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20 Great Anarchist Movies That Are Worth Your Time

18 April 2015 | Features, Film Lists | by Brian Bergen-Aurand

naked

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of films that address the themes of anarchism—some favorably (like most the films listed here) and some unfavorably. There are, as well, dozens of respected lists of “anarchist films.”

While almost every recent list of films and anarch thought lists V for Vendetta, one version or another of the story of Sacco and Vanzetti, and (disappointingly) either The Matrix or Avatar, this list eschews such titles. Rather, these are twenty films that in their anarchic form and/or content engage in “the conscious creation of situations,” to appropriate Guy Debord.

The films raise more questions than they answer regarding leadership and decision making, hierarchies and egalitarianism, autonomy and heteronomy, equity and coercion, genre and storytelling, and intersections among race, class, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality. Such complexity, provocation, and affect make these films especially noteworthy.

 

20. The Anarchist Cookbook (USA, 2002)

The Anarchist Cookbook (USA, 2002)

“We might not know what we’re for, but we know what we’re against.” Not so much an anarchist film as a hyper-individualist, chaos-driven narrative about a group of drop outs whose motto might be summed up as “Life is just a game,” The Anarchist Cookbook raises the issue of how to make films about anarchism without becoming cartoonish renderings of coercive cinema.

On the surface, this drama / romantic comedy is not about anarchist as much as it is about ill-conceived images of anarchists as counter cultural bufoons without focus.

More seriously, though, for our purposes here, a counter reading of the film calls into question mainstream images of anarchism and asks us to reconsider how the social tensions tweaked by such characters as Beavis and Butthead, Bill and Ted, and The Sweathogs might present more than meets the eye in terms of radical critiques of race, class, and social hierarchies.

 

19. What to Do in Case of Fire? (Germany, 2001)

What to Do in Case of Fire

Comedy about anarchism is difficult, in part, because comedy has to take its subject seriously. While What to do in Case of Fire takes on the interesting issue of what happens to young radicals years after they have settled into the system, it only half-manages to take its subject seriously enough to be comedic.

This film about former would-be revolutionaries accidentally pulled back into the fray is worth a look for the situation it describes and the few jokes it delivers. However, its reliance on sentiment and stereotype impede it developing authentic targets, such as are found in the best work of Chaplin and the Marx Brothers.

 

18. The Assassination of Trotsky (Italy/France/UK, 1972)

The Assassination of Trotsky

The Assassination of Trotsky was once voted one of the worst fifty films ever made, and in a 1972 New York Times review, Roger Greenspun referred to it as, “a very odd project indeed,” but one of director Joseph Losey’s which he preferred.

The film is a reenactment of the final months of Trotsky’s life beginning on May Day, 1940, in Mexico and is based on books, diaries, and journals about and by the Bolshevik-Leninist agitator and founder of the Red Army. Thus, it bears the weight of a certain history that is both heavily staged and cinematographically compelling.

 

17. Naked (UK, 1993)

Naked

Mike Leigh’s film is a controversial choice for this list. The rough story of Johnny (David Thewlis) escaping Manchester after he rapes a woman and is threatened by her family does not address community, direct action, or larger political movements against elite or coercive authorities. Yet, the film does provide a blunt critique of any “work ethic” and an assault on middle and working class morality.

After the opening crime, the anti-hero flees to London, where he avoids associating (let alone connecting) humanely with almost anyone and refuses to engage in work or constructive activity.

In sometimes lengthy speeches, he harangues those around him and accuses everyone of being bored and says that is the problem because he is never bored, never needs to be doing anything productive to pass the time. His special target is the women he encounters. The film remains ambiguous about the causes (political and/or social) behind Johnny’s anti-conformity and anti-humanist outlook, prompting viewers to consider him carefully.

 

16. The Anarchists (South Korea/China, 2000)

The Anarchists

Directed by Yoo Young-sik and written by Lee Moo-young and Bangnidamae, The Anarchists is not as much an anarchist film as a film about the use of anarchism for nationalist aims. Set in 1920s Shanghai, the film recounts the activities of a group of young Koreans trying to destabilize Japanese control of their penninsula. Through an anti-occupation terrorist campaign, the five men hope to inspire a resurrection throughout their penninsular homeland.

The film addresses the ambivalence, violence, betrayal, and economic uncertainty that are themes in most such stories. Interestingly here, after “the anarchist” lose their financial backing, they turn to street crime and gambling.

Thus, the film raises issues about the connections between crime and terrorism not always broached in other cinematic depictions of direct political action and counter action. In its look and feel, The Anarchists deploys a mise-en-scéne similar to the one Ang Lee develops in his 2007 film about Chinese nationalist insurgency in Lust, Caution.

 

15. The Anarchist’s Wife (Germany/Spain/France, 2008)

MCDANWI EC014

Set during and after the Spanish Civil War and World War II, this film directed by Marie Noelle and Peter Sehr and written by Noelle and Ray Loriga is one of the few films addressing anarchism written, directed, and produced (Marie Noelle) by a woman.

It depicts the story of a woman and her family as they struggle to reconnect with her husband who fought against Franco’s forces, was caputured and deported to a concentration camp, and was unable to contact anyone for years.

The film is important for its engagement with personal and familial elements of anarchist and resistance warfare, for telling stories about the lives of those left behind—especially women and children. While The Anarchist’s Wife does portray its separate spheres in terms of a gendered binary—the man fights / the woman stays behind—it also takes the time to reconnect the “action” of the front to the “long-suffering” of the ones left behind the lines.

In this light, the film recalls especially Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979), about a wife who is not allowed to connect with her husband until it is too late for either of them. Comparing the two films, one can begin to see a more subtle gender politics at play in both.

 

 

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  • Seth Derrick

    How could you miss Slacker?!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Muo5o2xeq0w

  • Gordon Knox

    Alexander the Great isn’t actually about the historical Macedonian ruler, but another Megalexandros – a King Arthur-like folk hero from the days when Greece was under Turkish domination in the 15th century. Apart from that, great list with a number of interesting looking films, many of which I’m not familiar with

  • Klaus Dannick

    Naked is amazing. I’m in a dazed funk for days every time I watch it.

    • Shamim Heshmi

      that scene where he explains about god and refers bible

      • Trev

        It’s not easy, is it? Do you find that?

  • Nervenzusammenbruch

    Sacco & Vanzetti (1971)

    • Kimon Sklavounos

      Seriously tho, how could they forget that?!

      • Rick Casey

        Probably because it stinks as a film, borderline unwatchable

        • Dave

          So is The Assasination of Trotsky which made the list, but I accept the writer’s defense of it

    • Lee kowalski Walker

      You didn’t read the introduction to the list where they explained the reasoning behind their choices.

  • Agnimitra Sharma

    Fight Club?

  • Fabio_the_fisherman

    Those are all great movies (except Land and Freedom), but what about If…. ?

    • Ron Leighton

      Land and Freedom was great. Why didn’t you like it?

      • Fabio_the_fisherman

        I always have problems with movies pretending to be historically accurate, when they aren’t.

        It’s been a long time since i saw it, though. I can’t really remember what particular point bothered me, i’m afraid.

        • Almenar

          May be you’re a fucking M-L…

          • Fabio_the_fisherman

            M-L ? You mean marxist-leninist ? I’m far from it. I’m just an historian.

          • David Christian

            Land and Freedom isn’t about anarchists. The film clearly identifies the central character and the militia unit he fought with as affiliated with the POUM, Party of Marxist Unification, a Leninist group that had split from Trotsky’s Left Opposition. They opposed the Stalinists and allied with the anarco-syndicalist CNT but that did not make them anarchists.

        • Ron Leighton

          Because it showed the duplicity and counterrevolutionary spirit of the Stalinists?

          • Fabio_the_fisherman

            Once and for all: my political opinions are my own problems but this have nothing to do with my appreciation of this movie. I am an historian. I can dissociate my own view of the world from what i study. It’s a prerequisite. I just don’t like it when someone alter facts for defending an opinion, if they present it as historically accurate. I don’t really remember what bothered me when i saw the movie. It was something about the may days of 1937, i think. Not sure…

          • Ron Leighton

            How is the movie inaccurate?

          • Fabio_the_fisherman

            As i said, i don’t remember. I saw the movie when it was in theaters. It was a long time ago.

          • Ron Leighton

            I’m curious. Too bad you don’t remember. Maybe it is time to re-watch it.

  • Guest

    How could you miss Land and Freedom???

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQXAU-P8Avo

    • Alkis3

      Check #5…

  • Filip Arsov

    Chaplin’s “A King in New York”, “If…”…

  • David R Velasquez

    You missed the films …The King of Hearts (1966) when inmates of an insane asylum take over a town …or Harold and Maude, or Derek Jarman’s ‘Jubilee’ or Sergei Eisenstein’s ‘Battleship Potemkin Mutiny’ , or Michaelangelo Antonioni’s ‘Zabriskie Point’ or Michael Wilson’s 1954 film ‘Salt Of The Earth’ ….not to mention ‘Steal This Movie’ (2000) the film about Abbie Hoffman

    • Alkis3

      ‘Salt Of The Earth’ actually tops the list!!!

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  • Dilsexico

    What about “Libertarias”? Great film about anarchist women fighting fascism in the spanish civil war
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZXNoFZHJx30

    • itsmemario

      ummmm but he didnt miss it

      • Dilsexico

        true, I missed the 2nd page

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  • Adam Kossoff

    Glauber Rocha’s films are the closest I’ve seen to arnarchist content and in some respects form. Jean Vigo was an anarchist. Bunuel’s Land Without Bread was produced by an well-known anarchist. From Wiki: “I was able to film Las Hurdes thanks to Ramon Acin, an anarchist from Huesca,…who one day at a cafe in Zaragoza told me, ‘Luis, if I ever won the lottery, I would put up the money for you to make a film.’ He won a hundred thousand pesetas…

  • David R Velasquez

    Luis Bunuel’s ‘Exterminating Angel’

  • glebsky

    The Assassination of Trotsky is a great film, but I don’t get what is so anarchist about Bolshevism.

    Naked is the only really anarchist film on the list. Most of the selection is boring epic leftist tearjerkers serving the Western bourgeois’ catharsis. What a bunch of amateurs. I second to those wishing to see Fight Club, Antonioni and If…. Really, how could you miss If….??????

    • Cole Robert Heideman

      Fight club is about fascism. A group of violent anti capitalist men have fraternal brotherhood so strong that their individual identity is subsumed by the group (Robert Paulson).

  • Robert O’Meara

    What about Battle in Seattle, The East and The Edukators

  • Bogdan Colpacci

    how could you forget “If…” ?

  • Danica Popović

    great site for political film lovers http://politfilm.com/

  • Ramtin KaZemi

    No fight Club? are you serious?

    • Cole Robert Heideman

      Fight club is about fascism.

  • Andy Schmarten

    The Baader Meinhof Complex

    • Cole Robert Heideman

      This is a good one

  • Andy Schmarten

    The Battle of Algiers.

  • ton

    The French film Themroc by director Claude Faraldo. Featuring Michel Picoli. “Made on a low budget with no intelligible dialog Themroc tells the story of a French blue collar worker who rebels against modern society, reverting into an urban caveman. The film’s scenes of incest and cannibalism earned it adults-only ratings.” (thank you Wikipedea) A man who leaves his job, tears out the facade of his rental flat and goes out at night to hunt and then eat policemen seems pretty anarchist to me.

    • Vassia P.

      Yes! Themroc

  • Mizal Ezra

    Lots of new ones Ive never heard about in this list. Thanks a lot. Will check them out. BTW I think Clockwork Orange is another good anarchist movie.

  • Vassia P.

    Sweet movie!!!! by Dusan Makavejev

  • vagabond

    Hey my film isn’t here… MACHETERO a true anti-imperialist 3rd Cinema film and the first APOC (Anarchist People Of Color) feature film (and possibly only) ever made… 😛
    http://vimeo.com/ondemand/machetero

  • Rick Casey

    Viva Maria! (1965) Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Moreau, Belle Epoque (1992)

  • pirsquared

    what about Salvador (Puig Antich)? the last anarchist executed in spain

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  • Piet Bess

    canwe have just the list, please, plain text, all in one place?

  • Dimitri Poenaru

    Fight Club?

    • Cole Robert Heideman

      is about fascism

  • frozengoatsheadupanunsarse

    Sweet Movie, one might argue.

  • Dave

    No Bunuel? If you haven’t seen any of his work then you’re in for a real treat

  • Dave

    I would say Matewan is about as far as a anarchist film as you can get. It’s about the power of organizing together and being part of a collective

  • Txus

    Die Welle , Suburbia

  • Ninad Antar

    “If…” dir. Lindsay Anderson, “Love and anarchy” dir. Lina Wertmüler, Buñuel’s “That obscure object of desire”, The discreet charm of the burgeoisie” and many others by him.

  • Plamen Kopriva

    The Nine Lives of nestor Makhno/Девять жизней Нестора Махно (2006)

    https://libcom.org/forums/general/makhno-movie-21082012

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revolutionary_Insurrectionary_Army_of_Ukraine