With so many excellent political films out there, I found it impossible to implement them all into my ‘5 Favourite Overtly Political Films‘ list. So, let’s have a look at some more fantastic political movies:
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Is Kubrick the best director ever? Yep. A Clockwork Orange is just one of a number of highlights in his incredible career. This story about free will, based on Anthony Burgess’ novel of the same name, is a daunting, shocking, horrific, yet often hilarious delve into the mind of a psychopathic youth, who, despite his evil nature, turns out to be the unlikeliest of heroes. Whilst we shouldn’t support a murderous rapist, our loyalties are intelligently played with, as we begin to resent a society who suppresses the voices, no matter how awful, of its members.
Alex, Malcolm McDowell’s defining role, is one of the greatest ever anti-heroes. Despite his raping, stealing and ‘ultraviolence’, this deranged teenager still manages to evoke sympathy. Despite his evil, he remains a source of humour. This humour mostly comes through the strange ‘Nadsat’ language, created by Burgess, which is essentially a strange mixture of Russian and English. Just look at this:
There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar trying to make up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening
Okay, yes, Alex is the definition of ‘evil piece of shit’. Buuuuuuut, he’s, well, hilarious and exudes tonnes of charisma. His language is absurd. Our loyalties shouldn’t lie with him but they do. Alex, after a botched effort at rape, is arrested and trialled under a new program. He is to have his desensitisation to violence reversed. He will literally be sick at the sight of violence. The film is a moral conundrum. Do you support the removal of free will for the public’s safety? Is that a greater violation than Alex’s? It reminds me of A Brave New World. Whilst they do remove societal issues and make life better, aren’t these issues part of living? Part of life is making mistakes and growing. Alex is evil but he learns his lesson.
We must give even the evilest amongst us the chance to redeem themselves. Whilst Alex is a bad person, humanity shines through. In a world where we are under constant surveillance and are constantly judged this message does ring true. You have to give people a chance. In the movie, ambiguity is used to create uneasiness about Alex’s future. However, the book wraps things up. After the government are forced to return Alex to his usual self he willingly chooses to shy away from violence as he is a more mature person now. We all make mistakes, and if Alex can overcome his demons, then surely we all deserve to be treated fairly. An eye for an eye is never the right answer to an issue.
I spoke of Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake in my other list of political films. However, when talking of politicism and Loach it would be wrong not to discuss Kes. Although he had previously directed Cathy Come Home in 1966, this is the film that catalysed the emergence of Loach, granting him a lengthy and illustrious career. This movie was essentially the offspring of the British New Wave, the first true period of overtly political British cinema. Kes, while by no means the first of its kind, has still become an essential part of British cinematic history.
This film displays the class divide and lack of opportunities for Northerners. Billy Casper has been demeaned his whole life, never given any kind of motivation. He is bullied and shunned at home by his mother and brother and belittled and pushed around at school by his teachers. However, he begins training a kestrel, ‘Kes’, a symbol of freedom and hope, attempting to expand his life beyond the confines of his birthplace. He doesn’t merely want to capitulate and accept the seemingly inevitable industrialist work he seems deemed to inherit. However, despite his best efforts, his dreams are dashed. His brother, who has accepted his fate, murders Kes. The film is symbolic of the lack of opportunities for those in industrialised Northern areas. The film is given a humanist feel by being delivered through the eyes of a young boy. He has done no wrong, yet is ill-treated and stands no chance at achieving his optimistic ambitions.
This film is still incredibly relevant to modern political concerns. The issue of the South being favoured over the North is still a prevalent one. With politicians promising a ‘Northern Powerhouse’, there is an acknowledgement of the issue, but it doesn’t look like being resolved. Poverty is still a huge issue, even in the so-called ‘developed’ world. Loach perfectly captured the pessimistic attitudes of those born into industrialised, near poverty stricken areas. Opportunities are scarce for many, but some have it worse than others. Billy can try as hard as he wants to soar and escape his harsh and gritty environment, but like Kes, he will always be tethered.
City of God (2002)
City of God is one of the most gritty and real portrayals of true poverty. Few films have so ambitiously tackled the subject of crime and squalor with such vividness and intimacy. One of the main reasons for this authentic feel is the use of real slum inhabitants in the film and the use of a genuine slum. This is poverty. Although City of God is sleekly directed and produced this is as raw as cinema can get, and is an important call to arms. We must all face the poverty which, while hidden from us in the backstreets and dingy areas of even the most glamorous cities, is undoubtedly there.
City of God is an informative exercise for Western audiences and a huge subversion of our expectations. It is masterfully crafted, so much so that without the setting and actors it could be mistaken for a Western film. We don’t see cinema with Brazilian actors, and we definitely do not see a slum used as the setting. This intelligently grasps a non-Brazilian audience. In many ways, it does not feel distinctly Brazilian, but more universal. Poverty is a universal issue, not just one unique to Brazil, and it is not so alien to us as we might think despite the subtle differences. Children being involved in gangs, drug wars, fights for territory and gun violence, whilst maybe issues more common amongst the poverty stricken slums of Rio de Janeiro are issues that could arise anywhere. Like Mathieu Kassovitz’ La Haine, City of God, whilst technically a Brazilian film, does not have to be viewed from a solely Brazilian perspective.
City of God is crucial in conveying the universality of poverty. By making a film that works effectively for Westerners they effectively translated their message. We must all fight the poverty on our doorsteps. If we don’t fight this issue then there will be a neverending cycle of crime, like the one in the film. A gang dies, a new one instantaneously takes up the mantle. This is like poverty. A child is born into poverty, their children into poverty, and on we go. Without an acceptance of these horrific issues, which can happen even in richer parts of countries, like Rio de Janeiro, we can never combat them. City of God makes sure we stare this issue in the face.
A Separation (2011)
If I haven’t convinced you by now that I’m a fan of Iranian cinema then I never will. Iranian films which reach the West are almost always political allegory. A Separation, whilst slightly more unsubtle than other Iranian efforts, keeps up this allegorical tradition. It’s a fascinating portrait of how women are treated in comparison to their male counterparts. The hyperreligiosity in Iranian society and the attitudes towards women are heavily critiqued. This Oscar-winning film is a standout political movie from a country lauded for its cinematic politicism.
A Separation documents the difficulty women face in forging their own paths or garnering any respect from males. Simin unsuccessfully attempts to divorce her husband, Nader, not for lack of love, but for her want to leave Iran to get their daughter away from oppression. This emphasises the societal issues in Iran. Women get so little respect that a mother feels her child incapable of thriving as a person in such an environment. On top of this issue is the problem of Nader’s father. A common theme in Iranian cinema is the old oppressing the young. Nader’s father is senile and the reason Nader refuses to leave Tehran. He therefore metaphorically serves as a representation of the clouded frame of mind of the old regime and is a barrier halting the young from prosperous lives. His carer, Razieh, is a pregnant woman and is criticised both for her decision to work and her decision to assist a male, regardless of his senility. She is even beaten for her actions by her husband and shoved by Nader. Women have so few liberties. They cannot make decisions for themselves and are forever tied to their husbands, who control them.
A Separation hammers home the problems Iranian women face. In no aspects of their lives are they treated as equals. They are merely there to bear children, not to have their own identities and ambitions. They are the tools of their husbands, made to be subservient by their societal treatment. Their daughter is representative of a potentially hopeful future, she is smart, emotionally intelligent, but lacks confidence. If she could have respect bestowed upon her then she may just gain the motivation to defy society and become an independent and strong woman. However, as long as the archaic old regime survives, this will never materialise.
Leviathan is an epic and crushing tale, conveying the havoc the powerful wreak upon the weak. This pessimistic portrait of societal oppression is symbolic of the destruction thrust upon the innocent by authority figures. No matter who you are or the nature of your personality, you are always vulnerable to the demands of those with more money and more power than yourself. Whether they be a religious figure, like the corrupt vicar, or a political figure like the mayor, those in possession of money can always be influenced towards a life of dishonesty.
Leviathan charts the inevitable downfall of a normal, hard working, honest family who attempts to stand firm against the demands of the powerful. The land this honest family possess is desired by a corrupt mayor. Despite Nikolai gaining the help of his savvy lawyer friend Dmitri, his family is still torn apart at the seams. Those with power will always have their way. Mayor Vadim intimidates and blackmails, splitting the family up, using his money and influence to have his way. He is merely a short, fat, pathetic, unimpressive man. However, like all powerful figures, he has strong, young individuals at his disposal. No matter how hard the family fight they could never fend off the powerful, and their house, a symbol of their respectable lives is quite literally destroyed. There is no such thing as a peaceful life in a world controlled by greedy, selfish patriarchs. Vadim does not see these people as individuals as they aren’t high-ranking like himself.
Leviathan is social commentary, commenting on the state of Russian society. Putin is a bully, and like all bullies, he takes what he wants regardless of the comments of others. As Putin encroaches on Ukrainian land, Vadim encroaches on private property. No matter what level the corruption occurs at, the strong will always beat the weak into submission. No matter where corruption occurs the results are always the same. In a capitalist world, all that matters is your money. The most virtuous among us will fall if they refuse to strive for gain. As Trump, Putin, May and Jong-un show, you can be detestable, but if you have money your character flaws are rendered irrelevant.