The 12 Best War Movies I Watched In 2011

Looking back I realized that I have seen quite a lot of very good and some outstanding movies this year (Let’s be honest, I’ve also watched a load of crap but this isn’t the post to talk about them).

I narrowed them down to twelve. This was only possible because I excluded all those movies I have re-watched but reviewed for the first time (like The Downfall). Those I re-watched are mostly quite famous, no need to put them in the spotlight again, but those I list below are not all equally well-known and they deserve to be mentioned especially.

Here we go

Innocent Voices – Voces Inocentes (2004) Mexican/US/Puerto Rican movie. This is a movie on the war in El Salvador and the use of children as soldiers. It may very well be my favourite this year. (Here is the review).

Roma, Città aperta – Rome Open City (1945) Italian movie. Roberto Rosselini’s masterpiece about the resistance in Rome during WWII. A classic of Italian Neo-Realism. (Here is my review)

The Brest Fortress – Brestkaya krepost (2010)  Russian movie. Gritty, realistic and combat driven story of the siege of a fortress. (Here is my review)

Henri de Navarre – Henry 4 (2010) French movie on Henry 4. Historical and epic movie about King Henri 4 of France and the War of Religions. (Here is my review)

The Cranes are Flying – Letyat zhuravli (1957) Russian movie. Very expressive and beautiful movie about a woman who waits for her lover to return from war. WWII. (Here is my review)

First Light (2010) British TVmovie based on the memoir of a Spitfire pilot. (Here is my review)

Harry Brown (2009) British movie about a WWII veteran becoming a vigilante. (Here is my review)

The Baader Meinhof Complex (2008) German movie about the Red Army Fraction.

No Man’s Land (2001) Bosnian movie about the war in Bosnia and, yes, I still think it’s hilarious and a great war satire.

Waterloo (1970) Russian/Italian movie on Napoleon’s great defeat. (Here is my review)

Life and Nothing But – La vie et rien d’autre (1989) French WWI drama by Bertrand Tavernier. Very moving story of a woman who is looking for her husband in war-torn France. (Here is my review)

Tropic Thunder  (2008) US movie. Extremely funny although in dubious taste. (Here is my review)

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No Man’s Land (2001) An Outstanding War Satire

Danis Tanovic’s No Man’s Land is without any doubt one of the best war movies I have ever seen. The actors are outstanding, the story is different and manages perfectly to convey the tragic absurdity of war. It also very funny, unless you have never heard of black humor or satire.

The movie starts with a group of Bosnian soldiers on their way to the front, bickering and teasing each other and lost in the darkness and the fog. They try to find the way for a while but it’s useless. After some more bickering and sharing of cigarettes, they stop and go to sleep. Horror on horror, when they wake up they realize they are in between the front lines and very close to the Serbs. The fun is definitely over now and as soon as they start to run, the Serbs open fire. Ciki is catapulted by an explosion into an empty foxhole, in the middle of No Man’s Land.

He hides in the foxhole until two Serbian soldiers arrive to investigate if there are any enemies around. They find Cera, who has also been catapulted into the foxhole and, thinking he is dead, they booby-trap his body.

After a while they finally discover Ciki who shoots one of the two Serbs. Two enemies are now trapped in between their lines, together with a unconscious man, attached to a mine, whose every move could make the thing explode.

What follows is one of the most comic farces I have ever seen. Trapped in between enemy lines, they start to quarrel and fight, all the while the poor Cera moans because he needs to go to the toilet, is uncomfortable and thirsty, wants a fag… Ciki keeps on asking him if he is OK which is, considering the circumstance, in a grotesque way funny as well.

A lot of the humor stems from the dialogue. Although they find themselves in the most dire circumstances they still argue and quarrel like a family at the Sunday dinner table; petty grievances, teasing, sulking, all included. Considering they might end up being killed it’s tragically comic. On top of that, the three are really endearing characters.

The movie also criticizes once more the inefficiency and cynicism of high command and the ultimate uselessness of the UNPROFOR troops who, as usual, aren’t allowed to do anything. On top of that a group of sensation-seeking journalists appears and makes matters worse.

Both camps send people into the foxhole which becomes a sort of neutral zone. Journalists are there, de-mining experts, UN troops and what not. Everybody wants to give their opinion, no one is capable of helping.

If you want to know whether poor Cera will be saved, you will have to watch the movie.

No Man’s Land is outstanding and manages like not many to make a very profound anti-war statement.

One word of caution: Should you just have stopped smoking you shouldn’t watch this movie. I have hardly every seen such a lot of smoking going on in any movie. Even a lifelong non-smoker like myself started to feel a certain urge after a while.

I almost forgot to mention that No Man’s Land is a Bosnia & Herzegovina/FR/IT/Slov/UK/BE co-production.

Warriors aka Peacekeepers (1999) UNPROFOR Peace Units in Bosnia

Warriors is an almost three hour long TV  production starring Ioan Gruffud (Hornblower, King Arthur), Matthew Macfadyen (Robin Hood, Pride and Prejudice) and Damian Lewis (Band of Brothers). Unlike some other great TV productions it isn’t capable to get rid of the TV feel. At every moment we are aware of it having been made for TV. I don’t know how this was aired, probably on two consecutive evenings, watching it like I did in one go wasn’t the best idea. If there hadn’t been some famous actors I would have thought it is a documentary.

You may have gathered already that I didn’t like it that much but it still is an important movie. Many movies depict the absurd mandate that most UN troops have to follow. Unless directly attacked they are not allowed to fight. They are not allowed to take sides. Mostly, like in this case, they aren’t even allowed to evacuate people unless they are seriously injured. This means they have to watch innocent civilians getting killed.

The movie starts in England where we see the soldiers and officers on leave and get to know the main characters. From there we follow them to Bosnia where they are instructed about their mandate which doesn’t really pose any problems for them at the beginning.

Our three main characters will stay in the region for six months. Starting as mostly joyful men who want to make a difference they undergo some serious changes and at the end none of them is remotely comparable to the man he was before he was sent to the region at war.

It is one thing to be told to not interfere when there are soldiers involved but a totally other matter when you see how civilians are raped, butchered and tortured. All these young UN soldiers ask for, is to be able to evacuate those who might get killed. Their superiors stay firm, there is no helping that couldn’t be misunderstood. Soon enough they get proof of this. In a few instances, when no superior officer is around, the one or the other soldier attempts to help and each and every single time the consequences are fatal.

In one instance Lt. Feeley (Ioan Gruffud) assists an elderly Muslim couple whose dog is shot and whose house is plundered. He intervenes and chases off the aggressors only to find the couple executed, when he returns a few days later. Instances like these are numerous and the movie shows more and more atrocities towards the end.

The final part shows the three main protagonists back in England. None of them can cope. Having helplessly witnesses gratuitous acts of violence against children, women and old people has left them shattered. Two have a severe anger management problem and the third attempts to commit suicide.

If you are interested in the peace work of the UN troops and want to see in great detail how they operate, this is a good movie in this respect. There are others who show this very well too but not in so much detail. If you want to watch really good movies on the war in Bosnia I suggest you rather stick to Welcome to Sarajevo (see my review), Savior (see my review) and No Man’s Land (review upcoming).

I couldn’t find a trailer so I attached part 4 of the film.