I love these films, and they also happen to be pretty accurate depictions of how the war was fought and won (or lost, depending on your perspective). Looking back on 75 years since America’s entry into the conflict, here are ten movies from Japan, England, America, Germany, and the Soviet Union that cover World War II with an eye to both artistry and historical detail.
Rome, Open City — ★★★★
Thanks to the Austin Film Society, I got to see Roberto Rossellini’s 1945 war drama Rome, Open City on the big screen last night. It was made during a very brief and specific window late in the war when the Germans, who had occupied Rome after Mussolini was overthrown and Italy made a separate peace with the Allies, retreated from the advancing Americans. Rossellini made the picture on the fly in the newly-liberated city while the war was still underway. His actors used SS uniforms which reportedly caused some confusion and alarm among Italian passers-by: were the Germans back, had Allied gains been reversed? Fortunately no, but the memory of the German occupation was still very fresh, and Rossellini recaptures the tension of it for this movie.
As a history buff who’s particularly fascinated by World War II, I’ve long known of the existence of an acclaimed 9-hour Holocaust documentary called Shoah. Now that I’ve defended my history dissertation (which is about the postwar period, and about Asia rather than Europe), I decided it would be a good time to knock this film off the to-watch list. After all, it’s considered by some “the most important Holocaust film ever made,” and I’ve already seen most of the contenders for the rest of that list.
The Spanish Civil War is a good war for movies. Its ideological split between fascists on the one hand and liberals and communists on the other was a warm-up for World War II. It was a global conflict and a trial run for the Cold War, too, in the sense that republicans and leftists from around the world — notably from the United States and the Soviet Union, but from many other parts of the world as well — converged on a country to try and tilt its fortunes their way. Setting a movie in the Spanish Civil War allows storytellers to engage with the fundamental issues of those conflicts without having to address their specific baggage. Also, Spanish architecture and landscapes (perhaps I should say Mediterranean, since many Spanish Civil War movies were filmed in Italy or other similar locales) offer a distinct backdrop from the grayer, grimmer palettes usually seen in WWII and Cold War flicks.
I’ve watched a lot of Spanish Civil War movies, and I thought I’d briefly run through the ones I can remember: