Earlier this week I found myself settling down to watch Das Boot - a classic war film that I hadn't seen in years. As I sat there flinching at the sound of every metallic creak and depth charge explosion I found myself listing off some of the best foreign-language war films that I had seen. Then this morning I came into the office and did a quick straw poll of the foreign-language war films that other Osprey team members had seen (c'mon it is a Friday...) and we came up with this list of the 8 war films that we could recommend watching (whilst reading their subtitles).
1) Das Boot
I should admit that I have a bit of a thing for submarine films. I wish people still made them - they are a fantastic sub-genre (groan!). Das Boot is a classic example of the genre - playing with the hunter / hunted nature of submarine warfare, the claustrophobia of the enclosed submarine - and interestingly enough the boredom of life on board, interspliced with moments of pure terror. A German film it follows the exploits of a U-Boat tasked with wreaking havoc on Allied convoys at a time when the Allies were gradually gaining the upper hand in their battle with the U-Boats. It is a small touch - but the captain and his senior officers spend a good chunk of the film at a table eating... and are constantly interrupted by members of the crew having to squeeze between the captains table and the walls of the sub, forcing officers to launch to their feet throughout the meal to let crew get through, which heightens the sense of enclosed space brilliantly. As with all good submarine movies there are depth charges, moments when the sub is pushed to its absolute depth limit, leaks, fires and a lack of oxygen. If you have not seen it - I would heartily recommend watching it. Unless you are claustrophobic.
Recommended Osprey reading: Duel 3 U-Boats vs Destroyer Escorts: The Battle of the Atlantic
2) 9th Company
9th Company is Russian film which follows a band of new recruits as they are trained and then deployed in Afghanistan, just weeks before the final Russian withdrawal. I stumbled on this by pure chance a few months ago and found it an interesting portrayal of the battles between the Russians and the mujahideen. It is roughly (very roughly) based on a real life engagement in Afghanistan, but has been criticized for some of the inaccuracies that it portrays. That said, if you have an interest in Soviet gear, weapons, machines and aircraft it is worth a watch simply for the range of hardware that is on show. And for the helicopters. Anything with a bunch of Hinds thuddering around is worth a watch. Yes, even the third Rambo film.
Of course the final 40 minutes of 9th Company is dominated by a massive firefight - which apparently (according to IMDB) used 2000 extras and it is pretty epic in scale. If you haven't seen it I would recommend trying to track it down and watching it.
Recommended Osprey reading: Essential Histories 75: The Soviet-Afghan War 1979-89
This was a slightly controversial selection in the office, as a few people argued that technically it is not really what you would call a war film as so much of the film is set within the walls of Hitler's bunker - but Downfall is an undeniably enthralling watch. In fact, if you haven't already seen it the chances are that you have stumbled across one of the numerous memes of Downfall which has infected the internet.
The film depicts the final death throes of the Third Reich, and features a staggering performance from Bruno Gantz as Hitler. In fact so impressive is the performance that the film was actually criticized in circles for humanizing Hitler. Historian Ian Kershaw discusses this uneasiness eloquently in this newspaper article but goes on to note that "Of all the screen depictions of the Führer, even by famous actors such as Alec Guiness or Anthony Hopkins, this is the only one which to me is compelling. Part of this is the voice. Ganz has Hitler's voice to near perfection. It is chillingly authentic."
Recommended Osprey reading: Fortess 100: The Fuhrer's Headquarters: Hitler's Command Bunkers 1939-45
4) Brotherhood Taegukgi
This was a suggestion from Ed, and is a film which I haven't actually watched myself (though I have added it to my rental list on his recommendation). A South Korean film, it tells the story of the effect of the Korean War on two brothers. It went on to become one of the biggest ever South Korean films and has been released around the world under a strange variety of different names (in the US it is Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War).
Ed maintains that it is one of the most brutal war films he has seen - the action sequences are very graphic and not for the faint-hearted!
Recommended Osprey reading: Campaign 162: Inch'on 1950
5) Days of Glory
Days of Glory is an Algerian film set in World War 2 which highlights some of the discrimination that North African troops in the French army suffered during the war. Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and follows four central characters who endure the hellish crossing to Italy, are thrown into the front lines as cannon fodder. Although technically French these men then set eyes on France for the first time as they are deployed in Operation Dragoon.
The set-piece battles are not as epic as many of the other films on this list (though are filmed quite cleverly to trick up the scale) - and the bulk of the film delves quite closely into the personal experiences of North African troops during World War 2, from their treatment within the army through to their reception from liberated French civilians. It is really worth a watch.
Recommended Osprey reading: Campaign 210: Operation Dragoon
6) Welcome to Dongmakgol
This is another suggestion from one of my colleagues - Phil - who immediately picked this film as one of his favourites. In fact he has been promising to lend me his DVD of it for weeks now but still has not done so. Possibly because when I borrowed Generation Kill from him it took me three months to get round to watching it, and then had to watch it twice, back-to-back!
Welcome to Dongmakgol is the second film on this list about the Korean War, but according to Phil takes a quite marked deviation from the gritty Brotherhood Taegukgi. It is a surreal, almost pretty film which touches on the futility of war, how war touches far flung communities, and has a heart-warming, yet touchingly sad ending.
It may seem a strange inclusion on a list of films that has been pretty bloodthirsty so far. But that still doesn't stop me from wanting to see it. If only I could find some way of reminding Phil about his promise...
Recommended Osprey reading: Duel 32: T-34-85 vs M26 Pershing: Korea 1950
7) Battleship Potemkin
Yes, a silent movie. Ok so I know that means it probably technically is not a foreign language film... I guess... But, it is a bit of a classic. Talk about war films and Battleship Potemkin usually crops up in discussions. In fact every person I polled here in the Osprey offices immediately suggested it.
The film depicts the revolt of sailors on the Battleship Potemkin during the Russian Revolution of 1905, largely triggered by the poor conditions being faced by the Russian seamen and the disastrous naval performance of the Russian fleet during the Russo-Japanese War. At the time it was also pretty graphic. The violence might seem somewhat today with the special effects laden gore we see on cinema screens, but at the time it was considered quite excessive!
Recommended Osprey reading: Duel 15: Russian Battleship vs Japanese Battleship: Yellow Sea 1904-5
Lebanon is an Israeli film that follows an Israeli tank crew as they rumble into Lebanon during the war in 1982. And one of the reasons why I have chosen this as the final film on the list is that it ties in quite nicely with Das Boot and the idea of the submarine film as a genre of war film. Encased in their tank for much of the film the tank crew suffer from similar space constraints as the submariners in Das Boot. It maintains a sense of claustrophobia, and much of the action is seen through the gun-sight of the tank. Without giving away too much, they even experience a submarine style catastrophic failure which leaves them stranded in a giant metal coffin.
And man does it make rolling around in a tank seem uncomfortable!
Recommended Osprey reading: Men-at-Arms 165 Armies in Lebanon 1982-84
Now we are pretty sure that we have missed some classics - so let us know what foreign-language war films you think we should have a look at!