As America’s involvement in World War II unfolds on TVs across the country in Ken Burns’ latest mega-doc, The War, Facets Features looks at the experience as depicted in non-American cinema.
Overlord (Stuart Cooper, Great Britain, 1975) – By combining WWII archival footage with visuals shot on matching film stock, this truly original film tracks the fictional journey of one seemingly insignificant British soldier, from boot camp to the frontlines of Normandy.
Hope and Glory (John Boorman, Great Britain, 1987) – John Boorman’s critically acclaimed memory of childhood amongst the rubble of bombed Britain during World War II is moving, funny, and bittersweet.
La Bataille du Rail (Rene Clement, France, 1946) – Completed during the final months of WWII under extremely dangerous conditions, Clement’s film tells the story of French railway workers who bravely battle the Nazis on many fronts, making possible the Allied invasion of 1944.
Army of Shadows (Jean-Pierre Melville, France/Italy, 1969) – Set in German-occupied Lyons during WWII, this tragic, highly-atmospheric picture concerns a French Resistance fighter who is betrayed by an informer and sent to a prison camp, where he awaits the Gestapo.
Safe Conduct (Bertrand Tavernier, France, 2001) – Bertrand Tavernier’s passionate, energetic film is an intense, sprawling look at the French film industry during the WWII German occupation of France.
The Beehive (Mario Camus, Spain, 1982) – A poverty-stricken Madrid during World War II sets the stage for this ensemble drama following the seemingly random intersections of lives in a cafe and brothel.
Black Book (Paul Verhoeven, Netherlands, 2006) – Verhoeven’s thriller follows the struggles of a Jewish seductress who joins the Dutch resistance after her family is killed by the Nazis.
The Winter War (Pekka Parikka, Finland, 1990) – This grueling film is the first made about the tenacious Finnish soldiers who defended the borders of their tiny country against the Soviet Red Army during World War II.
Das Boot (Wolfgang Petersen, Germany, 1981) – The claustrophobic life on a German U-Boat during wartime is depicted in this riveting drama.
The Boat Is Full (Markus Imhoof, Germany, 1981) – A raw but potent tale of courage in the face of adversity, this drama follows a group of Jewish refugees desperately seeking asylum in Switzerland during WWII.
The Last Bridge (Helmut Kautner, Austria, 1954) – The winner of the Special Jury Prize at Cannes in 1954 tells the story of a German doctor, taken captive by Yugoslavian partisans during World War II, who learns that the suffering of war is universal.
Forbidden Songs (Ludwik Starski, Poland, 1947) – The first movie made in post-WWII Poland is a stirring tale of heroic underground fighters, their lives and deaths, and those things which sustained them in their struggle for freedom.
Kanal (Andrzej Wajda, Poland, 1957) – Wajda’s near hallucinatory film follows Polish citizens and patriots who attempt to flee the Nazis through the sewer system of a war-devastated Warsaw.
Ashes and Diamonds (Andrzej Wajda, Poland, 1958) – Wajda’s brilliant statement on the conflict of idealism and instinct is the story of a resistance fighter who assassinates the wrong man at the close of the war.
Rose’s Songs (Andor Szilagyi, Hungary, 2003) – In this award-winning look at World War II Budapest, a Jewish family hides out from Nazi occupancy with an opera singer whose beautiful voice is said to protect all from capture.
Fateless (Lajos Koltai, Hungary, 2005) – Legendary cinematographer Lajos Koltai’s directorial debut is the account of a 14-year-old Jewish boy from Budapest who is swept into the horror and turmoil of WWII.
Ivan’s Childhood (Andrei Tarkovsky, USSR, 1962) – This early feature from Tarkovsky is a beautiful work set during WWII about a young orphan enlisted as a spy for the Soviet army.
Come and See (Elem Klimov, USSR, 1985) – Set in occupied Byelorussia in 1943, this towering film follows a teen into the swamps and forests of the border provinces, where he undergoes a hell of atrocities as he tries to survive the carnage.
Double Circle (Nikola Tanhofer, Yugoslavia, 1963) – The efforts of the Yugoslavian underground resistance during World War II are realistically dramatized in this compelling feature.
The Coward (Jiri Weiss, Czechoslovakia, 1962) – Set in a remote Slovak village during the waning days of World War II, Jiri Weiss’ film is a probing moral study of heroism.
Open City (Roberto Rossellini, Italy, 1945) – In this key film of Italian Neo-Realism, shot largely during the Nazi occupation of Rome, two resistance leaders—one a Communist, the other a priest—work toward weakening the German occupation.
Two Women (Vittorio De Sica, Italy, 1961) – Sophia Loren won an Academy Award for her portrayal of a mother ravaged by war as she and her 13-year old daughter become the focus of attack by retreating German soldiers.
Days of Glory (Rachid Bouchareb, Algeria/France, 2006) – The liberation of France from Nazi occupation as told through the valor and sacrifices of four North African enlistees is the focus of this Oscar-nominated film.
Alexandria…Why? (Youssef Chahine, Egypt, 1978) – Egypt’s master director brings humanity and sensitivity to this drama about a young bank clerk who struggles with issues of national identity and personal freedom as Rommel’s army approaches at the height of World War II.
Distant Thunder (Satyajit Ray, India, 1974) – Satyajit Ray creates a moving dramatization of the effects of famine in India during World War II, when the government controlled the food supply in order to feed troops, letting common people starve.
Men Behind the Sun (T.F. Mou, Hong Kong, 1989) – This shocking, gory, Mondo-style docudrama is a horrifying account of Japan’s grotesque human experiments during World War II.
Devils on the Doorstep (Wen Jiang, China, 2000) – This Cannes award-winner is a sweeping look at life in a Chinese village under Japanese occupation during WWII, in which the villagers must decide what to two prisoners left by Japanese soldiers.
Rhapsody in August (Akira Kurosawa, Japan, 1991) – Kurosawa’s moving drama, set in Nagasaki, explores the trauma of World War II and the aftereffects of the atomic bomb.
Japan’s Longest Day (Kihachi Okamoto, Japan, 1967) – Broadcast in Japan every August 15th, this powerful docudrama chronicles the harrowing hours following the detonation of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Forty Thousand Horsemen (Charles Chauvel, Australia, 1941) – The fighting Anzacs battle the evil German war machine in the deserts of North Africa in this Australian World War II movie.
Head to Facets online for the complete list.
– Phil Morehart