Stephen Walt, the Harvard academic, has blogged about his ten favourite political films. It is a great idea, and I thoroughly approve of his top two choices: Dr. Strangelove and Casablanca. But overall, I think his list is a bit disappointing. And – as a couple of the commenters on his site point out – all the films he lists are American, which is a bit odd for a professor of international relations.
That said, it leaves a gap in the market for the rest of us. So here is my list of the top ten, non-American political films. This is very much a first effort. I scribbled them down in about half-an-hour. They are listed in a very rough order of preference:
1. The Marriage of Maria Braun – Fantastic Fassbinder movie about the rise of post-war Germany, made in 1979.
2. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie – This is not strictly speaking a political film, it is too surrealist for that. But Bunuel’s 1972 masterpiece contains the funniest diplomatic reception scene I’ve ever seen – as well as an excellent scene in which the ambassador of Miranda takes pot-shots at anarchists scoping out his embassy.
3. Burnt by the Sun (1994) – Gut-wrenching movie, set against the background of Stalin’s purges.
4. The Sorrow and the Pity – Famous masterpiece; a documentary about France under the Nazis that was so sensitive that it was not released for many years.
5. Monsieur Klein (1979) – On a similar theme, a Joseph Losey film about a Parisian art-dealer who tries to avoid being caught up in the deportation of the Jews, but it all goes horribly wrong.
6. The Yacoubian Building – A recent and very successful Egyptian film that paints a very depressing and compelling picture of modern Egyptian society.
7. The Lives of Others – Recent Oscar-winner, set in East Germany.
8. Apartment Zero – Homo-erotic thriller, made in the late 1980s, and set against the background of the dirty war in Argentina.
It strikes me that all the films I’ve listed so far are a little on the depressing side, so here are two more cheeeful ones to round things off.
9. L’Auberge Espagnol – Who would have thought that you could make a genuinely funny and touching film, centred around the EU’s Erasmus programme for exchange students? This was hugely popular among Eurocrats in Brussels. It came out about five years ago.
10. Carry on Cleo (1964) – Contains the best line in British cinema, when Caesar is attacked and shouts -”Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it in for me.” Much better than “Et Tu Brute”.
Which reminds me, that – of course – Shakespeare was quite good on politics, so Carrying on Regardless:
11. MacBeth – the Polanski version.
12. And if you are allowed television series, Michael Dobbs’s “House of Cards” – with a particularly evil and murderous chief whip. Striking isn’t it, that only the British political movies are comedies.
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