October 17, 2020 marks the hundredth anniversary of the formation of the Indian communist party. As a political movement and ideology, communism and Marxism are in a tough spot finding little success among democratic societies and limited to a handful of iron-fisted regimes around the world. However, an enthusiast of human history can't bypass its contributions and the legacy it has left behind.
Here are a few films from different parts of the world that all Left-leaning folk must watch at least once. Yes, not all of them are in praise of the dream that never happened and some are even harshly critical. But then “Merciless criticism and independent thinking are the two necessary traits of revolutionary thinking” as Bhagat Singh said.
'Land and Freedom' | Ken Loach: The Spanish Civil War remains underrepresented in popular culture despite its immense possibilities. Yet there is the Cannes winner Tierra y Libertad.
In a cliched cinematic opening, the granddaughter of a hospitalised man discovers a bunch of letters, which reveal secrets from his younger years, from his room. We follow a card-carrying member of the British communist party from Liverpool on his trip to Spain after a call from the International Brigade to oust the fascists from power. He is joined by Irish, French and Spanish comrades at the Aragon battlefront before things start to fall apart for the rebels.
Infighting breaks out between the Soviet-backed faction and the POUM, while the anarchists point their guns at them both! There is a scene where a woman caught in cross-fire shouts at the rival factions to stop fighting each other and start killing the fascists for the people. A period drama shot in rural Barcelona and Zaragoza, the movie ends with the girl throwing the sand of revolution her grandfather brought back from Spain on his grave, maybe as a token of appreciation from the current generation to the dream that never took off.
'Goodbye, Lenin!' | Wolfgang Becker: Winner of the 2003 European Film Award for Best Film, Goodbye, Lenin! is a simple tale of deception told beautifully.
Alex Kerner's (Daniel Bruhl) mom suffers a heart attack and slips into a coma on seeing her son being arrested during an anti-government agitation in East Germany.
When she reopens her eyes eight months later, the political order and the party she adored more than her own life is no more and the doctors warn young Alex that even the slightest shock could be fatal for fragile Christiane (Katrin Saß). A citizen of united Germany now, Alex decides to let his mom live her remaining days in a world that she wanted to see flourish.
From hiding MNC banners on roads to finding her favourite pickle and propaganda newsletters, can Alex save his mom from the heartbreak?
'First They Killed My Father' | Angelina Jolie: You read the director's name right. The Hollywood icon has done a commendable job with this multilingual Netflix production.
Born to a rich Cambodian family, young Loung Ung had no idea what was awaiting her when the Khmer Rouge took over the country. The movie follows her journey to a labour camp in the countryside from the capital city, before she becomes a child soldier to fight the invading Vietnamese.
The reign of terror that followed was responsible for the genocide of nearly two million people in four years and the movie stays truthfully raw as it reveals the hardships the "class enemies" were subjected to.
'Rosa Luxemburg' | Margarethe von Trotta: Barbara Sukowa won the 1986 Cannes Film Festival's Best Actress Award for the portrayal of the Polish socialist-Marxist icon who was killed in cold blood in 1919. The 121-minute long biopic was re-released following the centenary of Luxemburg's killing, making it available to a larger audience.
We see the lesser-mentioned, passionate, human side of Rosa thanks to the on-screen magic Barbara conjured. She enacts Rosa's emotionally-charged speeches on “living together in peace with our French brothers”, “war against war” and of course revolution with an unparalleled charm in a manner that could give leftists a chill or two (Make sure you get hold of a version with subtitles).
Director Margarethe's staunch feminist views leave a robust mark on the film and further improves its artistic value while staying true to Luxemburg's radical politics.
'Enemy at the Gates' | Jean-Jacques Annaud: Enemy at the Gates tells the story of Vasily Zaytsev (Jude Law) who becomes a propaganda hero due to his marksmanship.
The morale in the Russian camp is low and the Communist regime is hunting for "stuff" that can motivate their troops. Commissar Danilov's (Joseph Fiennes) plans to identify figures whom people can idolise works out well as Vasily goes after high-ranking German soldiers at will. He is made a hero by the Army-run military newspaper and the Germans deploy Major Erwin König (Ed Harris), head of the German Army sniper school, to finish him off. So begins their face-off!
The director hints at the failures of the Soviet machinery all the same time while paying tribute to the people of Stalingrad. Bob Hoskins shows up as Nikita Khrushchev and lands in a few lines while Ron Perlman impresses as rifleman Koulikov.
'The Killing Fields' | Roland Joffe: Another critic's favourite on the terrors of the Cambodian Khmer Rouge era, the movie is the story of two journalists in the capital city of Phnom Penh.
Native scribe Dith Pran and The New York Times' Sydney Schanberg develop a special bond as the country slowly falls into the hands of Pol Pot. While Sydney manages to flee when things get out of hand, Dith Pran is captured and sent to a labour camp for re-education. Sydney goes on to win the Pulitzer for his bravery in challenging times, even as Pran tries to survive intimidation and torture by becoming the peasant he is expected to be.
Tears, sweat, blood, friendship... The Killing Fields is a complete package and not surprisingly won Oscars for Best Cinematography, Best Editing and Best Supporting Actor. Interestingly, Haing S Ngor had no previous acting experience when he was cast to play Pran's role in 1984.
'Rakthasakshikal Sindabad' | Venu Nagavally: Loosely based on true events, this film starring some of the Malayalam industry's finest - Mohanlal, Suresh Gopi and Murali - chronicles the birth and growth of the red flag in the southern state.
The British regime is slowly coming to an end in the subcontinent even as the Diwan of Travancore Sir CP Rama Swamy Iyer remains keen to retain his iron grip over the state. He crushes all opposition using brute force until he gets attacked by communist revolutionaries and flees to Madras.
Kerala became the first place on earth after San Marino to elect a communist government democratically, following decades of struggles and hardship that the movie attempts to eulogise. Priyadarshan was roped in to direct the movie's 'Punnapra Vayalar' scenes - an armed struggle that led to the killing of hundreds by the army and police in 1946.
'The Motorcycle Diaries' | Walter Salles: A road movie that is both a political and coming-of-age film at the same time. 'Diarios de motocicleta' in Spanish is the adaptation of Marxist icon Ernesto Che Guevara's memoir of the same name.
As a man in his early twenties, Che travelled across Latin America with his chum Alberto Granado, learning the harsh realities of the world of his time. While Gael García Bernal plays the young Argentine revolutionary, Che's second cousin Rodrigo de la Serna appears as Granado. This Academy Award-winning creation manages to stay in step with Guevara's writing when it comes to capturing the circumstances and conflicts leading to his transformation from an asthmatic medical student to a feared guerilla fighter.