Guide to political cinema – IV

Image: Marco Buti / Jornal de Resenhas


A selection of films about wars, with an indication of the platform on which they are available


anonymous wars

The Peasant Wars (1977) – director: Vatroslav Mimica. Yugoslavian film, fictionalization of the classic book by Engels, portraying peasants with their work tools such as the hoe and sickle that the insurrection turns into weapons. Visually beautiful, it recalls the painting by Brueghel and Bosch.

First World War

The Great Illusion (1937) – director: Jean Renoir. Pacifist, imbued with the spirit of the Front Populaire of the 1930s. Set during the First World War and on the eve of the Second, it focuses on two aristocratic adversaries, a Frenchman and a German, who understand each other perfectly despite being a prisoner of the other; and two proletarians, who only think about escaping from prison. YOUTUBE

Nothing New on the Western Front (1930) - Dir.: Lewis Milestone. Based on bestseller by Erich Maria Remarque. Antiwar, emphasizes the hardships of soldiers when in combat and when they return home, where the feeling of displacement awaits them. YOUTUBE

 Second World War

Channel (Poland, 1956) – director: Andrzej Wajda. The final uprising, in which citizens rose up against the Nazi occupier in the last moments of World War II, in a pitch-black battle in the sewers of Warsaw.

Rome, Open City (1945) – director: Roberto Rossellini. In the last days of the Nazi occupation of Italy, the hitherto clandestine popular resisters are preparing for an uprising. Children, a priest, a partisan communist and his beloved... and the ultimate Nazi evils. FREE CINEMA

Casablanca (1942) - Direct: Michael Curtiz. A film that over time would become a classic. In the Moroccan city, belligerents from other places gather: Nazis, French resistance, cynics. Beautiful scene in which the Germans begin to sing their anthem and the French superimpose the Marseillaise. The idea belongs to Tchaikovsky, who in Opening 1812 does the same thing in reverse, i.e. the Russian anthem drowning out the chords of the French anthem. But it comes very on purpose. NOW, GOOGLEPLAY, YOUTUBE


The great dictator (1940) - director: Charles Chaplin. The most perfect satire of Hitler, ridiculed to dust. Cinema's greatest contribution to the fight against Nazism. And precocious – look at the date: the war had barely begun and the victorious Germans were advancing on all fronts. TELECINEPLAY, NOW, YOUTUBE

The Night Porter (1974) - Dir.: Liliana Cavani. Woman survivor of Nazi concentration camps recognizes her torturer in the night doorman of a small hotel. The sadomasochistic power he wielded over her seems to have survived as well. YOUTUBE

The Cursed Gods (1969) – director: Luchino Visconti. The horror of Nazism seen from within, in the degeneration of a large aristocratic family that manufactured weapons for Hitler. Such an alliance will precipitate Germany and the world into catastrophe. YOUTUBE

Salò or the 120 Days of Sodom (Italy, 1975) – director: Pier Paolo Pasolini. The work of the Marquis de Sade with the same title is used to show the radical perversity of fascism, just as, in its death throes, it operated in the so-called Republic of Salò, at the end of the Second World War, in Italy. FILMESDETV

The Serpent's Egg (1977) – director: Ingmar Bergman. In Germany in the 1920s, in a serious economic and social crisis, the first signs of catastrophe were in sight with the rise of Nazism, which would lead to the Second War. YOUTUBE

He's back (2015) – director: David Wnendt. Right-wing satire of recent years, showing how welcome Hitler would be if he were resurrected today. I am back (2018, dir.: Luca Miniero) does the same for Mussolini. YOUTUBE

The Triumph of the Will (1934) – director: Leni Riefenstahl. The filmmaker directed the most important pieces of propaganda, creating a Nazi aesthetic, at the invitation of her friend Hitler. She films the 1934 Nazi Party convention in Nuremberg, giving it a grandeur that makes it mythological. His other documentary, olympics, records the 1936 Olympics, pure Nazi propaganda. She would escape, pretending not to understand, the rigor of the anti-Nazi courts in the post-war period. Exemplary, he would die in his sleep, aged 101. YOUTUBE

Nuclear War/Cold War

Hiroshima My Love (1959) – director: Alain Resnais. Classic among the classics, profound and with a great ethical reach. A Japanese man and a French woman, both from backgrounds of intolerance, meet while visiting the atomic bomb memorial in Hiroshima. VIMEO (subtitled in English)

Rhapsody in August (1991) – director: Akira Kurosawa. Famous for his samurai and already at the end of his career, the director turned his cameras to the horror nearby, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, focusing on the consequences of the launching of the two atomic bombs. Dreams (1990), divided into eight episodes, one for each dream, returns to the nuclear explosion again. YOUTUBE (subtitled in English)

Dr. Fantastic (1964) – director: Stanley Kubrick. Caption: How I learned to curb worry and love the bomb. Tremendous satire: in the midst of the Cold War, the American contenders, who claimed to be defenders of the free world, are exposed in their murderous rage and flirtation with the nuclear hecatomb. YOUTUBE

Operation Peter Pan (2020) - right: Kenya Zanatta and Maurício Dias. Brazilian film that narrates how the CIA in collusion with the Catholic Church, shortly after the Cuban Revolution, clandestinely transported 14 unaccompanied Cuban children to the United States, to save them from communist contamination. Based on documentation and testimonies of survivors. Short Channel.


The Battle of Algiers (1966) - Dir.: GilloPontecorvo. Fiction that covers the final phase of the Algerian War in the 1950s and 1960s, when the struggle between the military apparatus of the French masters and the urban guerrilla tactics of the natives intensified. YOUTUBE

Non or the Vain Glory of Mandar (1990) – director: Manoel de Oliveira. In 1974, in the colonial war in Africa, when Angola and Mozambique are about to shake off the Portuguese yoke, a soldier tells his men the story of Portugal's defeats. Deliberately anti-epic film and a response to The Lusiads de Camões, who sings about Lusitanian feats. YOUTUBE

Le Petit Soldat (1963) – director: Jean-Luc Godard. A young man takes refuge in Geneva to avoid fighting in the colonial war that France is waging in Algeria and becomes involved with an FLN militant (National Liberation Front). It shows the indiscriminate and illegal use of torture and murder.

Outlaw (2010) - Direct: Rachid Bouchareb. The divergent fate of three Algerian brothers who escape to France with their mother after the French colonizer kills their father and sisters. One serves as a soldier in Indochina, another is a gangster who operates in boxing matches, and the third becomes an underground FLN militant.

Decolonizations (2020) – Three episodes: The Learning, The Liberation e The world is our (France) - Directors: Karim Miské, Marc Bal, Pierre Singaravelou. It deals with the history of modern imperialism/colonialism, from the Scramble for Africa (1884) until today. It brings little-known information, such as this one about the Mau-Mau survivors, tortured and mutilated by the British in Kenya, who filed a claim for compensation and apologies signed by no less than 6 of them. The series, giving voice to women, brings some very interesting unknowns to the forefront. Queen Jinga of Angola is missing, who faced the Portuguese colonizer centuries ago. YOUTUBE

The Student or A Life Lesson (2014) – director: Justin Chadwick. An 84-year-old Kenyan man fights for the right to go to school to learn to read. He had been Mau-Mau, an anti-colonial guerrilla against the British occupier, having seen his wife and two children executed in front of him to force him to denounce his companions. Then he spent more than a decade in a concentration camp. It ended up in the book Guinness of records for being the oldest person in the world to be literate.

Vietnam War

away from vietnam (1967) – directors: Chris Marker, Jean-Luc Godard, AgnèsVarda, Alain Resnais, JorisIvens, William Klein, Claude Lelouch. Example of militancy cinema in the worst hour of the Vietnam War, when the Vietnamese were still losing, before the Tet Offensive in 1968. YOUTUBE

Apocalypse Now (1979) - Direct: Frank Ford Coppola. recreation of The Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad, who speaks of the black holocaust in the Belgian Congo, to draw a parallel with the genocide in the Vietnam War. Advised by the music of Wagner. YOUTUBE

hearts and minds (1974) – director: Peter Davis. Important part of the worldwide campaign against the Vietnam War. Among his many accomplishments, he includes interviews with Daniel Ellsberg, forerunner of Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, who revealed the Pentagon Papers. YOUTUBE

Platoon (1986) –director: Oliver Stone. Having been a soldier in the Vietnam War, years later the director would make this film based on his experiences. Oliver Stone is a rare Hollywood filmmaker to insist on political themes. ITUNES. TELECINEPLAY, YOUTUBE

Under the Fog of War (2003) - director: Errol Morris. Long interview by Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense under more than one US President for 12 years. Orchestrator of his country's megalomaniac escalation strategy in the Vietnam War. NOW, YOUTUBE

Blood Detachment (2020) – director: Spike Lee. A group of black veterans revisit Vietnam half a century later, in search of a treasure trove of gold bullion and the remains of their leader. NETFLIX

balkan wars

Underground – War Lies (1995) – director: Emir Kusturica. A blunt vision, at the same time infernal and mocking, of the wars of dissolution of the former Yugoslavia, when Serbs, Bosnians, Croats and Albanians fought each other for many years. The director would dedicate several other films, all important, to the theme. YOUTUBE

Our song (2004) - dir.: Jean Luc Godard. A compendium of images of the horrors of many wars. The city of Sarajevo, focus and symbol of the blind destruction of the Balkan wars, with its millennial stone bridge collapsed by dynamite, hosts a seminar of poets. Poignant discussion of war and violence.

Nobody's land (2001) - Dir.: Danis Tanovic. In the conflicted region of former Yugoslavia, contradictory forces clash. Meanwhile, a man steps on a mine and is forced to remain immobile, waiting for help. LOOKE

Enclave (2015) – director: Goran Radovanovic. In post-war Balkans, boy lives in Serbian enclave in Kosovo, surrounded by Albanians. Protected by the UN, he goes to school, where he is the only student, in an armored military vehicle. After a predictable catastrophe and massacre, he and his father manage to escape and appear in a last scene in Belgrade, now the capital of Serbia, where they are called “Albanians”.

invasion of iraq

Fahrenheit 9 / 11 (2004) – director: Michael Moore. It reveals the dangerous links between the Bush and Bin Laden families, as well as the George W. Bush administration's attempts to hide the personal and financial links between the two great oil dynasties. TELECINEPLAY, YOUTUBE

lions and lambs (2007) - director: Robert Redford. Discussion between professor and student at an elite university shows that blacks and Latinos will die in the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Wealthy whites won't. Those who survive will be rewarded by years of higher study after service in the front. FILMESDETV

Valley of the Wolf (2006) – director: SerdarAkar. Turkish fiction film showing the victims' point of view. It takes place in Iraq and turns the clichés inside out. NOW, LOOKE, YOUTUBE

The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009) – director: Grant Heslow. Political satire about one more madness, which is that it is possible to kill by looking. In the secret CIA camp where this gift is trained, someone puts LSD in the water and scenes of hallucination and delirium ensue, among the loose goats. ITUNES, LOOKE

Ghosts of Abu Ghraib (2007) – director: Rory Kennedy. Iraqi prison documentary in which uniformed US soldiers were filmed torturing and humiliating naked Iraqi prisoners. Record of a worldwide scandal.YOUTUBE

Al Jazeera Center (2004) – director: JehaneNoujaim. Egyptian documentary about the coverage of the invasion of Iraq, made by what is the biggest TV in the Arab world.


Paradise now (2005) – director: Hany Abu Hassad. Palestinian film, featuring two militants who are cast as martyrs, or suicide bombers, in Palestine. One is devoted and willing to sacrifice, while the other harbors doubts.

A Pig in Gaza (2011) – director: SylvainEstibal. Palestinian fisherman living in miserable conditions in the Gaza Strip finds a pig in his fishing net. Neither Arabs nor Jews eat pork, so it won't be easy to find a way to exploit the prey in his favor. Dark humor marks the film. YOUTUBE

Lemon tree (2008) – director: EranRiklis. A Palestinian widow lives on what the lemons in her orchard yield, her only livelihood. But one day the Israeli Defense Minister moves into the neighborhood and orders the orchard to be cut down for security reasons. The film analyzes the ensuing conflict. YOUTUBE

Syrian Civil War

The Cave (2019) - right: Firas Fayyad. This is the name of an underground hospital in Syria, where volunteer health workers tend to those wounded in the civil war under shelling. The day-to-day life of a hospital is far from routine. NOW (National Geographic)

For the same (2019) – director: Waad Kateab. Directed by a woman and dedicated to her daughter, the film chronicles five years of life in rebel-occupied Aleppo. NOW, LOOKE

Cries from Syria (2017) – director: Evgeny Afineenky. Collective film, assembling video footage of rebels, soldiers, doctors, journalists, children and ordinary citizens amidst the conflagration. Narrated by Helen Mirren. On the soundtrack, a song sung by Cher. YOUTUBE

*Walnice Nogueira Galvão is professor emeritus at FFLCH at USP. Author, among other books, of reading and rereading (Senac/Gold over blue).

Originally published in the magazine Theory and Debate, edition 199.

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