World War II in Cinema—Part 1

These are just some of my favourite World War II movies, in no particular order.

Tora Tora Tora
The photo above is a still from the 1970 movie Tora Tora Tora. The 1970 war epic was widely praised by critics and film fans, for how it detailed the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack. Universally considered a classic, the film explores the Japanese preparation for war, U.S. military intelligence trying to decipher enemy communications, and the tragic catastrophe in Hawaii. Perhaps most admirable, the film was directed by filmmakers from both countries—with Toshio Masuda and Kinji Fukasaku shooting the Japanese segments and Richard Fleischer manning the American portion.

Enemy at the Gates
One of the few movies from the perspective of the Red Army, Enemy at the Gates is an epic movie about the Battle of Stalingrad.

Based on William Craig’s 1973 nonfiction book of the same name, Enemy at the Gates chronicles the events surrounding the Battle of Stalingrad in the winter of 1942. The film’s protagonist, Vasily Zaytsev, is based on a real Soviet sniper who tallied 242 kills in four months.

Schindler’s List
A movie that I think should be included in any school’s curriculum is Schindler’s List. Directed by Steven Spielberg, it chronicles the unspeakable liquidation of European Jews during World War II by Nazi Germany. The tragic drama follows the real Holocaust hero, Oskar Schindler and his efforts to save as many unwanted persons as possible by hiring them as workers producing kitchenware in his factory. Armed with the special privilege of the Germans deeming his business essential to the war effort, Schindler protected 1,200 Jews from extermination.

Mr Klein
A woman is examined by a male doctor. Middle-aged and afraid, she stands naked in his office, her arms crossed over her breasts. A nurse sits nearby, taking notes of what the doctor says. His manner is brisk, like that of a farmer buying a horse. He grasps the patient’s head, swivels it this way and that, and opens her mouth to inspect the gums. Her nostrils are measured, as is the distance between her nose and her lips. The doctor checks her hairline and pronounces it “low.” He orders her to walk and declares that she has flat feet. “Based on morphological and behavioural data, the person examined could well belong to the Semitic race,” he concludes. She gets dressed and asks how much she owes. The cost of her humiliation is fifteen francs.

Such are the opening minutes of Mr Klein, which is set in France in 1942. Very few films begin with this peremptory power.

Soldaat van Oranje (Soldier of Orange)
Although I am a proud Dutchman, I have to admit that I am not a great fan of Dutch movies. However, when it comes to World War II movies, no one does it better than the Dutch.

Soldaat van Oranje had a budget of ƒ 5,000,000 (€2,300,000), at the time the most expensive Dutch movie ever. With 1,547,183 viewers, it was the most popular Dutch film of 1977. The film received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Foreign Language Film in 1980. At the 1999 Netherlands Film Festival, it was voted the second-best Dutch film of the twentieth century.

The film was released under the name Survival Run in the U.K.

This film depicts World War II through the eyes of several Dutch students. It follows them through the beginning of the war, the Nazi occupation and the liberation. Directed and co-written by Paul Verhoeven and produced by Rob Houwer, starring Rutger Hauer and Jeroen Krabbé. The film is set around the German occupation of the Netherlands during World War II and shows how individual students have different roles in the war. The story is based on the autobiographical book Soldaat van Oranje by Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema.




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