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Categories: Features

In no particular order, we count down our picks for the best post-war films of all time; spanning conflicts from the 19th century to the modern day.

It’s a fascinating frame for a story but there are surprisingly few films that deal with the aftermath of war, most dealing with the latter years of a conflict rather than their epilogues.

This list defines a post-war film as a film either set during an immediate post-war period or a film which depicts people reassessing, or living with the direct consequences of, a war after-the-fact; as opposed to a film simply made in a post-war period.

 

Shoah

War: Second World

Claude Lanzmann’s nine-hour-plus documentary took over a decade to compile, interviewing survivors and witnesses of The Holocaust for posterity and to put the most human face on the most inhuman of actions. An incomparable, enveloping and truly heartbreaking experience.

 

The Hateful Eight

War: American Civil

Quentin Tarantino condenses the American Civil War into a small cabin during a blizzard and things get about as ugly as you’d expect. Samuel L. Jackson gives voice to a more fearless, and unambiguous, representation of racism in American cinema that has gone on to become the norm.

 

The Best Years of Our Lives

War: Second World

Just over a year after the end of the war, William Wyler’s hugely popular, and intimate, drama explored the troubles of three veterans reintegrating into society. Sentimental but masterful. It swept the Oscars with Best Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay and Score.

 

Life and Nothing But

War: First World

A Major attempts to calculate the dead amongst the wreckage, and confusion, of post-war France as the nation prepares to honour The Unknown Soldier. Passions run high among the surviving soldiers and the bereaved still searching for answers as the point of the war comes into question.

 

The Spirit of the Beehive

War: Spanish Civil

Víctor Erice’s allegorical film of, freshly Francoist, Spain mostly comes up in conversation these days as a primary influence on Guillermo del Toro’s hugely popular, also excellent, post Spanish Civil War fable Pan’s Labyrinth but it deserves to be seen on its own merits. A muted, but lasting, experience.

 

The Third Man

War: Second World

Carol Reed’s hugely entertaining noir, in the bombed out streets of Vienna, is perhaps the most well-known, and still enjoyable, of the immediate post-WW2 detective tales of guilt and moral ambiguity. Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles and Graham Greene, all in their prime, is one tough act to beat.

 

Route Irish

War: Iraq

Similar to Paul Greengrass’ Green Zone, Ken Loach’s Route Irish processes the guilt, and anger, felt in the wake of the withdrawal of coalition forces from Iraq via the detective thriller genre as two Liverpudlian military contractors bring the crimes, and the terror, of the war back home with them.     

 

The Good German

War: Second World

Steven Soderbergh recreates the glamour of golden era Hollywood, with George Clooney and Cate Blanchett standing like perfect monuments in the ruins of Berlin but pulls no punches with sex, violence and a psychotic Tobey Maguire. A deeper, darker and realer take on Casablanca.

 

Rolling Thunder

War: Vietnam

Paul Schrader’s other story of a violently unadjusted Vietnam veteran, released the year after Taxi Driver, finds William Devane and Tommy Lee Jones as returning POWs at the close of the war when a gruesome home invasion sets off a grindhouse revenge road trip. Stick around for the climax.

 

Dheepan

War: Sri Lankan Civil

Jacques Audiard’s Palme d’Or winner explores having to flee your own country, and the aftermath of civil war, from the perspectives of three strangers who must pretend to be a family in order to make it from Sri Lanka to France. An equally violent, and tender, take on the human will to fight.

 

Hiroshima Mon Amour

War: Second World

Alain Resnais’ beautifully miserable journey through two very different perspectives of the second world war, told by two separating lovers, redefined the French New Wave and the rest of cinema along with it. A haunting meditation on the scars of war and the futility of memory.

 

Hostiles

War: Cheyenne

With the West all but won, Christian Bale’s incredibly grizzled career soldier is tasked with taking a former Cheyenne war chief, his once mortal enemy, from New Mexico to his tribal lands in Montana. Forgiveness becomes the theme of their journey across an America ravaged by violence.

 

I Live in Fear

War: Second World

Akira Kurosawa’s familial drama, about an industrial magnate’s steady decline into debilitating paranoia over nuclear armageddon, may not be his most memorable collaboration with Toshiro Mifune but it is a more grounded, and equally timeless, expression of Japan’s Godzilla feelings.

 

Resurrected

War: Falklands

Paul Greengrass makes his dislike of authority very clear in his first feature film as David Thewlis’ small town English soldier miraculously comes home from the war only to discover the awful truth that, sometimes, soldiers are considered to be worth more when they’re dead.

 

Heimat

War: First and Second World

Edgar Reitz’s epic tome of modern Germany centres around a small, fictional, village as it moves throughout the post-WW1 period, through WW2 and up to the 80s. Technically, the entire film series is over fifty-nine hours long but don’t worry, the original Heimat is a mere fifteen and a half.

 

13 Hours

War: Libyan Civil

Michael Bay portrays warfare the only way he knows how (loud, confusing and emotionally distressing) which might make it one of the most accurate films on the subject ever made; capturing every ounce of stupidity from one of the dumbest moments in modern American foreign policy.

 

Ida

War: Second World

Paweł Pawlikowski’s Oscar-winning film explores forgiveness, and mercy, in post-war Poland and doesn’t find a tremendous amount of it. It’s a beautifully-shot drama about unspeakable acts, the regimes that follow them, and how they transform the country and the generations of people within it.

 

First Blood

War: Vietnam

Sylvester Stallone’s other defining character that begins with an R was born out of his sympathy for veterans before becoming a, highly profitable, power fantasy; which is probably why he spared his life in contradiction with the original novel and screenplay. Well, that and test audience reactions.

 

The Marriage of Maria Braun

War: Second World

In what is often called his most accessible film, Rainer Werner Fassbinder puts the nation of Germany into one woman and follows her throughout the immediate post-war period as the country reconstructs itself; finding new liberation but mostly pain, indignity, humiliation and discontentment.

 

Germany, Year Zero

War: Second World

In terms of films in the immediate post-war period that showed the desolation of Berlin, you’re unlikely to find a better example than Rossellini’s final entry in his second world war trilogy. Originally despised for its bleakness, especially in Germany, it’s gained respect as a brutal social document.

 

 

Mark Birrell

Mark is the editor of The Spread as well as a copywriter, and lifelong cinephile, who received his bachelors in Film and Comparative Literature from the University of London. You can follow him on Twitter @markwbirrell

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Posted on Nov 11, 2018

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