 21st century isn't really a later age at all. We are still caught in limited mind-sets, moral uncertainties, and historical amnesias that jarringly resemble those Pontecorvo portrays.

The movie takes place in the mid-1950s, when tensions in Algeria are building to a breaking point. A lingering remnant of the old colonial age, this Islamic nation has long been under French rule, and its National Liberation Front (FLN) thinks militancy and violence are the only routes to liberation. First come propaganda and provocation, then guerrilla warfare complete with assassinations and bombings.


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