I recently saw a list on which there were 100 Holocaust movies you need to watch. The number seemed slightly excessive. Maybe they counted each and every WWII movie in which there were Jewish people. No idea. I wouldn’t call a movie a Holocaust movie unless it focusses on Jewish life during WWII, either in ghettos, concentration camps or, like in Defiance as a Resistance group or on the run. Everything else is just a WWII movie. I just watched Jakob the Liar which I will review soon and that gave me the idea to make a list of the 13 Holocaust movies I consider to be the best. My favourite of the movies below is The Round Up – La Rafle. If you think I missed one that is extremely good and should be added, let me know.
Holocaust (1978, TV mini-series US) The story of a Jewish family and their struggle to survive in Nazi Germany.
Sophie’s Choice (1982, UK/US) The horrible story of a Polish mother who has to make a terrible choice that will scar her for life.
The Round Up – La Rafle (2010, FR/GE/HU) In the night of July 16 1942, 13000 Parisian Jewsare arrested and confined in the Vel d’Hiv before being sent to Drancy and later exterminated in Auschwitz. True story. See my review
The question you might ask yourself right away is probably: What is an original war movie? Is Stalingrad original or Black Hawk Down? I would argue, no, they are not. They are great, they are absolute must-sees but they are not original. They consist pretty much of linear story telling. Well filmed but nothing out of the ordinary. What about Enemy at the Gates? Admittedly according to my definition this almost made it into the list, as it is originally beautiful, but so are others.
Original is about something more than beautiful cinematography, it is something beyond the well-trodden path. Either a different way of telling an old story, a new look at something we saw before, a different way of filming, a genre-blend, an original story etc. After thinking for a very long time about it, I came up with the following fifteen movies that are far from the ordinary. I guess that all these fifteen films are movies that mostly also appeal to cinema lovers in general.
Three Kings (USA, 1999): Taking place during the first Iraq war it is definitely one of the most original movies I have ever seen. The way certain things are filmed is pretty unusual. When someone gets hit by a bullet we follow the bullet on its way inside the body, see how it affects the system and causes gangrene. Quite astonishing. On top of that it is a crazy, fast-paced story. Like a filmed version of a rock song.
Ovelord (UK, 1975): WWII, UK just before D-Day. A very short movie that alternates original footage and filmed bits. Filmed in black and white, it has a very old-fashioned feel. The story is original as well as it focuses on one individual soldier who will be shipped to France. Uses dream sequences, elements of foreboding. Still straightforward storytelling. (see my post Overlord: An Overlooked War Movies masterpiece)
The Thin Red Line (USA, 1998): WWII, The Pacific. This is the most lyrical of all war movies. Intense pictures, haunting voices in the off meditate about death and dying. It is one of those cases – you love it or you hate it but can’t deny it is original.
Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (UK, 1943): Boer war, WWI, WWII. A movie that relies heavily on almost choreography like acting, loads of allusions to British culture. Extremely funny, filmed in brilliant Technicolor. Quite slapsticky at times, reminded me of one or the other Laurel and Hardy at war movies, but undeniably British humor. Two astonishing acting achievements. Deborah Kerr playing three different women and Roger Livesey playing the young, the middle-aged and the old Colonel Blimp. Amazing performances.
The Downfall aka Der Untergang (Germany, 2004). There have been such a lot of movies about Hitler but this concentrates on his very last moment, in the bunker in Berlin. Quite an unusual look. Creepy, spooky, with a fabulous Bruno Ganz in one of his best roles.
300 (USA, 2006): The last fight of the Spartans is original because of the heavy use of CGI, outstanding camera work and graphics. (see my post 300: This is Sparta! )
The Hurt Locker (USA, 2008). Iraq movie. Academy Award Winner. Different in the sense that it focuses on one special task, bomb disposal and one special man who is doing it his way. He goes about his business as if he was a player in some video game. Death-defying. Plus the movie has a thriller feel which is quite unusual for a war movie. At times it feels like Speed goes to Iraq. (see my post A War Movie Gone Thriller: The Hurt Locker)
Waltz with Bashir (Israel, 2008): Israel. Another animated movie but of an altogether very different kind. This looks more like a woodcut. Interesting take at the Lebanon war.
Apocalypse Now (USA, 1979). Considered by many to be one of the best war movies there is, it is also very original as it doesn’t show the Vietnam war as it was, instead more like a hallucinatory re-telling of The Heart of Darkness set during the Vietnam war. Using Wagner’s Valkyrie and The End by the Doors further underlines it’s aiming at being something different. Whether you like it or not, it is very original.
Full Metal Jacket (USA, 1987). This is a highly original movie as it creates images that will burn themselves into your memory. Visually one of the most powerful movies. Plus it tells two stories. Boot camp and street fight. This last element is also quite original as Vietnam movies mostly portay combat in the jungle. Plus the Vietnamese sniper…
Have I forgotten any and if so, why should they be included?
The movie tells the story of Bruno, an eight year old boy, whose father is a high ranking Nazi officer newly appointed to be in charge of a concentration camp.
The family leaves Berlin (shot in Budapest, by the way) for a place somewhere in the country, near a concentration camp. The story is purely seen through the eyes of the little boy which creates some very uneasy moments.
I believe that the major theme of this movie is knowing and knowledge. We do know what happened during the third Reich. We know what Endlösung – The Final Solution – means. We know about concentration camps and extermination camps. Watching this movie with all this background information makes for a lot of discomforting moments. All the signs, the chimneys and the smoke, the people in the striped pyjamas… We know what to make of them. Bruno does not. And neither does his mother as it would seem.
The crucial moment is when Bruno meets the boy behind the barbed wire, the boy in the striped pyjamas, Shmuel. An impossible friendship begins. Bruno understands after a while that this boy is a Jew; at the same time he is taught by a fanatic private tutor that Jews are vermin.
Boyne says in an interview that he wanted to tell a different story, add something new to a topic that has been taken up so many times. He is very successful. One thing is for sure, no one who watches The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is going to forget it easily. The whole way it is told plus the more than atrocious end is by far too unusual to be forgotten.
I am sure it is one of the best movies to teach children the Holocaust.
To be honest, I am still a bit speechless. The whole film and especially the ending are like being kicked in the gut. I am quite awed by the little actors. Asa Butterfield, who plays Bruno, is amazing. This little kid has a way of talking with his eyes that is rarely found in grown up actors. To cut a long story short: Watch it!
In this post I would like to focus on war movies in which children have leading roles and are not just supporting actors like in The Hurt Locker to name but one example.
There are many movies whose sole focus are children. They come from different countries, show different conflicts and times but they have one thing in common: they are all good, very good or outstanding. This is quite remarkable. It is as if those film directors who aim for entertainment only would shy away from showing children in war movies. All the movies listed below are very different in tone. Some are light and almost playful, like Hope and Glory, some are depressing and raw like Come and See, others have the quality of a fairytale like Pan´s Labyrinth.
I am sure my list is not exhaustive. If you know of any others, let me know. I will try and review most of them in later posts, like I already did with Hope and Glory (see post), Welcome to Sarajevo (link to post), The Children of Huang Shi (see post) and Savior (see post). I am stating the name and the year and country in brackets. The conflict and where the war takes place follow behind. I did include a few movies with teenagers in it like The Bridge or Napola, but most of the others focus on much smaller children. I did also include Savior as the newborn is central to the story.
I am sure you will discover many you did not know yet as I did.