War has always had a strangle alure for the filmmakers. Some choose to glamorize it. Others use it as an excuse for caroonish levels of violence. For some though, the medium of film provides a canvas on which they can explore the subject of war in more depth, can show its brutality and the effect it has on us as humans. By doing so they reject war even when their overall message is more nuanced than simply anti-war.
To celebrate the opening of the Toronto International Film Festival, here are ten suggestions for must-see anti-war movies. Let us know what you think of our choices and tell us what we've missed.
Probably one of the most quoted movies of all time, this perennial student favourite is an obvious choice but it lives up to the hype. Francis Ford Coppola re-imagines Conrad’s classic novel, Heart of Darkness, as an anti-Vietnam epic. The final confrontation between Martin Sheen’s Captain Willard and Marlon Brando’s chilling Kurtz is unforgettable, ‘The Horror…the horror…’ indeed.
No Man’s Land
Our sister office, War Child UK, was born out of a need to respond to the conflict in Bosnia Herzegovina. Prior to the war, Sarajevo – Bosnia’s capital – had been a major centre for filmmakers and so it was no surprise that the end of the conflict saw several important movies released in response. Possibly the best is No Man’s Land, directed by Danis Tanović, winner of the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 2001, where it beat the hugely popular Amélie.
This movie has been called ‘Africa’s Schindler’s List’. It tells the remarkable story of Paul Rusesabagina, a hotelier in the Rwandan capital Kigali, who hid 1,268 Tutsi and Hutu refugees during the genocide that swept the country in 1994. The movie won multiple awards, including Best in Competition at the Berlin International Film Festival. More importantly it brought a story of exceptional courage to a mass audience, many of whom were probably unaware of the terrible events of 1994.
This is a magnificently unhinged movie. Made in 1964, it stars the inimitable Peter Sellers in three different roles – a British officer, the President of the United States and Dr Strangelove – a wheelchair-bound nuclear expert and deranged former Nazi with an uncontrollable right arm. You really just need to watch it….
One of the first anti-war or pacifist movies ever made, J’Accuse was directed by influential silent filmmaker, Abel Gance. It sets a romantic fable against the horrors of the First World War. It was made in 1918 and some of its scenes were shot on actual battlefields. The film gained international acclaim, in part as a result of the still disturbing ‘return of the dead’ sequence.
A list of anti-war movies would be remiss if it ignored Oliver Stone. Platoon is the first and arguably best of Stone’s Vietnam trilogy. It avoids easy lecturing and instead portrays the brutal reality of war. Stone based much of the script on his own experiences as an infantryman in Vietnam and is on part a response to the heavily pro-military John Wayne movie, The Green Berets.
Hiroshima, Mon Amour
In 1955, director Alain Resnais made the acclaimed documentary Night and Fog, that told the horrific story of the Holocaust, just a decade after it’s full horror had been revealed. Four years later he was commissioned to make a follow-up about the atomic bomb. Unwilling to repeat his previous film, Renais instead produced this vanguard movie of the French New Wave. It comprises an intensely personal conversation between a French woman and her Japanese lover about loss and memory, set to the backdrop of the Hiroshima bomb.
Oh! What a Lovely War
Directed by Richard Attenborough – who died last month – this 60s musical critique of the First World War boasts a cast that includes pretty much every giant of British cinema, including Dirk Bogarde, John Gielgud, John Mills, Kenneth More, Laurence Olivier, Jack Hawkins, Corin Redgrave, Michael Redgrave, Vanessa Redgrave, Ralph Richardson, Maggie Smith, Ian Holm, Paul Shelley, Malcolm McFee, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Nanette Newman, Edward Fox, Susannah York, John Clements, Phyllis Calvert and Maurice Roëves. As we commemorate the centenary of that most cataclysmic conflict, this movie is a must see.
We have probably all seen at least one episode of the long running TV series, based in a mobile medical unit during the Korean War, right? Well, here is the movie that started it all. A dark comedy, directed by Robert Altman, this became one of 20th Century Fox’s biggest hit moves of the early 70s. If you’ve only seen the TV version, you need to see this.
Not that Shame. In this Shame, Ingmar Bergman’s 1968 masterpiece, the legendary director explores stress, jealousy and self-loathing through a politically unaware couple attempting to flee a war-ravaged European nation. As Pauline Kael wrote in the New Yorker, “The subject is our responses to death, but a work of art is a true sign of life.”
What did we miss? Tell us what you would have added and why in the comments or on Facebook.