Guide to political cinema – V

Image: Andrés Sandoval /Jornal de Resenhas


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


The mission (1986)- say Roland Joffé. In Sete Povos de Missões or indigenous settlements between Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, a Jesuit priest and a Spanish nobleman in penance lead the Indians, protecting them from enslavement by the Portuguese and Spanish in the XNUMXth century. XVIII. Both present divergent positions, between non-confrontation and armed resistance against the colonizer. The soundtrack by the great Ennio Morricone combines baroque music with indigenous chants, in a beauty rarely achieved in cinema.

Queimada (1969) - say Gillo Pontecorvo. A class on imperialism-colonialism, set in a sugar colony in the Caribbean. How to infiltrate and sabotage a slave revolution.

A Passage to India (1984) - say David Lean. The great English filmmaker systematically made the process of imperialism in England – and in this case in India, seen from the inside. His cinema also examines friction with other peoples: The Bridge on the River Kwai (Japanese), Ryan's daughter (Irish), Lawrence of Arabia (Arabs).

The promisse (2016) – dir. Terry George. From the same director of Hotel Rwanda. Love triangle between young Armenian who goes to study medicine in Turkey, Armenian girl and American photographer. It takes place at the end of the Ottoman Empire, on the eve of the Armenian Genocide perpetrated by the Turks.

Gandhi (1982) – dir. Richard Attenborough. The biography of the Indian leader who preached non-violence and passive resistance, until the expulsion of the English colonizer. His exemplary life of deprivation and asceticism.

The screams of silence (1984) – dir. Roland Joffé. This English fiction reconstitutes the story of Khmer Rouge and his atrocities, which shook Cambodia for many years and left more than a million dead, a devastated country and remains visible to this day in concentration camps.

the act of killing (2014) – dir. Joshua Oppenheimer. Documentary that tells the story of the brutal repression in Indonesia in the 1950s and 60s, which was never accounted for because the repressors are still in power today, after slaughtering around one million people. Killers and torturers willingly mimic their actions, as in a musical film. Horrible.

Little Big Man (1970) – say Arthur Penn. Film that turned the relations between whites and Indians inside out, showing their horrors, when cinema was traditionally a weapon of colonization that idealized cowboys in the western.

When You Need to Be a Man1970) – dir. Ralph Nelson. It breaks with Western conventions by showing how the American army massacred defenseless Indians. It establishes parallels with contemporary episodes in Vietnam.

Dance with wolves (1990) – dir. Kevin Costner. An American soldier crosses the dividing line and goes to live like a native. One of the most beautiful reconstructions of life among the redskins: their customs, their work routines, their sociability, their affections.

Timbuktu (2014) – dir. Abderraman Sissako, from Mauritania. A fundamentalist militia, armed to the teeth, begins to moralize everything in this beautiful city in Mali, listed by Unesco. They prohibit singing, dancing, playing instruments, playing football, etc. Visually beautiful, with very slow and even static scenes, a lot of desert and sand, with images of clay buildings. Oscar for Best Foreign Film, César and Palme d'Or at Cannes

Gunga Din (1939) - say George Stevens. Hollywood's praise of colonialism. A humble Indian water bearer (played by an American actor with an artificially tanned face) who aspired to be a soldier of Her Majesty of England, betrays his countrymen, sending them to death and immolating himself to save Englishmen. Brecht's comment cuts to the chase, asking why a film like this makes us root for the traitor. Blockbuster movie.

Beau geste (1939) - say William A. Wellman. Another Hollywood eulogy of colonialism. Three English brothers – nobles, naturally – run away and enlist in the Foreign Legion, going to help kill Arabs in North Africa. An intricate mystery looms, which, when solved, saves their honor and justifies their title. Another blockbuster movie.

Hotel Rwanda (2004) - say Terry George. How a civic-conscious hotel manager managed to save a large number of unarmed Tutsis in Rwanda from massacre by welcoming them into the hotel he operated and preventing the Hutus who were pursuing them from entering. The carnage lasted for months and claimed 800 lives.

 faces of racism

Mandela, a Cry of Victory (1996) – dir. Angus Gibson and Jo Monell. Documentary that traces Mandela's journey from childhood to the presidency, with well-selected archival material and a beautiful soundtrack featuring South African musicians. See also Mandela – Long Road to Freedom (2013) – dir. Justin Chadwick. Fiction based on Mandela's autobiography. The trajectory between fellow activists such as Winnie Mandela, Chief Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, Bishop Tutu, etc.

Mooladé (2004)- say Ousman Sembene. The “father of African cinema” shows girls terrified of genital excision, being welcomed by older women in the village under the “right of asylum”, or  Mooladé.

Chocolat (1988) – dir. Claire Denis. In the Republic of Cameroon (Africa), the girl daughter of the French colonial administrator and a black domestic servant become friends and react to the tensions of the situation between them.

Malcolm X (1992) – dir. Spike Lee. Biography of the black leader of the fiercest line of the racial struggle, who was a black Muslim (black muslim) by choice and would die murdered. From the great black director who made cinema his weapon in the anti-racist fight.

Do the right thing (1989) - say Spike Lee. Step-by-step anatomy of a ghetto riot, showing how the most harmless individual turns out to be the trigger of revolt.

the show time (2000) – dir. Spike Lee. About a rude and racist TV show that conquers audiences, a historical analysis of the service that entertainment provides to color prejudice.

The piano (1993) – dir. Jane Campion. In Australia, the frictions of colonization in the triangle between white bosses, white employees and native Maoris.

The 13th. Amendment (2017) – dir. Ava Duvernay. The prison inflation of blacks in the United States, who are 5% of the world's population but 25% of the world's prison population. Racial prejudice turned into criminal prejudice (no one called “nigger” anymore but “junkie” and “criminal”): the Reagan/Nixon/Clinton/Bushes War on Drugs was the means found for disguised genocide.

The hate (1995) – dir. Mathieu Kassowitz. Examination of the living conditions of excluded young people who populate the outskirts of Paris, Arabs and blacks, always ready to rise up by setting fire to their neighborhoods, as well as to get into crime and drugs.

Beasts of no nation (2015) - say Cary Fukunaga. It reveals and examines one of the ignominies of modernity: the training and use of child soldiers in Africa.

Selma – A fight for equality (2014) – dir. Ava Duvernay. Fiction recreating the March from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965, led by Martin Luther King. Point of reference in the civil rights movement.

Humanitarian/migration crises

Human Flow (2017) – dir. Oh Weiwei. The famous Chinese plastic artist, exiled from his country, went after refugee camps in more than 20 nations, to personally document the trance of these suspended lives.

Party day (2005) – dir. Toni Venturi and Pablo Georgieff. Camera in hand, the directors recorded seven occupations carried out by the Homeless Movement in downtown São Paulo, as well as clashes with the Military Police. It follows the struggle of four women in search of their constitutional right to housing. An epic. Years later Toni Venturi would make a fiction film on the subject: We are together (2011). Eliane Caffé would film It was the Cambridge Hotel (2016), from the name of a building occupied by newly arrived refugees and local homeless people.

Capernaum (2019) – dir. Nadine Labaki. Fiction about a street kid in Beirut, Lebanon. Her difficulties, her aspirations, her relationship with her mother and 12-year-old sister, who is forced to marry a much older man. The daily life of the homeless in an inhospitable urban environment.

Les Mains en l'Air (2010) – dir. Romain Goupil. In present-day France, hunting and deportation of children without papers, from various origins. There are those who help them and there are those who help to pursue them.

Or Porto (2011) - say Aki Kaurismaki – Marginals and clochards, of great dignity, who live in precarious housing on the docks of the port in Le Havre, France, the crossing point of the English Channel for illegal immigrants trying to reach England. They help an African boy who arrived in a container and escaped, while his family and his entire group were arrested and deported.

Adu (2020) – dir. Salvador Calvo. Spanish film centered on the tragedy of forced migrations, with crowds of Africans who every day try to cross from Africa to Europe in order to survive. It focuses on a boy who has no choice but to do so. NETFLIX

pray for rain (2014) – dir. Ravi Kumar. In India, a factory of the American company Union Carbide is responsible for the worst industrial disaster in history, with a toxic gas leak that killed 10 people in 1984. With Martin Sheen, protagonist of apocalypsenow, great Hollywood militant who has already been arrested 64 times in the most varied protest demonstrations.

white helmets (2016) - say Orlando von Einsiedel. Syrian documentary that records this NGO of benevolent citizens, who help victims of air strikes and other attacks during the civil war in Syria. 41-minute short film. NETFLIX

Sergio (2009 and 2020) - There are two films with the same title and works by the same director, Greg Baker: the first is a documentary and the second fiction. Both report the life and death of the Brazilian diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello who worked in Iraq for the UN, as commissioner for refugees. He died in an attack, when the building where he worked was bombed.

*Walnice Nogueira Galvão is Professor Emeritus at FFLCH at USP. She is the author, among other books, of reading and rereading (Senac/Gold over blue).

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