Much of the great cinema of the 20th Century reflected the horror of the world wars. These three films provide a look back to wartime in Europe during this time: the first to The Great War, the second to World War II, and the third to the changed post-war landscape.
Paths of Glory (1957) dir. Stanley Kubrick
The absurdity of war and the decisions behind them. David Simon, creator of “The Wire” and “Treme,” on the film, “If anyone wants to look at “Paths of Glory” and think it doesn’t speak to the essential triumph of institutions over individuals and doesn’t speak to the fundamental inhumanity of the 20th century and beyond, then they weren’t watching the same film as the rest of us.”
Rome, Open City (1945) dir. Roberto Rossellini
There are certain pieces of cinema where you can draw a line in a sand, point to it, and say, “Before and after.” “The Jazz Singer” with its introduction of synched-sound is one of them. “Citizen Kane” with it’s innovative cinematography and storytelling is certainly another. “Rome, Open City,” chronicling the effects of World War II in The Eternal City, is absolutely a third. Jumpstarting the neorealist movement in Italy, the cinema would never be the same again once audiences were presented such a stark, raw reflection of life. The French looked at the film, and the neorealist pieces that followed, and were inspired to find a cinema which reflected and invoked France. Filmmakers such as Scorsese’s cinema can be traced back to this movement. If you want to start, this is the beginning.
The Third Man (1949) dir. Carol Reed
There’s a particular kind of magic to this film, isn’t there? The snippy dialogue. The film noir aesthetic, what with its shadows and canted angles. The playful score. The exuberant joy of Orson Welles’ performance as the incorrigible Harry Lime. It almost makes one forget we are traipsing around a very much post-war Vienna. But maybe that’s it. Yes, the facade is fun and fanciful at times, but it’s masking a seedy, tragic underbelly. Isn’t all great noir?
“Don’t be so gloomy. After all, it’s not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love– they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.” Harry Lime, The Third Man