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Political Film


Political Film:

Form and Conflict

(20 CAT Module)


Module Convenor: Dr. Des O’Rawe


Office: Room 03.002: 22 University Sq., Tel: 02890973677

Consultation Hours: Tues, 11-1pm, or by appointment



Aims and Objectives


In studying the relations between film and political conflict, this module examines how images – representations– of society have competed for significance at different historical moments. How has film language been extended and transformed by the pressure of contemporary ideological commitments and political circumstances? How effective are different aesthetic approaches to political filmmaking (propagandistic, realistic, allegorical, satirical, essayistic, avant-garde, etc.)? Is it ever possible for filmmakers to articulate an authentically radical – dissident, even – political vision by means of conventional and essentially conservative film forms? Does a corrupt polity or repressive state necessarily discredit films made under its influence, or auspices? How important are filmmaking groups or collectives to the ideological integrity of political cinema? How important is the distribution history of a particular film to an assessment of its political significance? How has the cinema been influenced by other political art forms (painting, posters, music, theatre, photography, sculpture, poetry, etc.), and how do these aesthetic intersections encourage new forms and technologies of political filmmaking?

            While seminar discussions will normally centre on a specific film screening, or screening of sequences from several films, you are expected to view supplementary films each week, and complete the relevant recommended reading prior to each seminar.

You are also encouraged to familiarise yourself generally with the work of some the following filmmakers: Sergei Eisenstein, Esfir Shub, Dziga Vertov, Roberto Rossellini, Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, Fernando Solanas, Octavio Getino, Jean Renoir, Luis Buñuel, Agnès Varda, Gillo Pontecorvo, Joris Ivens, Nagisa Oshima, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Margarethe von Trotta, Ousmane Sembene, Frederick Wiseman, Jean-Luc Godard, Chris Marker, Santiago Alvarez, Yvonne Rainer, Amos Gitai, Luchino Visconti, Dusan Makavejev, Patricio Guzman, Chantal Akerman, and Glauber Rocha.

Learning Outcomes


Upon successful completion of the module, students should be able to demonstrate:

  1. a detailed understanding of the role of political filmmaking in conflict and post-conflict societies, with particular emphasis on issues such as: propaganda, realism, allegory, satire, documentary, dramatisation, the film-maker as political activist, and the ideological roles of cinema and the visual arts more generally.
  2. the ability to analyse in depth the aesthetic and cultural relations between cinema and political and social conflict;
  3. a clear understanding of the various critical approaches to the relationship between cinema and political conflict;
  1. research, organise, and present (in both oral and written forms) cogent and informed critical arguments that relate to relevant issues and debates;
  2. develop enhanced understanding of the visual, audio and verbal conventions through which images, sounds and words make meaning, and apply this understanding when reflecting on creative practice;
  3. develop enhanced generic skills in written, oral and visual communication.


Teaching and Assessment


Teaching will be through weekly 4-hour seminar


Assessment Tasks


  1. 1.    1,500-word written sequence analysis (40%):


  1. 2.   2,500-word written essay (60%):





Topic and Screening/s

Readings/Supplementary Films



What is (not) a Political Film?


Focus Film:

Battle of Algiers/La battaglia di Algeri (Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966, 120 mins.)


Suggested Readings

Prochaska (2003): 133-149.

Chanan (2007): 38-40.

Wayne, Political Film, pp. 5-24.

Supplementary Films

Christ Stopped at Eboli/Cristo si è fermato a Eboli (Francesco Rosi, 1979, It., 150 mins.)

Z (Costa-Gavras, 1969, Alg./Fr., 127 mn.)

Burn!/Queimada (Pontecorvo,1969, It/Fr., 132 mins)




The Politics of Montage



Focus Film:

Battleship Potemkin/Bronenosets Po'tyomkin(Sergei Eisenstein, 1925, 75 mn.)

Suggested Readings

Taylor & Christie, Film Factory, pp.137-143

Eisenstein, Reader, pp. 53-66.

Dickstein (2011): 90-95.

Supplementary Films:

Man With a Movie Camera/Chelovek s kinoapparatom (Dziga Vertov, 1929, USSR, 88mins.)

Three Songs for Lenin/Tri pesni o Lenine (Dziga Vertov, 1934, USSR, 60 mn.)

The General Line (a.k.a. Old and New)/Staroye i novoye (Eisenstein, 1929, USSR, 120 mins.)



Social Commitment and Mise en Scène


Focus Film:

The Crime of Monsieur Lange/Le crime de Monsieur Lange (Jean Renoir, 1936, 80mn.)

Suggested Readings

O’Shaughnessy (2013), in Phillips and Vincendeau (eds.), pp.16-34.

Faulkner, (2000): 27-41.

O'Shaughnessy (2011): 26-44.

Supplementary Films

La Grande Illusion (Jean Renoir, 1937, Fr., 104 mins.)

La Marseillaise (Jean Renoir, 1937, Fr. 120 mins.)

Pépé le moko (Julien Duvivier, 1937, Fr. 94 mins.)



  Realism and Reality: 1


Focus Film:

La terra trema (Luchino Visconti, 1948, It., 160mn.)

Suggested Readings

Nowell-Smith (2003): 29-44.

Rohdie (2008): 520-531.

Supplementary Films:

Paisan/Paisà (Roberto Rossellini, 1946, It.,134 mins.)

Bicycle Thieves/Ladri di biciclette (Vittorio de Sica, 1948, It., 93 mins.)

Rocco and His Brothers/Rocco e i suoi fratelli (Visconti, 1960, It., 177 mins.)



  Realism and Reality: 2


Focus Film:

Los Olvidados/The Forgotten Ones (Luis Buñuel, 1950, Mex., 80 mn.)

Suggested Readings

Moraña, in Companion to Luis Buñuel (2013), pp. 255-275.

Jones (2005):18-31.

Supplementary Films:

Shoeshine/Sciuscià (Vittorio De Sica, 1946, It., 93 mins.)

Land Without Bread/Las Hurdes (Luis Buñuel, 1933, Sp, 28 mins.)

The Exterminating Angel/El ángel exterminador (Luis Buñuel, 1962, Mex., 93 mins.)



1,500-word written sequence analysis (30%)

Submission Date: on/before 6pm, Monday 5th March, 2018



Image, Sound, Politics, and the 1960s: 1



Focus Film:La Chinoise (Jean-Luc Godard, 1967, Fr., 96 mn.)1

Suggested Readings

Williams (2010), 206-218.

Rancière, Film Fables (2006), 143-156.

Supplementary Films:

Weekend/Week-end (Jean-Luc Godard,1967, Fr., 105 min.)

Two or Three Things I Know About Her/2 ou 3 choses que je sais d'elle (Godard, Fr., 1967)

Tout va bien (Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin, 1972, Fr., 95 min.)



Image, Sound, Politics, and the 1960s: 2



Focus Films:LBJ (Santiago Álvarez, 1968, 18 mn.); 79 Springs (Santiago Álvarez, 1969, 25 mn.)

Suggested Readings

Chanan, Cuban Cinema (2003), 210-246.

Mraz, in Burton (ed.), 131-149.

Supplementary Films:

The Hour of the Furnaces/La hora de los hornos (Solanas and Getino, 1968, Arg., 260 mn)

Cuba si (Chris Marker, 1961, 52 min.)

I Am Cuba/Soy Cuba (Mikhail Kalatozov, 1964, Cu./USSR)





Image, Sound, Politics, and the 1960s: 3


Focus Film:A Grin Without a Cat [Le Fond de l'air est rouge/ The Base of the Air is Red] (1977, Fr./UK/Ger., 180 mn.)


Suggested Readings

Alter, Chris Marker (2006), 53-57.

Langford, (2005), 64-73.

Lupton, Chris Marker: Memories of the Future (2005), 36-147.

Supplementary Films:

The Sixth Side of the Pentagon/La sixième face du pentagone (Marker & François Reichenbach,1968, Fr., 27 mins. )

The Last Bolshevik/Le Tombeau d'Alexandre (Marker, 1992, Fr., 120 mins.)




Chile's 9/11 and its Legacy



Focus Film:

Nostalgia for the Light/Nostalgia de la luz(Guzmán, 2010, Cl/Sp/Fr/Ger., 90 mn.)




Suggested Readings

Lopez, in Burton (ed.), 267-288.

Blaine (2013), 114-130.

Rapold (2011), 48-49.

Supplementary Films:

The Battle of Chile: Part One: The Insurrection of the Bourgeosie/La batalla de Chile: La insurrección de la Burguesía(Patricio Guzmán, 1975, Ven/Cu/Fr., 96 mn.)

The Battle of Chile, Part 2: The Coup d'Etat/La batalla de Chile: El golpe de estado (Guzmán 1977, Ven/Cu/Fr., 85 mn.)

The Embassy /L'ambassade (Chris Marker,1973, Fr., 21 mins.)

The Pearl Button/El botón de nácar (Guzmán, 2015, Cl., 82 mins).



Module Conclusions and Future Research Directions: Seminar





2,500-word written essay (60%)

Submission Date: on/before 6pm, Monday 23rd May, 2018





Readings will be made available on QOL module 'Resources' prior to each seminar and an indicative bibliography of critical works is included below. On this document, specific readings and films have been recommended for each seminar but this should not be regarded as a fixed or final list; other texts may be referred to in seminars and the seminars themselves may arrive at different destinations, requiring alternative and additional film and visual examples.


Alter, Nora. Chris Marker. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006.
Blaine, Patrick. ‘Representing Absences in the Postdictatorial Documentary Cinema of

    Patricio Guzmán.’ Latin American Perspectives. 40: 1 (2013): 114-130.
Burton, Julianne. Ed. The Social Documentary in Latin America. Pittsburgh: University of

    Pittsburgh Press, 1990.
Chanan, Mike. Cuban Cinema. Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press 2003. (Qnet)
---. ‘Battle of Algiers and Political Cinema’. Sight & Sound. 17.6 (2007): 38-40.
Dickstein, Morris. ‘Battleship Potemkin and Beyond: Film and Revolutionary Politics. Dissent.

    58.3. 2011.

Eisenstein, Sergei. The Eisenstein Reader. Ed. Richard Taylor. London: BFI, 1998.
Eleftheriadou, Marina. ‘Z and Other Cinematic Tales from the 30-year Greek Civil War.’

    Small Wars & Insurgencies. 26:4 (2015): 616-639.
Faulkner, Christopher. The Social Cinema of Jean Renoir. Princeton: Princeton University 

    Press, 1986.

---. ‘Paris, Arizona; or the Redemption of Difference: Jean Renoir’s Le Crime de Monsieur

    Lange (1935).’ French Film: Texts and Contexts. 2nd ed. Eds. Susan Hayward and Ginette

    Vincendeau. London: Routledge, 2000. 27-41
Jones, Julie. ‘Interpreting Reality: Los olvidados and the Documentary Mode.’ Journal of Film

    and Video. 57. 4 (2005):18-31.
Kosmidou, Eleftheria Rania. European Civil War Films: Memory, Conflict, and

    Nostalgia. London: Routledge, 2012.

Langford, Barry. ‘“So Intensely Historical”: Spectres of Theatre, Phantoms of Revolution in

    Marx and Marker.’ Film Studies. 6 (2005): 64-73.
Lupton, Catherine. Chris Marker: Memories of the Future. London: Reaktion, 2005.
Mazierska, Ewa. 'Framing a Terrorist: The Politics of Representation in Ici et ailleurs (1970–

    1974), Four Lions (2010), and Essential Killing (2010).' Framework: The Journal of Cinema and

    Media. 55.1 (2014): 102-120.

Moraña, Ana. ‘Young Outlaws and Marginal Lives in Latin American Cinema: The

    Landmark of Buñuel’s Los olvidados.’ A Companion to Luis Buñuel. Eds. Rob Stone and Julián

    Daniel Gutiérrez-Albilla. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013. 255-276.

O'Shaughnessy, Martin. ‘Breaking the Circle: Le Crime de Monsieur Lange and the  

    Contemporary Illegibility of the Radical Text’. South Central Review. 28. 3. 2011.

---. ‘Shooting in Deep Time: The mise-en-scène of History in Renoir’s Films of the1930s.

    Blackwell Companion to Jean Renoir. Eds. Alastair Phillips and Ginette Vincendeau. Oxford:

    Wiley-Blackwell, 2012. (Qnet)
Prochaska, David. ‘That Was Then, This is Now: The Battle of Algiers and After’. Radical

    History Review.  85 (2003): 33-149

Rapold, Nicolas. ‘Heaven and Earth’. Film Comment. March-April, 2011. 48-49.

Rancière, Jacques. The Politics of Aesthetics: the Distribution of the Sensible. Trans. G. Rockhill.

    London: Continuum, 2004.

---. Film Fables. Trans. Emiliano Battista. Oxford: Berg, 2006.
---. The Future of the Image. Trans. G. Elliott. London: Verso, 2007.

---. The Intervals of Cinema. Trans. John Howe. London: Verso, 2014.
Rohdie, Sam. ‘Luchino Visconti’s La Terra Trema.’ Journal of Modern Italian Studies. 13.4 (2008):

Wayne, Mike. Political Film: The Dialectics of Third Cinema. London: Pluto, 2001.
Williams, James S. ‘C’est le petit livre rouge/Qui fait que tout enfin bouge’: The Case for

    Revolutionary Agency and Terrorism in Jean-Luc Godard’s La Chinoise.’ Journal of European

    Studies. 40.3. (2010): 206-218.



FLM7012: Political Cinema: Conflict and Form



Assignment: 1: Sequence Analysis (40%)



Answer the questions below.



Word Length: no more than 1,500 words











Write a short comparative essay on the relationship between film language and political commitment in any twoof the films listed below.


You can either choose to focus on the work of a single filmmaker or compare two films by different filmmakers in relation to this question.



Battleship Potemkin/Bronenosets Po'tyomkin(Sergei Eisenstein, 1925, 75 mn.)

The General Line (a.k.a. Old and New)/Staroye i novoye (Eisenstein, 1929, USSR, 120 mn.)

The Crime of Monsieur Lange/Le crime de Monsieur Lange (Jean Renoir, 1936, 80mn.)

La Marseillaise (Jean Renoir, 1937, Fr. 120 mn.)

La terra trema (Luchino Visconti, 1948, It., 160mn.)

Paisan/Paisà (Roberto Rossellini, 1946, 134 mns.)

Los Olvidados/The Forgotten Ones (Luis Buñuel, 1950, Mex., 80 mn.)

The Exterminating Angel/El ángel exterminador (Luis Buñuel, 1962, Mex., 93 mn.)




FLM7012: Political Cinema: Conflict and Form


Assignment: 2: Essay (60%)


Answer the questions below.


Word Length: 2,500 words




Answer any one of the following questions



  1. 1.    ‘[La chinoise] is social thought and the critique of social thought, art and the critique of art’ (James Roy MacBean)


Critically discuss this view of La chinoise, and compare it with any two other Godard films from this period (e.g. Two or Three Things I Know About Her/2 ou 3 choses que je sais d'elle (1967); Weekend/Week-end (1967); One Plus One (Sympathy for the Devil) (1968); Joy of Knowledge/Le gai savoir(1969); Tout va bien (Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin, 1972)




  1. 2.     ‘Santiago Alvarez’s cinema is a gun that destroys and reinvents, and it is to be used only in the service of social change’ (Kristi M. Wilson)


Write an essay on the relations between the cinema of Santiago Alvarez and Cuban politics in the 1960s. In the course of your essay, make detailed reference to at least three Alvarez films.




  1. 3.    A Grin Without a Cat/Le fond de l'air est rouge (1977) is not a lesson in history but a lesson in how history is dismembered and remembered by every generation in its own faulty way.’ (David Sterritt)


Write an essay on Marker’s concept of history in A Grin Without a Cat, paying particular attention to the role images play in ‘dismembering and remembering’ a political past.




  1. 4.     ‘I'm a filmmaker who was very marked by the ways of the dictator. It has remained with me forever. I cannot leave it behind.’ (Patricio Guzmán).


Write an essay on the politics of memory in Guzmàn’s films,  and how his documentary style and preoccupations have evolved in more recent years. In the course of your essay, make detailed reference to the following films: Salvador Allende (Guzmán, 2004); Nostalgia for the Light (Guzmán, 2010), and The Pearl Button/El botón de nácar (Guzmán, 2015).




  1. 5.    Write an essay on one of the following topics:


  1.   i.        Filmmaking and Transitional Justice
  2.  ii.        Sexual Politics and the Non-Narrative Film
  3. Cinema and May '68: Before and After


In the course of your response, you can refer to the work of a filmmaker/s not studied on the course but ensure that you have discussed this aspect of the essay with the module convenor in advance.