Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube

4 (More) Socialist Movies to Watch During Quarantine

Since millions of workers around the world are currently under quarantine, now is the perfect time for socialists to catch up on the classics of leftwing cinema. Here are four more movies for the lockdown that focus on themes of antifascism, labor, capitalism, and imperialism. 

Shalon van Tine

April 12, 2020
Facebook Twitter Share
Harlan County, USA

The Spirit of the Beehive (Spain, 1973)

Directed by Víctor Erice, The Spirit of the Beehive takes place right after the Spanish Civil War and follows a young girl named Ana who believes that Frankenstein’s monster lives in an abandoned sheepfold in her tiny village. After the Francoist police kill a runaway soldier whom she had befriended, Ana is forced to come to terms with death, a concept she struggles to understand throughout the movie. Unlike other leftist films that function as agitprop, Spirit is much more subtle, clouding its message in symbolic imagery. Since filmmakers could not openly criticize the rightwing government, Erice represents the decay of Spanish society under Francisco Franco by showing the disintegration of family life against a backdrop of barren land and the mindless activity of a beehive. Viewers will likely be more familiar with Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), an antifascist film inspired by Spirit. While Pan’s Labyrinth had the freedom to be more explicit in its political commentary, both films capture the absurdities of violence and war through the eyes of a child. 

Harlan County, USA (United States, 1976)

In Harlan County, USA, Barbara Kopple documents the 1973 coal miners’ strike against the Eastover Coal Company. This small county in Kentucky has a long history of labor conflicts, unfortunately earning the nickname “Bloody Harlan” by the locals. By the 1970s, the union leadership of the United Mine Workers (UMW) had become corrupt, and despite the company’s continued rise in profits, miners only made an average of $25 a day for dangerous work and no medical benefits. After interviewing miners and their families, Kopple reveals how Duke Power (the parent company for Eastover Coal) continued to exploit the workers and refused to provide safe working conditions. The severity of the situation becomes clear when the company hires gunmen to shoot at the strikers and beat up Kopple and her crew. Arguably the most compelling scene is the appearance of socialist activist Florence Reese singing the protest song she penned in 1931, “Which Side Are You On?” and reminding workers in an impassioned speech that they “have nothing to lose but their chains.” 

El Norte (United Kingdom/United States/Mexico, 1983)

During the Cold War era, corporations like the United Fruit Company (UFC) lobbied the U.S. government to crush the Guatemalan Revolution out of fears that it would end the exploitative labor practices that had made the companies so profitable. A U.S.-backed coup instilled a military regime, resulting in a series of rightwing dictatorships in the country. Over the next few decades, this military government tortured and executed thousands of Indigenous and peasant citizens in what was later deemed the “Guatemalan Genocide.” This historical background sets the stage for Gregory Nava’s El Norte, a film about an Indigenous brother and sister who flee the country hoping to escape the violence of the military regime. Using beautiful imagery, Nava’s story illustrates the tragic consequences of capitalism, imperialism, and racism through the perspective of these strong but naïve siblings who have high hopes for their life in “The North.” El Norte functions dialectically: most scenes contain contrasting images (rural versus urban, poverty versus wealth, indigenous versus “civilized”) that ultimately reveal the film’s underlying ideas. After an arduous journey, the siblings discover that life in the U.S. was not what they expected: “They told us that in the North, you could make a lot of money, but they never told us you had to spend so much.” The magic of El Norte lies in its ability warn viewers about the dangers of capitalism and imperialism without ever using that terminology—the story and the visuals make these concepts tangible.

Come and See (Russia, 1985)

Drawing from his childhood experiences, Elem Klimov vividly captures the atrocities of war in his unforgettable film Come and See. The movie is set in Belarus during World War II. The story follows Florya, a young boy with heroic ambitions who witnesses and experiences the devastating horrors of the Nazi occupation. The Nazis carried out unspeakable acts of brutality against Belarussian villagers, effectively annihilating most of their population. These terrors are recreated in the film, as Nazis murder Florya’s family, gangrape a young girl, and burn down villages—all while laughing and taunting their powerless victims. The movie is relentless and difficult to watch, but that is, of course, the point. Klimov wanted his viewers to grasp the level of barbarism and savagery that was experienced on the eastern front, arguing that “This is war! Total horror everywhere. To recreate the sensual image of war, to convey this to the viewer, especially the young viewer who has never seen war, but plays at war. That’s one of the aims of our work.” He achieved his goals, as Come and See is one of the greatest anti-war films in cinema history. 

You might also be interested in: 4 Socialist Movies to Watch During Quarantine

Facebook Twitter Share

Shalon van Tine

Shalon van Tine is a Ph.D. candidate in cultural and intellectual history at Ohio University and an adjunct instructor in history and the humanities at University of Maryland Global Campus. 

Arts

Exploitation in Storytelling: The Conditions of Manga Artists in Japan

Anime and Manga are popular forms of storytelling from Japan that are becoming more and more popular in the West. Here we observe the labor conditions of Manga authors themselves as well as the general labor conditions in Japan.

Carmin Maffea

August 14, 2023

Turning the Greatest Anti-war Novel Ever into Bourgeois Propaganda

All Quiet on the Western Front won four Oscars, and it’s not hard to see why. The production — depicting the horrors of World War I — is spectacular. Yet the producers did not at all understand Erich Maria Remarque’s novel. Spoilers follow.

Nathaniel Flakin

March 16, 2023

Five Years after Ursula K. Le Guin’s Death, We Need Her More Than Ever

Ursula K. Le Guin tended the embers of revolt in a new age of imperialism and counterrevolution. She tasked us with stoking them into a blaze.

Jason Koslowski

January 22, 2023
The cast of "Glass Onion" lounge next to a pool.

Glass Onion: Liberalism’s Dream

Netflix’s new movie, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, is the ruling class’s dream about itself.

Jason Koslowski

January 4, 2023

MOST RECENT

All That's Left, the podcast from Left Voice.

#AllThatsLeftPod: Two Years of War in Ukraine

On this episode of the podcast, we discuss the war in Ukraine after two years, and the continued need for an independent, working-class solution.

Left Voice

February 24, 2024

The Organic Crisis in 2024: This Year’s Election Is a Battle for the Hearts and Minds of U.S. Workers

The battle between Trump and Biden is being shaped by a crisis of the political regime, requiring the intervention of both the judiciary and the union bureaucracy. The battle for the presidency is a battle for the working class and a battle over which approach to imperialism is best for competing with China and reestablishing US hegemony. As usual, the Democrats are taking up the cudgel of democratic rights in order to rally disaffected voters.

Sybil Davis

February 23, 2024

The Tide Is Turning: New Yorkers Are Speaking Out for Palestinian Liberation

Zionists have long wielded their influence and power in New York City, but the anti-zionist movement is finally taking an unapologetic stand against them.

Ana Orozco

February 23, 2024

The United States Is Trapped in the Middle East

As a result of Israel’s offensive on Gaza, the United States is again becoming deeply entrenched in the Middle East. This is a humiliating blow to President Biden, who promised to reassert U.S. imperialism by moving away from direct involvement in the region.

Samuel Karlin

February 22, 2024