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Gillo Pontecorvo, 86, Italian film director

ROME -- Italian filmmaker Gillo Pontecorvo, who directed the black-and-white classic ``The Battle of Algiers," has died in Rome at age 86, hospital officials said Friday.

Mr. Pontecorvo died Thursday night, said hospital spokesman Nicola Cerbino. The cause of the death was not given, but reports said he had suffered a heart attack months ago.

Mr. Pontecorvo directed only a handful of feature movies in a career that spanned decades, earning the nickname of the ``lazy director." But he remained involved in the world of cinema, directing documentaries and heading the Venice Film Festival for several years.

A resistance fighter during World War II, Mr. Pontecorvo maintained strong political passions that were reflected in his movies. His 1959 film ``Kapo" told the story of a Jewish girl trying to escape from a concentration camp, and ``Qeimada" in 1969 starred Marlon Brando in a tale against colonialism.

But it was ``The Battles of Algiers" that made his name. The 1966 epic depicts the Algerian uprising against the French in the 1950s in a documentary-like style, with a cast of mostly untrained actors. The film was banned in France for years.

The film won a Golden Lion at the Venice Film festival, as well as Oscar nominations for best director, best screenplay, and best foreign film.

``The movie is surprising every time one watches it, for its power, honesty, depth, political intelligence, capacity to raise emotions, something that only great cinema can provide," Irene Bignardi, a leading movie critic and author of a book on Mr. Pontecorvo, wrote in yesterday's La Repubblica.

Born Gilberto Pontecorvo on Nov. 19, 1919, in Pisa to a wealthy Jewish family, he moved to France to escape the Fascist regime's 1938 racial laws, supporting himself as a tennis instructor. In his early 20s, he started shuttling between Milan and France to keep contacts between anti-Fascist movements, La Repubblica said. He then came back to Milan and headed a resistance brigade.

He studied chemistry and worked as a journalist before taking up directing, starting with documentaries.

His first feature movie in 1957 was a tale of a fishing community starring Yves Montand and Alida Valli, called ``La Grande Strada Azzurra" (``The Wide Blue Road").

His last movie, ``Ogro" in 1980, was set in Spain in the years of dictator Francisco Franco.

Mr. Pontecorvo served as director of the Venice Film Festival from 1992 to 1994.

News of the death came as Rome was preparing to open the first edition of its film festival, and hundreds of movie executives, celebrities, and industry VIPS were told as they gathered for a ceremony to honor Sean Connery.

``It's a great personal pain and huge loss for Italian cinema," Mayor Walter Veltroni said.

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