There is no good war. And there are no winners. Everyone loses out. Nevertheless, many war films insist in conveying a subliminal yet grandiose message of patriotism, ultimately celebrating military belligerence. Such is the case with the recent blockbusters Dunkirk (Christopher Nolaan, 2017), Darkest Hour (Joe Wright, 2018), Last Flag Flying (2Richard Linklater 018), – the latter two are out in cinemas right now.
War is repugnant and grotesque, and so should anti-war films be. Violence should never be airbrushed, blood should never be removed, and the conflict should never be glorified, romanticised or celebrated in any way whatsoever. Otherwise it can easily slip into a military apologia. A genuinely anti-war movie should never be a feel-good movie. It should be harrowing and disturbing because at war there are no victors. It should meditate on the moral dilemma of the conflict, or mock the futility of the whole ordeal. Plus, patriotism should never be celebrated, as it’s often the very cause of war. And this is precisely where the three films mentioned above fail. They are war films. But they are not anti-war films.
Below is a list of 10 films released in the last 12 months or so, which are unambiguous in their denunciation of war. They are both documentary and fiction features with one characteristic in common: you will not leave the cinema thinking: “this is a cool movie!”. These films are invariably disturbing and realistic in their depiction of the conflict. Four of them deal with the Syrian War, but there are also films dealing with Israel, World War I, World War 2, the Ukraine, and also a movie with a stark warning of an “impending” nuclear war. To boot, there’s a very dirty surprise for you at the end of the list. So make sure you read it through.
Don’t forget to click on the film titles in order to accede to their respective dirty review. The films are listed in no specific order!
This Danish film is extremely successful at highlighting the pointlessness of WW2 in all of its bizarre territoriality and forged allegiances. You won’t leave the cinema feeling enchanted and elated. Instead you will feel shocked and outraged, which is exactly what a war film should do.
The film starts out with Danish Sergeant Carl Leopold Rasmussen (Roland Møller) leading surrendered German troops out of the country in May 1945 and beating a few soldiers in the process. He in then allocated to a beach where he has to supervise 14 German teenagers, who’ve been sent in order to clear some of of the 2.2 million mines placed by the German on the Danish coast – more than in any other European country. No slippery fingers, shaky hands, hesitant thoughts and vacillating minds are allowed; the consequences of any minor error are obviously disastrous, ranging from severe mutilation to a horrific death. And so these untrained and emotionally immature boys begin to die, one by one.
In City Of Ghosts, Academy Award winning director Matthew Heineman (Cartel Land, 2015), takes on the plight of a group of men fighting to have the cries of their once great city heard. In this shocking yet essential movie, Heineman follows the journey of the members of a group calling themselves “Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently”. This small coalition of anonymous-activists-turned-citizen-journalists managed to put themselves in the firing line by bravely exposing the barbarism of Islamic State. With intel from inside the occupied city, the men managed to run a website documenting what took place after a vacuum of power resulted in the occupation of Raqqa by Isil for years.
Offered incredible access to the men and, in some cases, their own family members, Heineman deftly allows his subjects to tell their own stories without injecting himself too much into their narrative. Stories of violence and murder coming out of the city are neither sanitised nor fetishised by the director. Using Isil’s own footage found online, the director allows his subjects to talk about the unimaginable ordeal they went through since the moment they started speaking out against their invaders.
For 85 minutes you will have to wear the shoes of Oum Yazan (in a rivetting performance delivered by the Palestinian actress and film director Hiam Abbass), as she does everything within reach in order to protect her family inside her flat in Damascus, as the Syrian War is just beginning to loom. You will be locked with Oum and seven other people in the relative safety of her middle-class dwelling, while a cannonade of bombs and machine gun fire explodes outside.
Urgent in its simplicity, the effective Insyriated will haunt you for some time. It’s a painful reminder that tragedy can strike at anytime, and that there is no such thing as a safe home. It’s also a call for action: every country should open their doors to Oum, Halima and their families.
The notion of futility has always been one in human history, still, in the events and dramatic modernisation of conflict during World War I, the supposed ‘war to end all wars’ brought the human race crashing into the 20th century in a monstrous fashion. Set during the final few months of the German armies’ ‘Spring Offensive’ in 1918, Saul Dibb’s cinematic adaptation of R. C. Sheriff’s 1928 play Journey’s End features powerful performances and a uniquely stifling portrayal of life on the Western front.
Slowly building to a mournful end, it is hard to not be moved at the futile nature of war, specifically to a younger generation, elicited throughout. Akin to the greatness of Oh, What A Lovely War(Richard Attenborough, 1963), the theatrical roots are expelled in favour of a cinematically aware film. Marking 100 years since the end of the War, one would be amiss to ignore its presence upon release.
This Israeli movie is a visual ballet divided in three acts: Michael Feldman (Lior Ashkenazi) is informed that his son Jonathan (Yonatan Sharay), a conscript in the Israeli Army, has died; Jonathan’s days of military service in the Israeli Defense Forces, and; a long conversation between Michael and Jonathan’s mother, Dafna (Sarah Adler). Each act has a distinctive touch, and all three are strangely pleasant to watch.
This is a fiercely anti-war movie, about the catastrophic consequences of army duty for those who have no choice but to enlist (military service is compulsory in Israel). It is also a mind-blowing film, likely to become both critically acclaimed and commercially profitable. It premiered last year in Venice, and our writer Tiago Di Mauro selected it as his top film of 2017 – click here for the full list. The image at the top of this article was taken from Foxtrot.
TThis film acts primarily as an exploration of war from the bubble of an EU perspective. This is both eye-opening and positively human, as each character displays an entirely familiar range of virtues and vices. It also broadcasts Ukraine and the Donbass crisis to an EU audience that have now largely forgotten about the fortunes of their largest European neighbours. Although Frost doesn’t detail the experiences of the Donbass separatists, it leaves you with no doubt that the everyday allegiances of this war are arbitrary and ambiguous.
Frost is a unique piece of cinema in 2017. It focuses attention back onto a divided region that has become absent from the popular European imagination. Likewise, it provokes meaningful reflection on the moral dilemma of war, without being overtly instructive. Its slight tendency for tedious travel is punctuated by powerful prose in the three key interludes. It ends on a low-key whimper, but one that will explode through your thoughts long after the end credits.
Opening with hand held footage of Howe on patrol with British servicemen in Afghanistan, Monfils’s documentary throws the audience straight into the deep end. As the soldiers and Howe wonder through fields, tension within the frame is created through the claustrophobic and obscured shots of their surroundings; beyond the trees the Taliban could lay. Disaster strikes in the form of a soldier stepping on a concealed IED (improvised explosive device) warhead. Howe somehow manages to capture to the whole sequence in a clarity that is a stark juxtaposition to the surrounding world of ‘fake news’ and the POTUS’s bizarre “convfefe” tweet.
At a tight one hour and a half, A Good Day to Die, Hoka Hey interrogates the repercussions of authentic media coverage upon an individual. Howe’s haunting images linger in one’s mind long after the final scene. Unlike the suspenseful quality of another war film out in theatres right now, Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan), Harold Monfils’s film sincerely reflects his ambition to create a piece which portrays ‘the damage that happens to the soul when one is exposed to the horrors of war on the front line for 12 years’.
This is an anti-war film because it warns us of the catastrophic dangers of an “impending” nuclear war. Pilger shows how China has been progressively encircled by US military bases and nuclear weapons and how quickly this could escalate. The Obama administration has in fact clearly shifted the geopolitical focus of the US towards the Pacific, in an open challenge to China.
What can we expect from the future? Is President Trump going to follow an even more aggressive stance towards China than his predecessor, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Barack Obama or is he going to be an isolationist? Right now, this seems unpredictable. Trump has used a very aggressive stance towards China during his electoral campaign; but will he turn words into action or was it just hot air? Will there be another Cold War? What about apocalypse? Only time will tell. These are some of the questions that the film raises.
This is one of the most disturbing and heartbreaking films on this list. In March 2011, radio host Obaidah Zytoon and several friends joined the street demonstrations against the oppressive regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose family has lead the country for 40 uninterrupted years. They decide to film every step of a very bleak journey that is nowhere near finding closure five years later. Obaidah’s voiceover narrates the story in retrospect, with the lugubrious tone of her voice suggesting from the start of the movie that the outcome wouldn’t be rosy.
The tragic imagery and the fatal conclusion of The War Show could haunt you for some time. Even if the film is sometimes a little disjointed, and the individual stories are difficult to follow. The War Show has won the top prize in the Venice Days strand at this year’s Venice Film Festival. A jury chaired by Canadian filmmaker Bruce LaBruce chose the film from the 11-strong selection.
Ok. We have cheated. This film has not been released yet. In fact, it’s still in the making. But it’s such a relevant one that we decided we should include it on this list anyway. Most literature and theatre fans would instantly recognise Jaroslav Hašek’s The Good Soldier Schwejk, the most translated Czech novel in history, and a world-famous anti-war satire. Cinephiles less so. The book has indeed been adapted to the silver screen a few times – first in 1926 and then again in 1943 by Czech filmmaker Karel Lamač, in 1956 by the also Czech Karel Steklý and finally in 1960 by German filmmaker Axel von Ambesser. The problem is that these films are hardly available in the UK, and no other movies have been made since (except for television). This is about to change, as screenwriter and filmmaker Christine Edzard sets herself on a very ambitious mission.
Christina’s film will be neither an ordinary book adaptation nor a period drama selling a fake nostalgia. This is a very personal, audacious and groundbreaking endeavour spearheaded by a woman with a clear artistic vision and unambiguous peace ideology. The ball started rolling between July 7th and 17th, when Christine held seven live performances of The Good Soldier Schwejk at Sands Films in Rotherhithe (in Southeast London). The play was scripted as a live, cabaret-style performance, reflecting the background of Schwejk’s original creator: Hašek was a frequent performer of politically engaged cabaret in Prague. Christine explains: “the first Schwejk was written as a sketch several years before the novel existed, so I’m just going back to that original idea.”
So, what’s it that will be so special about The Good Soldier Schwejk? Well, it’s not a film set in the past. After years of research, Christine has added her very own personal twist to the play/film by blending in absurd quotes from very real, modern sources. The clumsy, ludicrous, wacky and preposterous words you will hear came from the mouths of Tony Blair, George W Bush, Colin Powell, Cofer Black and other wll-known figures. The conversation are sometimes so bizarre that they feel like five-year-olds squabbling, exposing the sheer absurdity of reality. There are also bits from George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde and Alfred Nobel.
This is one to keep to keep an eye on. Worry not, we shall bring the latest updates firsthand and exclusively for you!