By Prarthana Mitra
The role of cinema as a political tool is enshrined in the usage of the camera as a gun. As a medium that historicises the movements of independence on screen, films also serve to decolonise†minds long after the revolution is over, and before another begins.Still from Les Miserables based on Victor Hugo’s novel on the French Revolution
Some films transcend geographical and cultural barriers in ways that capture the universal spirit of freedom movements. That is probably why we love watching movies on the French Revolution, the Civil Rights movement, and revisit our very own struggle for independence and autonomy. Patriotic films not only serve as glowing reminders of heroes and events past but at times also portend a future that could soon become reality.
This freedom week, we curated a list of movies for those in the mood for patriotism.
Subtitled How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, this 1964 political satire / black comedy seems straight out of Orwell and Huxley’s dystopian novels. With nuclear armament posing a threat to the future of civilisation†today, and power blocs deciding the fate for the rest of us, this film manages to paint the grim reality with dark humour, in a way only Stanley Kubrick can.The telephone room in a still from Dr. Strangelove
Memories of Underdevelopment
A masterpiece from the oeuvre of Latin American third cinema, Tomas Gutierrez Alea’s 1968 film looks ahead to events that would go on to shape Cuban-American relations. The film follows Sergio, a writer, who chooses to remain in Cuba, falling apart after the Bay of Pigs invasion. He ruminates on the political and economic situation in his country, and the film develops into a critique of privilege, artistic entitlement, and consumerism, even of the Cuban Revolution.
It makes for a good watch because of how well it captures the transition in dominant ideologies and how we cope when convictions we cling on to dissipate.
I Am Not Your Negro
A documentary film based on African American gay rights activist James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript, I Am Not Your Negro is inspiring and heartbreaking at the same time. Noted filmmaker Raoul Peck envisions Baldwin’s letter to his publisher bearing a revolutionary, personal account of the lives and assassinations of three of his close friends: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Also up on Netflix is a marvellous documentary on the Black Panther revolutionaries called The Vanguards of the Revolution.
Mad Max: Fury Road
George Miller’s post-apocalyptic action thriller is really a shining moment for anarcho-feminism in cinema. In the hyperreal film, Charlize Theron as Furiosa fights back against a dictatorial regime set in a Valhalla-esque desert where a tyrant controls every drop of water. Along with Max (Tom Hardy), she ploughs through in order to dispose of the old system with a new equitable system, the ultimate post-structuralist dream.Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Speaking of a more real than hyperreal narrative about women, Jafar Panahiís The Circle is quite bleak but has its moments of rebellion and personal success for Iranian women suffering from unspeakable oppression, repression and imprisonment.
No is a fictional account of how Pinochetís regime was prevented from returning to power by a group of socialist admen, led by copywriter Gael Garcia Bernal, a former socialist who rediscovers his ideologies and inspires the nation to vote NO. Amidst crackdown on dissenters and rivals, they remain resolute to the cause, and dedicated to their art, using it as a political weapon in the nationís hour of need.
In directorial duo†Jean-Marie and DaniŤle Huillet-Straubs’ film, the memories of a verdant motherland clash violently with Italy’s critical condition in the 1930’s shortly before the Second World War. Impoverished and rotting, Sicilia! presents the country from the eyes of a citizen returnee who confronts the decadence through conversations with his recently divorced mother.Still from Sicilia!
The Other Side of Hope
Aki Kaurismaki presents a unique glimpse into what has become a raging humanitarian crisis today. An immigrant fleeing to Finland runs from pillar to post to secure asylum, find his sister, and make friends in an alien land. With subtle humour and social satire, Kaurismaki depicts the horrific aspects of immigration and the values of multi-culturalism in The Other Side of Hope.
Parallel cinema and regional film industries have contributed extensively to the patriotic film archive of India. This year, give Border, Lagaan and Swades a break and Bhuvan Shome or†Fandry a shot.Still from Fandry
Mrinal Sen’s Bhuvan Shome, narrated by Amitabh Bachchan and featuring Utpal Dutt in the titular role, deals with bureacracy, empathy, apathy and caste. Nagraj Manjule takes this up in†Fandry again†recently.
As you wait for Nandita Das’ Manto†to release in theatres around you, revisit Nemai Ghosh’s Chinnamul†(1950), the first film to ever deal with the partition of India. If you’re up for a reality check, try Mani Kaul’s Satah Se Uthata Aadmi (Arising from the Surface, 1980). Based on the accounts of Gajanan Mukthibodh, it presents a world where the revolution has failed, idealism has been sacrificed and traded for practicality and the role of intellectuals and artists is derided and questioned. Rings a bell?Still from Satah Se Uthata Aadmi
Prarthana†Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius
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