The title comes from a book by Chris Hedges that seemed to give Kathryn Bigelow inspiration for her movie The Hurt Locker. Hedges set an ironic tone to his book, as he strenuously questioned our roles in foreign wars after years as a war correspondent. Below are some films I felt examined war with a more critical eye,
This list looks at films that find the irony in modern war, question its motives, or at least try to give war a human face. Some films standout such as William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives and Mikhail Kalatozov’s The Cranes Are Flying, both of which dealt with WWII, while most Americans revel in movies like From Here to Eternity. Other great films of this era include Roberto Rosselini’s Rome Open City, the first of his War Trilogy, and Alain Resnais’s classic, Hiroshima, Mon Amour. Resnais’ The War Is Over explores the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. Kon Ichikawa’s Burmese Harp and Fires on the Plain are also a great film in this regard. One of the most haunting depictions of WWII is Larisa Shepitko’s The Ascent. Another film that leaves a lasting impression is Elem Klimov’s Come and See.
Taking a child’s perspective can be even more potent, if handled deftly. Such a case is Grave of the Fireflies, a Japanese animated feature based on the 1967 semi-autobiographical novel by Japanese novelist Akiyuki Nosaka. A live action version was made in 2005. Other films include Tarkovsky’s Ivan’s Childhood and Volker Schlöndorff’s The Tin Drum.
Taking a more light-hearted view were films like Billy Wilder’s Stalag 17 (which served as the inspiration for Hogan’s Heroes) and Hitchcock’s Lifeboat. This set the tone for Cold War movies like Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove and Norman Jewison’s The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming.
Orson Welles’ The Stranger was perhaps the first film to show footage of the concentration camps, although it was ostensibly about a notorious visitor to a Connecticut town shortly after the War. The first film to deal explicitly with the subject of the Holocaust was probably The Last Stop (Ostatni etap). The most well known movie from that era is The Diary of Anne Frank.
Lina Wertmuller explored the Holocaust as black comedy in Seven Beauties, which no doubt served as the inspiration for Roberto Begnini’s Life is Beautiful. Agnieszka Holland plumbs greater emotional depths in Europa, Europa, an amazing true story of one man’s survival during the Holocaust. And Audrius Juzenas looks into the lives of a Jewish theater group in wartime Vilnius in Ghetto.
Robert Altman offered an ironic view of the Korean conflict in MASH. The same year, Mike Nichols adapted Joseph’s Heller’s Catch-22 for the screen. And, Franklin Schaffner gave us Patton. George Roy Hill adapted Kurt Vonnegut’s ascerbic Slaughterhouse Five to the screen a couple years later.
Seems few lessons were learned as the Cold War inspired proxy wars throughout the world, as former colonial states struggled for nationhood. Of these wars, the Vietnam War has been the most fascinating subject for filmmakers. Philip Noyce adapted Graham Greene’s novel The Quiet American, which delves into the origins of American involvement in Vietnam. Michael Herr’s Dispatches served as the inspiration for both Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket. There is also this 1967 collaborative French effort, Far from Vietnam, which I would like to see.
Roland Joffe explores the aftermath of the Vietnam War in The KIlling Fields, showing how the war had spilled over into Cambodia. Spalding Gray offers a wry look at this film and the impact of the war on the region as a whole in his engaging monologue Swimming to Cambodia.
The struggle for independence may have best been characterized in Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle for Algiers. Meanwhile, ruthless tyrants rose to power like General Idi Amin Dada. And, ethnic cleansing reared its ugly head again, as depicted in movies like Hotel Rwanda.
War broke out again in Europe with Milcho Manchevski capturing the feeling Before the Rain in Macedonia, and Emir Kusterica devoting several films to the Balkan war, with the darkly comic Underground linking the war to the fallout fromWWII.
Peace finally seemed at hand in the late 90’s. The Cold War finally seemed over, but with 9/11 we saw a new chapter dubbed the “War on Terror,” reopening wounds in Afghanistan and Iraq. It seems the Bush administration might have studied Robert McNamara’s Eleven Lessons in The Fog of War.
It is amazing how effective animation can be in telling difficult stories and Waltz with Bashir gets to the heart of the amnesia that surrounds wars we would just assume like to forget such as the Israeli siege on Lebanon and the Massacres of Sabra and Shatila.
There have been a spate of films recently on Iraq. One of the early documentaries I saw was Control Room, which showed how effectively the Iraq War was managed. Gunners Palace is another effective documentary on Iraq. While the academy focused on Hurt Locker, I was fascinated by the way Grant Heslov linked Iraq to the Vietnam War through the use of psi-ops. As ludicrous as The Men Who Stare at Goats may have seemed, it had a strong basis in reality, which made it all the more alarming.
Few it seems on Afghanistan. Saw Kandahar and Company 9 a few years back. Kandahar was very interesting, as it captured a visceral sense of life under the Taliban. Company 9 was sort of the Hamburger Hill of the Soviet Union’s experience in Afghanistan.Read less