Revolution movies

Revolution movies – Hasta la victoria siempre

There are times in human history when top-down oppression over the masses reaches a critical and irreversible point, leading to a revolution in society, as we will see in today’s movies.

Amidst the chaos and violence that often accompanied these revolutions, they were crucial for the evolution and establishment of the fundamental rights and freedoms we cherish today. These rights were not willingly granted by the powerful but were wrested from them by the force of the people.

Not that these stories are necessarily based on reality, but I want to preface this right away. But even from the lies of fiction truth can emerge, indeed many times it is through metaphor that we best understand the real world.

So brace yourselves for the merry-go-round between the various film genres as I usually like to do, moving from dark historical drama to comedy, unbridled and irreverent action or the darker, post-apocalyptic one, or the horror of a dystopian revolution in today’s present with the last movie on the list.

Because even if we don’t know where change will take us, it’s better than lying helpless in the unmovable present.

That said, happy reading, and if you decide to watch these movies, happy viewing!

Viva Zapata! (1952)

Viva Zapata! 1952 movie
Amazon Prime Video

We begin with a 1950s classic directed by the controversial Elia Kazan, beloved for many of his movies and hated by many of his colleagues for caving before the Antamerican Activities Commission during the harsh years of McCarthyism.

However, in this movie, we discuss another revolution: the Mexican peasant movement led by Emiliano Zapata in the early 1900s.

For too long, these peasants have been robbed of their hard work in favor of the landowners of the country’s political and economic elite, often in cahoots with big foreign corporations such as the neighboring U.S. power.

Initially seeking the path of protest and bargaining, Zapata and his men quickly realize that there is no way to deal with President Díaz and the corrupt officers of the police and army.

So, while Zapata and his brother Eufemio raid the wealthy estates of landowners in the south, Pancho Villa moves his men from the north, finally deposing Díaz’s hated reign.

But once the civil war is over, there follows a brief interlude of peace, during which corruption returns stronger than ever and the armed rule of the army takes over, again with the peasants being even poorer and more mistreated than ever.

Kazan tells us a disillusioned slice of aching humanity in a country where justice is only for those with guns or money, so leading the outcasts is this man who cannot even read or write but has the pure and honest heart of a worker.

Unforgettable is the duet between two movie monsters, Marlon Brando and Anthony Quinn, brothers united by the fire of struggle and then divided by the greed of ease and wealth, for a story suspended in time like a fairy tale somewhere between reality and illusion.

Bananas (1971)

Bananas 1971 movie
Amazon Prime Video

After the drama of a true story that caused the suffering and death of so many men and women, we now turn to the hilarious lunacy of a comedy matador like Woody Allen.

Allen writes, directs, and stars in this little masterpiece of the demented (which does not mean stupid, mind you) genre, taking the role of the misunderstood young Fielding Mellish, a young clerk crushed by his days all the same in an unsatisfying job.

So, to escape the monotonous daily routine, at the first opportunity, he falls in love with the beautiful Nancy, a warm idealist and door-to-door saleswoman of political activism against the harsh dictatorship in Bananas.

Love passes and fades, but our little hero cannot forget his beauty, so he travels to this imaginary Latin American country to win her back.

But his trip to Bananas is not a vacation in the sun; finding himself amid a coup d’état where, ironically, he ends up elected as president amidst cheering crowds and traitors behind the scenes ready to take him down.

With this movie, we are talking about a young Woody Allen, still in the early days of his career, who tells us about a revolution that never existed to chronicle the small and large follies of man (and woman) in the modern world.

Not surprisingly, the funniest character is not him but the young and beautiful Louise Lasser, a hypertensive woman busy on a thousand fronts who turns her hysterical and histrionic personality into useless activism made only of facade and no substance.

Not that Allen’s character is any higher on a moral level, even sparking a revolution just because he wants to bed the beautiful girl, closing the circle on a struggle between the sexes where the real enemy, once again, is just ourselves.

Escape from L.A. (1996)

Escape from L.A. 1996 movie
Amazon Prime Video

From Allen’s adorable madness, we move on to the lucid insanity of one of the most iconic characters in 1980s cinema.

We are talking about Jena Plissken, famous escapee from the city/jail of New York in a dystopian 1997 for one of John Carpenter‘s best movies and a genuine revolution in the action genre of all time.

Everyone then dreamed of a sequel for years, but very few liked the way Carpenter decided to release it.

From the ever-eternal New York City night, we move on to sunny California beaches in Los Angeles devastated by earthquakes and become (again) a giant prison for a series of colorful, over-the-top cartoon-like gangs.

The mission this time is no longer to rescue the president but his daughter kidnapped by the revolutionary Cuervo Jones, wannabe-Che-Guevara, who also has in his hands a dangerous device capable of nullifying every technology and weapon of his enemies.

But as usual, it’s tough to make Mr. Plissken swallow orders, who by the end of the movie will indeed give the heave-ho both the army and the rebels, only to start a whole new revolution in his way.

Carpenter tips and doubles down on the humor and choreography of action scenes beyond the limits of believability, deliberately breaking through into the exaggeratedly ridiculous with which to demythologize the character he created.

It is a deconstruction that actually does only good for this new version of Jena, again played by Kurt Russell‘s mocking, ineffable smile, who sails to the beat of flying surf and deadly basketball challenges in the ashes of a society that has now devoured itself.

Unfortunately, the change was too harsh for fans, and the movie flopped resoundingly, but as they say, you can’t make a revolution, even in the movies, without pissing someone off.

Snowpiercer (2013)

Snowpiercer 2013 movie
Amazon Prime Video

Once again, we jump into era and genre by switching to a post-apocalyptic movie where revolution occurs in a society split between the classes of cars and an eternally moving train.

We are talking about the Snowpiercer, humanity’s last refuge to survive the freezing of the face of the Earth, where each character’s social status equals the ticket price they could afford before total extinction.

So those staying in first class are having a great time among shows, caviar, and champagne, while the others have to slog relentlessly to maintain the more affluent lifestyle.

But by dint of swallowing orders, of course, they get indigestion, so young hero Curtis Everett begins a revolution that will wind through the movie to the top of the armored and ultra-protected locomotive.

However, to accomplish the feat, Curtis will have to rout the first-class guards and free from captivity the mysterious Namgoong Minsu, keeper of the train’s innermost secrets.

Sometimes, one wonders if there is a political background behind a movie, but we can avoid the question in the case of this little masterpiece by the brilliant South Korean director Bong Joon-ho.

Indeed, how can one not recognize the obvious metaphor of social classism in a story where humanity differentiates into the classes of a train?

I find this movie even more intriguing than the famous Parasite, which remains splendid, mind you, and is not surprisingly acclaimed in my article on the various Cannes winners.

The director brings along his faithful friend Song Kang-ho, though I was even more impressed by Chris Evans‘s acting performance; after divesting himself of the role of Captain America, Evans proves that he can act great in a role that, by the way, has no shortage of action scenes.

New Order (2020)

Nuevo Orden 2020 movie
Amazon Prime Video

Let’s conclude precisely where we began, in Mexico, for another cinematic revolution and revelation with a movie that shocked the Venice Biennale in 2020.

Once again, the difference between the rich and the poor is more blatant than ever, while poor people, at the end of their strength, revolt in the streets while an esteemed family celebrates a lavish wedding.

These two realities, so close and yet so different, are destined to clash as rebels break into the reception and take everyone hostage, and at the same time, young Marianne, daughter and scion of the family, is seized by the military, who are imposing a coup.

I don’t want to and can’t say any more about the story and these characters, written and directed with lucid and ruthless realism by Michel Franco, a longtime Mexican film producer who has finally risen to stardom.

In every minute of this dramatic human (and inhuman) epic, the cruelty of revenge is wrapped up: the people’s revenge against the state first, and then the state’s revenge on the rebellious people.

There is no honor, freedom, and justice for anyone in this land without masters, just as there are no longer either rich or poor, but only victims of the death machine.

Victims like the poor girl played by Naian González Norvind, who, despite being the most good and idealistic of her arrogant and snobbish family, is precisely the one who will suffer the most ruthless fate.

Directing the movie in an anti-cinematographic and documentary style, Michel Franco chronicles a revolution that never happened but could happen at any place and time.

As with all the titles we have discussed today, indeed, I do not believe that these topics do not concern you in the illusory safety of your domestic walls because war always happens in front of someone’s home.

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