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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: February 9, 2010 @ 9:30 pm

    Best Political Film

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    The issue of nation-building is an important one for any society seeking to overcome major problems such as racial division, economic collapse, class differences, etc., etc.We are on this earth for only a short time and must work together if we are to cope with the difficulties that face us.

    Perhaps Ireland is not an example of remarkable social solidarity at the moment but such cohesion as exists may help us meet our current economic and social challenges.

    The problem of creating a single “Rainbow Nation” out of the warring blacks and whites of South Africa was a problem that confronted Nelson Mandela when he was elected president in the first democratic vote in 1994.

    One of the means he chose was to unite blacks and whites in support of the Springboks, the South African rugby team. As a young fella I joined in the huge protest against a visit by the then-all-white team to Dublin in 1970.

    As Clint Eastwood’s film Invictus points out, black South Africans would actually cheer for other countries who were playing against the Springboks, who were seen as symbols of white supremacy and apartheid.

    Eastwood’s approach to race relations in Gran Torino gave rise to a lively discussion on the blog last year. I think few could complain about Invictus in this regard (I may be wrong!)

    I watched the film in Belfast last night. On my way out, I realised it had been two and a half hours long. The cinema was pretty full and no doubt there was  fair mix of Catholics and Protestants, many of them rugby-fans.

    I wonder did any of them draw any lessons from the film for Northern Ireland which is at yet another crossroads in the relationship between the two communities?

    Morgan Freeman’s portrayal of Mandela is remarkable: an Oscar-winner, if there is any justice in the world. Full marks also to Matt Damon in the role of the South African rugby captain, leading his team into the World Cup. Go and see Invictus and tell me what you think. Has there been a better political film in recent years?

    Incidentally, the W.E. Henley poem, “Invictus”, which inspired Mandela during his lengthy stay in prison, was also a favourite of the executed Oklahoma bomber, Timothy McVeigh – one of the Irish-Americans we don’t talk about much, for obvious reasons. Apparently Gordon Brown likes it too. Here are the words:

    Out of the night that covers me,
    Black as the pit from pole to pole,
    I thank whatever gods may be
    For my unconquerable soul.

    In the fell clutch of circumstance
    I have not winced nor cried aloud,
    Under the bludgeonings of chance,
    My head is bloody, but unbowed.

    Beyond this place of wrath and tears
    Looms but the Horror of the shade,
    And yet the menace of the years
    Finds and shall find me unafraid.

    It matters not how strait the gate,
    How charged with punishment the scroll,
    I am the master of my fate:
    I am the captain of my soul.

    • robespierre says:

      If you are talking politics in the rawest purest sense then there is no question in my mind that The Candidate is the best political film I have ever seen. It captures campaign planning and campaign life perfectly. The nuts and bolts of which have only been added to with the Internet. Much of the rest remains as it was in the early 1970′s.

      Honourable mentions to last year’s wonderfully over the top Il Divo about Andreotti and Alan J Pakula’s All the President’s Men which is political if not entirely about politics.

    • Simon McGuinness says:

      If you liked Invictus you might like to read: ”How Far We Slaves Have Come” The speeches of Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro in Cuba in 1991, published by Pathfinder Press. They were never reported in any western newspaper.

      The only victorious foreign army ever to leave Africa taking only the bones of its fallen was the Cuban army.

      “Cubans came to our region as doctors, teachers, soldiers, agricultural experts, but never as colonizers. They have shared the same trenches with us in the struggle against colonialism, underdevelopment, and apartheid. Hundreds of Cubans have given their lives, literally, in a struggle that was, first and foremost, not theirs but ours. As Southern Africans we salute them. We vow never to forget this unparalleled example of selfless internationalism.” – South Africa president Nelson Mandela addresses Cuba solidarity conference in South Africa, The Militant, Vol. 59, no. 39, 23 October 1995


      The South African archives have recently been opened revealing in detail the negations which lead to the establishment of the interim government of South Africa after the defeat of the racist army in Angola and Namibia. They are as hair-raising as they are interesting – a rich vein for anyone with an interest in the period. A book awaits – and probably another film – any interest Deaglán?

    • Deaglán says:

      Yes, I liked The Candidate at the time. All the President’s Men very good too, A personal favourite is A Voice in the Crowd, excellent portrayal of a radio demagogue, not that we have any of those in Ireland of course!


      Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers is a remarkable work although it might be seen as giving aid and comfort to terrorism.

      On a lighter and non-political note, the recent death of director Eric Rohmer reminded me of the time I went to see Chloe in the Afternoon at the now-defunct Grafton Cinema in Dublin. The hero is a married man who spends a great deal of time lusting after the heroine but, when he gets a chance to gratify his lust, he adheres to his marriage vows. Two “Dubs” in the row in front of me were watching this in amazement and when the hero failed to take his chance, one of them shouted the politically-incorrect message at the screen: “You’re bleedin’ bent!” :-)

    • Blimey O'Riley says:

      @ 2 Castro…Cuba…Deaglan…? You cannot be serious…! However being slightly ‘Pink’ I am desperate to go to Cuba before Castro dies and the Havana becomes another cultural desert worshipping at the alter of the ubiquitous ‘Golden Arches’…and the ’50′s style icons are destroyed for ever…thanks for reminding me, note to self check flights…!

    • mary says:

      Best and most stylish political film of recent years is, in my view, the Italian movie about the former Italian prime minister Andreotti, Il Divo.

    • robespierre says:

      Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers was re-released a few years ago and I caught it in the IFI. The time I saw it before that was in Tangiers itself.

      It is an immensely powerful film. I lived in France for almost five years and speak French fluently. I also spent a good bit of time researching the dirty war in Algeria and while I agree with you that it is filmed in a manner that (almost) makes terrorism acceptable you cannot but be reminded of Bloody Sunday or other films to do with the north and occupation.

      I openly admit to being a hypocrite here. I despise Sinn Féin and everything they stand for yet I detest the franco-imperialist conquest of Algerie-Francaise.

      They are still at it to this day meddling in the former west Africa (Mali especially).

    • Blimey O'Riley says:

      I know it’s a bit ‘Radical’ to suggest anything to do with Irish Politics (not that that’s never stopped me) but I suggest ‘The Wind That Shakes the Barley’ and ‘Michael Collins’…not least for the eye candy and the immortal line to Boland ‘get up off the Parliamentary side of your arse’…Also Oliver Stone’s JFK and Coppola’s ‘Apocalypse Now’…I would have suggested The Deerhunter but I walked out…I was a bit more sensitive in those days…that’ll do for starters…

    • Blimey O'Riley says:

      @ 6 Bloody Sunday…Bloody marvellous! Hypocrite…toi?

    • says:

      I would concurs with “il divo” and “The wind that shakes…” but my “top of the head” top 3 would be:
      Dr. Strangelove Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

      “Citizen kane”


    • Blimey O'Riley says:

      Ken Loach has to be one of the most effective film makers of the 20 century. ‘Cathy Come Home’ changed Homelessness legislation in UK…for which any Irish immigrant who found themselves homeless in England will be grateful. ‘Poor Cow’ was another of his seminal pieces, Sheila Delaney’s ‘A taste of Honey’, Jimmy McGoverns, ‘Hillsborough’…Blimey! You’ve got me at it now as they say in Sarf London…

    • says:

      or concur even…

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      In terms of Ireland, I would say Ryan’s Daughter.

      I’ve come to realise how well it tells the political and social history of Ireland at the time and makes understanding Ireland today easier.

      It also indicates what is wrong in Ireland.

      The petty corruption – never remotely close to African standards but in its own way as damaging. The astounding hypocrisy and double standards – some things never change. The abuse of alcohol – and the amazing ability to remain in denial about the damage that abuse causes. The stultifying dead hand of poverty and repressed sexuality – we know to our horror what that led to. The abuse of the mentally handicapped – and again we know those abuses continue to this day.

      We can watch it now and sneer at how backward we were – only things haven’t actually change that much and we’re too afraid to admit it.

      The ultimate irony of course is that the best beach scenes aren’t even in Ireland, they were filmed in South Africa!

    • Blimey O'Riley says:

      Welcome to the party Des…all fun fun fun as ever…! Deagaln I thought only the dirty mac brigade went to adult (ahem) ‘Art’ fillums in the l’apres midi

    • Simon McGuinness says:

      Pontecorvo’s “The Battle of Algiers” is currently available on DVD from Amazon.

    • Deaglán says:

      I recall a scene where an FLN couple have a Muslim wedding and call it “an act of war”. I remember being quite impressed at the time by their fervour (back in the ’70s.) In the wake of 9/11, I might not like the movie so much. Must try to see it again. Laser here I come.

      BTW Blimey, I don’t wear a dirty mac to arthouse films, rather my severe “intellectual” look :-)

    • Blimey O'Riley says:

      Slightly off message today is 20th anniversary of this blogs favourite freedom fighter… Nelson Mandela’s release from prison…reminds me of another great fillum BIKO…I saw the play first but fillum was also good…Whatever gets you through the night…or afternoon…Deaglan!

    • JD says:

      Too many personality- or events-based films so far… must be an Irish politics thread so!

      To provide a bit more balance, here are a few recent films that focus more on issues:

      The White Ribbon – Michael Haneke’s exploration of how unquestioned authoritarianism breeds only intolerance, cruelty, and suffering. Compare & contrast his pre-war German village to Ireland throughout most of the twentieth century.

      The Death of Mr Lazarescu – An astonishing attack on the crumbling Romanian health system through a dramatised fly-on-the-wall style satire. Again, finding comparisons with Ireland requires only fish, a barrel, and a gun.

      4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days – Another powerful and difficult Romanian film, which looks at life for women under the Ceausescu regime through the plot device of an illegal abortion.

      The Class – An insightful modern French drama written by a Parisian schoolteacher and performed by both his multiethnic teenage pupils and he.

      Goodbye Solo – A surprisingly touching film that combines the depiction of a first-generation African immigrant trying to integrate into small-town America with the theme of assisted suicide.

      Johnny Mad Dog – Fictional depiction of child soldiers in an unnamed African state. Features some frighteningly intense performances from a young and inexperienced Liberian cast.

      The Silence of Lorna – Disturbing Belgian film that examines the seedy side of immigration and naturalization.

      Also, pretty much anything that has come out of Iran, Iraq, or Afghanistan over the past decade.

      Two Irish fact-based films that are also worth mentioning:

      The Magdalene Sisters – The appalling tip of an appalling iceberg.

      Hunger – A film that focuses in non-judgemental fashion on the human cost of hardline political stances.

    • says:

      I would add “A taste of honey” to my list.

      and if you want to explore the sexual politics in the apres midi, perhaps “Belle du jour” which is a rather interesting film.

    • barbera says:

      Speaking of Ryan’s Daughter and for no reason other that by name association, I am reminded of Ryan O’Neal who was in Ireland during the filming of Barry Lyndon, Dir. Stanley Kubrick (1975), which I suppose had something to do with politics, albeit 18th century. (Have to point out at the outset that Ryan O’Neal comes way after Z on my A-Z scale of decent male actors but would add that “Paper Moon”, with his daughter Tatum was absolutely delightful). Anyhoo, (I will be making a political statement soon) sometime around 1975, I found myself with a male friend at Dublin airport waiting to board a plane for London. The plane was delayed and we had to sit in the waiting area for a while. I was dressed in my “straight” clothes since the purpose of the trip (which, of course, I knew nothing about!) to the small apple was to help my friend score some decent material to smoke (that’s the political statement — anti-establishment). While waiting I espied Ryan O’Neal sitting across from us with something that looked like a large painting placed on the bench between him and another male, who looked like he could be a brother; and they were dressed in cool blue denim from head to toe. I mentioned it to my friend who was dead cool and he said, “so what”, or something to that effect. Anyway all I could think about was that I wished I was wearing my cool hippy gear so Ryan O’Neal wouldn’t think I was “straight” (that’s what we called “establishment” people back in the day) and as we boarded the plane I went up to him and said “Excuse me are you Ryan O’Neal?”, much to the embarrassment of my friend, and Ryan O’Neal just nodded and smiled. Hmmm, wonder what the painting was about! Anyhow, it did”t take long to realise the ineptitude of all things hippy and the so-called revolution associated with that. I guess Easy Rider, Dir. Dennis Hopper (1969) was political in that old anti-establishment sort of way.

    • Paul McKeon says:

      Mugabe and the White African which is out at the moment in most independents in my view gets the top award.

      It may not be a popular film ideology-wise regarding the typical liberal Irish Times reader but I’d reccomend it no matter where you stand politically. Its relevence regarding the society we live in today is 100% spot-on.

      A often-taboo subject of racism shown towards white ethnic groups is a subject avoided at all costs by the media, academics, politicians.

      Similar I might add to the mass forgotten poverty or discimination shown towards the white underclass of the US where any attention brought to them is almost always in a negative form.

      The film challenges some of the perceptions we may have about racism and also gets us thinking more in the form of class and how society works.

      Anyway I have provided a link to the films website, The trailer is on the main page.

      Hope you find time to go see it


    • robespierre says:

      The film also inspired Joe Strummer to reference the Casbah in response to the banning of pop music in Iran.

      When I see it I think of the checkpoints I went through 20 years ago in Newry and South Armagh and of films like Cal and Resurrection Man.

      When you juxtapose the film and what it was trying to capture against the OAS in France and against the work of Camus in L’Etranger and La Peste you get a sense of how terribly conflicted and warped the situation was.

      It was an apartheid state. As was Indochine. Run by the bien pensants. Who naturally were French. It was what they called “une mission civilisitrice”.

    • Paul McKeon says:

      why was my comment not posted??

    • Deaglán says:

      Sorry for the delay, Paul. We have to moderate the comments and try to do a day’s work as well. Thanks for your contributions.

    • Blimey O'Riley says:

      Agree Cal Hunger and Magdalene Sisters…otherwise some pretty pretentious stuff… NO ‘Belle du Jour’ merci… we’ve already done this to death on another blog… not that I’m averse to a little post prandial afternoon delight between consenting adults just not the creepy voyeuristic stuff…!

    • Robespierre says:

      Blanc or White from the Three colours trilogy by Kriestov Kieslovski is a priceless cinemategraphic document capturing the incredible uncertainty and boundless possibility of Poland post 1989 and at the start of the Balcerowicz plan.

      L627 is a very hard hitting french film about immigration and an anti-immigration squad in the (very) rough south east Paris projects.

      Land and Freedom by Ken Loach takes a (predictable) view of the Spanish Civil War.

      Spielberg’s flawed Munich is also about politics.

    • Paul McKeon says:

      No worrys , thanks for the reply

    • barbera says:

      Z (1969 French language political thriller developed around the assassination of democratic Greek politician, Gregoris Lambrakis), Dir. Constantin Costa-Gavras, kicked ass in its day and always a buzz to note is the mock disclaimer in the opening credits, “Any resemblance to real events, to persons living or dead, is not accidental. It is DELIBERATE.” The soundtrack, by Mikis Theodorakis — no stranger to political intrigue/action — would make the stones cry out.

    • Blimey O'Riley says:

      ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ with Jack Nicholson is a tour de force,and ‘Gandhi’ of course. I saw this in a beach bar in Koh Samui before Alex Garland’s novel and sex tourism ruined Thailand. Myself and my companion had been living a Robinson Crusoe existence and were down to our last 20 baht. We shared a plate of Thai fried rice, and a bottle of Tiger beer, we passed on the magic mushrooms and herbal Old Holborn having no need for artificial stimulants, and watched the film in the balm of a tropical paradise. It was bliss.

    • Blimey O'Riley says:

      My VBF has just emailed her views on Invictus!..’a bit simplistic’ was her considered opinion…and probably a case of wishful thinking on the part of old Spaghettoni …just thought you’d like to know…No?…OK!

    • Blimey O'Riley says:

      ‘Motorcycle Diaries’ or should I wait for ‘Politics the Film’ (2)…?

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