We tend to associate politics with two extremes: either ridiculous and tacky public performance or an office where behind closed doors shady characters decide the fate of the rest of the mortals, most of the times, in their benefit. In some curious cases, cinema has proved able to lucidly interpret both aspects. In fact it might be the art medium that has succeeded in achieving it.
The direct audiovisual approach towards political issues has specially flourished in the documentary genre. However important filmmakers, including some of the major geniuses such as Orson Welles, Glauber Rocha, Stanley Kubrick and Charles Chaplin, have tried to shed some of the Seventh Art light on the often dark room of politics. The result has been a shift from the crude ideological propaganda to works of extraordinary power, generating changes in the viewer’s consciousness.
In a famous scene from the The Matrix, the main character has the option of taking a blue pill to stay in a world of illusory happiness or that of swallowing a red pill, which will open his eyes to the harsh – but liberating – reality. If you prefer the latter one, the presented here selection of films is your choice. Although it depicts a denser universe with less happy endings than Hollywood blockbusters, in return it promises a small open door for us all to sniff with impunity in the backstage where the strings of power are being pulled.
10 Eye Opener Masterpieces
1. The Great Dictator – Charles Chaplin, USA
An extremely courageous artistic-political project, to the point that President Roosevelt contacted Chaplin to offer him some encouragement because of the film industry opposition to the project. The film strikes an almost impossible balance: a comic satire of Hitler and a strong public condemnation of the Holocaust, emerging as the first anti-Nazi feature film. Chaplin, who was the silent cinema era legend, delivers one of the most memorable speeches in film history, a humanist manifesto at its best.
2. Memories of Underdevelopment – Tomas Gutierrez Alea, Cuba
A complex and profound reflection of the political transition in Cuba under the mantle of the Castro revolution, experienced from the perspective of a bourgeois intellectual who tries to connect to the new socio-political reality of his people and of his life. For its technical virtuosity and innovative narrative and staging is considered by many critics as the most important Latin American film of all time.
3. Dr. Strangelove – Stanley Kubrick, England
A superb scathing artwork released at the height of the paranoia about the likelihood of nuclear war. Kubrick makes a great satire on the absurdity of the Cold War political logic, making perhaps the only film that makes us laugh at the real possibility of doomsday. Furthermore, the multiple roles of Peter Sellers make his performance one of the most famous ever captured in celluloid.
4. Entranced Earth – Glauber Rocha, Brazil
A narrative synthesis of the Latin American political circus presented in a condensed history of the fictional but way too real country “El Dorado”. The chaos of party strife, the blind fanaticism of the masses and the corrupt ambition for power are exposed vividly by the bold eye of Rocha, who invites us to consider this reality through the eyes of an idealistic poet and journalist. A celebration of the Avant-garde and an urgent invitation to think, discuss and to aim to transform.
5. Citizen Kane, The Trial – Orson Welles, United States-France
This legendarily innovative film touches on the sore of the media empire of the United States. “Citizen Kane” was the center of a bitter struggle that tried to destroy it even before being displayed. The story of this failed attempt of artistic suppression was itself the inspirations of documentaries such as “The Battle Over Citizen Kane” and the movie “RKO 281”. Lesser known, his version of “The Trial” by Kafka is a penetrating meditation on the incomprehensible strings of power.
6. Z – Costa-Gavras, Greece
The quintessential political intrigue presented in a socio-political story of repression based on real life events. The film is a direct allegory of the assassination of Greek Democratic Leader Grigoris Lambrakis, in which after that appalling occurrence the letter “Z” became for the people a symbol of resistance. A genuinely brave proposal considering that was made during the dictatorship orchestrated by the same characters referred in the film. Winner of two Oscars including best foreign film.
7. Malku Yawar, The Blood of the Condor – Jorge Sanjinés, Bolivia
A movie acted by indigenous people in their native language in which is reflected the marginalization and oppression to which are subjected native peoples. The film presents an open protest to the US Peace Corps for sterilizing indigenous women. In real life shortly after the screening of the film, and in the midst of the Cold War, the Peace Corps were expelled from Bolivia. This is political, revolutionary and independent cinema in its purest and most radical form.
8. A very special day – Ettore Scola, Italy
The special day is set during the massive visit of Hitler to Mussolini in Rome, years before the Great War began. Perhaps this is the most intimate political reflection that has been filmed, a heartbreaking reflection on the influence of totalitarian systems in the most vital human feelings. Also a luxury of acting: Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni, at the height of their talent and charisma, demonstrate why they are one of cinema’s most renowned couples.
9. Xala – Ousmane Sembène, Senegal
Considered the father of African cinema, Sembène, a writer who at age 40 recognizes that most of the people of his country cannot read him, decides to become a film director. With bright irony and humor the movie satirizes endemic political corruption after Senegal’s independence. With effective symbolism tells the tragicomic story of a powerful man who finds himself sexually impotent on his wedding day. “Xala” became one of the first African films to win international recognition.
10. All the President’s Men – Alan Pakula, USA
A brilliant film staging one of the most important journalistic works of the Twentieth Century: the Watergate Scandal that led the controversial U.S. President Richard Nixon to resign the post. Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford embody idealistic journalists investigating a case of apparent insignificance that trigger a dramatic political snowball.
Other politically inspiring movies
1. China Town (Roman Polanski, United States) – Political and private sector corruption to manage water resources
2. In the Name of the Father (Jim Sheridan, Ireland) – Extreme abuse of the judicial system, accusing innocent people of terrorism
3. Herod’s Law (Luis Estrada, Mexico) – Tragicomic reflection of the sociopathy of Latin American corruption
4. The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel, Germany) – Social control under a totalitarian communist regime in the Berlin of the Cold War era
5. Traffic (Steven Soderbergh, USA) – The complicity of the transnational networks of drug trafficking.
6. JFK (Oliver Stone, USA) – Investigative proposal of political powers involvement in the assassination of JFK
7. Elite Squad 1 and 2 (José Padilha, Brazil) – Association of the police system and power elites with criminal structures
8. Network (Sidney Lumet, USA) – Excess of control and the fragility of a media empire
9. Il Divo (Paolo Sorrentino, Italy) – Lucid account of the life of Italian Machiavellian politician Giulio Andreotti
10. The Official Story (Luis Puenzo, Argentina) – The silent family effects of a military dictatorship
11. Persepolis (Satrapi and Paronnaud, France) – Intimate reflection of life in exile of a teenager that grew up in the Iranian regime
12. Milk (Gus Van Sant, USA) – The deep social prejudices and the struggle for political demands of homosexuals
13. Machuca (Andres Wood, Chile) – The coup against Salvador Allende from the perspective of a proletarian family child
14. The Constant Gardener (Fernando Meirelles, USA) – A complex web of political and private corruption behind a personal tragedy
15. Even the Rain (Icíar Bollaín, Spain) – A Spanish film crew makes a film in Bolivia about the Conquest while the people rebel against a multinational
This is a nonprofit explanation.