I’m currently working on an introduction to a book I’m co-editing on one of the greatest films about communism, The Lives of Others, and I’m wondering what other films there are that portray life under communist oppression that our readers know about. There don’t seem to be that many. Can you recommend any?
What I don’t have in mind: documentaries, 1984-or-Brazil-like stories set in fantasy totalitarian states, or films about fighting communist agents. What I’m after are dramatic stories that are set within communist societies, and which seek to some degree to portray their character—so I’m not interested in films, such as the Decalogue, that are simply set in such societies and only obliquely comment upon them. I am also interested in portrayals of the rulers themselves, but not ones only about their revolutionary days prior to power.
Here are some of the ones that come to my mind, which I’ll list from most accessible to least:
1. Doctor Zhivago And the book is even better!
2. The Tunnel German film from 2001; more about the very great escape than life under communism. Should have been a hit here.
3. Goodbye, Lenin! A “comedy” deceptively “nostalgic” for life in East Germany. Features one of the most ingenious plot-devices ever.
4. I Am David Amazing film about a boy’s escape from a Bulgarian prison camp in the 50s, and his having to learn for the first time to trust people; admittedly, the story would have worked had he come from a Nazi prison camp. A classic meditation on human nature–in that sense sort of the reverse to Elia Kazan’s shattering America, America. And, a quiet celebration of Western liberty.
5. The Killing Fields About the Cambodian genocide. Ashamed to say I don’t remember it all that well.
6. weird but funny allegorical Georgian film about a corpse that people keep digging up(it represents Stalin)…does anyone remember the title of this one? Late 80s or early 90s.
7. The First Circle Not the 1992 film (has anyone seen that?), but the 2006 Russian television mini-series. Many episodes, but difficult to get copies of last time I tried. I only saw the first episode–top-notch, as Solzhenitsyn deserves.
8. The Chekist Russian, from early 90s. Extras stripped for unglamorous nudity shots, and by the hundreds, to portray the daily basement firing-squad executions and the pile-the-bodies-up for disposal scenes that occurred in the earliest days of the Cheka, the Bolshevik security organ. Little plot other than how the various Cheka functionaries deal (or don’t) with the endless executions . Obviously, not for the squeamish–a grim and even self-sacrificial witness made by Russians, at the first moment they could, to the fact that the Bolsheviks had been mass-murderers from the start.
So what are some other good ones? I feel that even with this list, too many are focused either on overt horrors or on dramatic escapes, and not, in the spirit of The Lives of Others, focused on the more day-to-day oppression of communist societies.