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Wars on Film

Responding to the groundbreaking exhibition WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath, the MFAH presents a series of films considering wars from the early 20th century through the present. The genre of war films is extensive, and these selections offer not only restored prints but also the occasion to discover lesser-known films.

Click here to read more about the history of war films, and visit the museum's Hirsch Library for a variety of books related to the war-film genre.

Past Films in This Series

 

Paths of Glory

1957
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Pulp writer Jim Thompson adapted a World War I novel that Kubrick read as a teenager into a screenplay, which was produced thanks to the enthusiasm of Kirk Douglas. A French battalion is roundly defeated by Germans in an ill-advised campaign conceived by the ambitious General Mireau (George Macready). Douglas stars as Colonel Dax, a lawyer in civilian life, who volunteers to defend the surviving soldiers facing court-martial. Adolph Menjou costars. “Unlike any other war film of its kind, Paths ... more info
 

The Deer Hunter

1978
Directed by Michael Cimino
This absorbing drama about a close-knit group of friends from a Pennsylvania steel town who go to fight in Vietnam unfolds in sections contrasting their experiences before, during, and after the war. Arguably one of Michael Cimino’s biggest successes, he triumphed in casting Robert De Niro–who then reached out to other rising actors from New York (John Cazale, John Savage, Meryl Streep, and Christopher Walken)–creating a memorable ensemble cast. Of the film’s indelible Russian roulette scene, Roger Ebert observed, “It ... more info
 

Grand Illusion

La grande illusion

1937, in French with English subtitles
Directed by Jean Renoir
Orson Welles said of this undisputed masterpiece, “If I had to save one film in the world, it would be Grand Illusion.” During World War I, two French soldiers–an aristocrat (Pierre Fresnay) and a mechanic (Jean Gabin)–are captured and imprisoned in a German POW camp. Several escape attempts follow until they are sent to a seemingly impenetrable fortress commanded by Captaine von Rauffenstein (Erich von Stroheim). “Son to his famous painter father, Renoir sublimated [the  emotions of impending war] into the ... more info
 

The Battle of Algiers

La battaglia di Algeri

1966, in various languages with English subtitles
Directed by Gillo Pontecorvo
No newsreel or documentary footage was used in making this film, commissioned by the Algerian government and released in 1966, detailing the fight for Algerian independence against the French.  “Gillo Pontecorvo’s electrifyingly timely The Battle of Algiers has often been compared to Potemkin as an example of incendiary, documentary-style political filmmaking. But Pontecorvo’s approach is much looser, although everything is carefully choreographed. Re-creating the carnage of 1950s Algeria—bombings, assassinations, police torture—The Battle of Algiers is as relevant today as it ... more info
 

Went the Day Well?

1942
Directed by Alberto Cavalcanti
Based on a Graham Greene story, directed by Brazilian-born auteur Cavalcanti, and produced as a war propaganda movie by the legendary Ealing studios, this drama is set in the fictitious British town Bramley End. When a squadron of British troops arrives, the villagers—portrayed by innumerable British screen stalwarts—are initially welcoming but then realize the men are German soldiers preparing for an anticipated invasion. As awareness spreads, violence escalates, often initiated by unexpected perpetrators. “Establishes, with loving care and the occasional ... more info
 

Restrepo

2010
Directed by Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger
Introduced by photojournalist Michael Kamber Focusing on a remote 15-man outpost considered one of the most dangerous assignments in the Afghanistan war, Restrepo evokes a harrowing real-time experience for the viewer. The film won the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at Sundance Film Festival (2010) and was nominated for Best Documentary by the Academy Awards (2010). Codirector Tim Hetherington (who has a photograph in the MFAH exhibition WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY) was killed by a mortar blast in Libya in 2011. Codirector Sebastian Junger ... more info
 

Alexandra

Aleksandra

2007, in Russian with English subtitles
Directed by Aleksandr Sokurov
In a desolate, sun-scorched corner of the world, an elderly woman has come to see her beloved grandson, a young officer stationed at a remote military outpost. With the enemy just beyond the compound, she wanders the barracks, observing the routines of military life, before making a sudden trip into the outlying countryside. Featuring a mesmerizing performance by Russian opera legend *Galina Vishnevskaya, Alexandra is a viscerally powerful film from the great Alexander Sokurov (Russian Ark). “A film of startling ... more info
 

Das Boot

The Boat

1981, in German with English subtitles
Directed by Wolfgang Petersen
On a claustrophobic German submarine during World War II’s Battle of the Atlantic, soldiers suffer from boredom, filth, and sheer terror as they attempt to accomplish impossible missions for a government whose ideology they struggle to obey. Jürgen Prochnow stars. more info