Peasant Wars: 5 Films That Pay Tribute To The Spirit of Revolution

Thomas Jefferson once said “dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” All those years ago in 1776, the Founding Fathers of America drew one hell of a line in the sand when they declared independence from King George and the British Empire. The birth of this new republic became the America we all know and love today.

But in today’s world, the past is criminally understudied. We have an entire world of people who don’t have a firm grasp on the contributions of some incredible people. While it’s true that facts can be taught, the majority of the most important people in history are swept aside and kept alive only in circles of historians and buffs.

So instead of waxing poetic about how great America is on our Declaration Day, let us instead remember the spirit of revolution around the globe, and take time out to look at some films that pay tribute to rebellion.

1. The Battleship Potemkin

In 1905, the Imperial Russian Navy had lost two of its three battleship fleets and took on heavy casualties. In this remaining fleet was the Battleship Potemkin. The men on it were gravely inexperienced and led by men who were equally incapable of running a war machine. To make things worse, news of the Tsushima battle hit. In this skirmish, Russia lost over 10,000 men, half being killed in action and the other captured by Japanese forces. This brought morale to an all-time low. The tipping point came a month after this battle when sailors became enraged after being served rotten maggot filled meat. It was past the point of no return, and the mutiny began. This uprising served as a precursor (and inspiration) to Vladimir Lenin and his revolution of 1917.

Why it’s revolutionary: Made in 1925 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the mutiny, The Battleship Potemkin was directed by then 27 year old Sergei Eisenstein and features a perfect union of revolutionary filmmaking and propaganda. It’s a tribute to the film that many iconic scenes are still regarded as real events even though they’re completely fictionalized. This is must see viewing for anyone interested in film.

2.     Viva Zapata!

After Dictator Porfirio Díaz rose to power in 1876, the Mexican economic system was controlled by a select few, with much of the land being ripped from the hands of the people and given to wealthy landowners by Díaz. In 1909, the elders of Anenecuilco voted for younger blood to continue the fight for the land rights of the poor in Mexico. The man voted in as new council president was Emiliano Zapata. In the coming years, Zapata joined forces with Pancho Villa, Pascual Orozco, and countless rebellious peasants to overthrow Díaz in 1911.

Why it’s revolutionary: Marlon Brando was nominated for best actor at the 1952 Academy Awards for his portrayal of Emiliano Zapata in this autobiographical picture Viva Zapata! With screenwriter John Steinbeck (yes, that one), the film captures a small piece of the Mexican Revolution in which Zapata fought to free the land for the peasants and led a fight to restore the dignity of the people who had it wretched away by dictator Díaz.

3.     The Battle of Algiers

In late 1956, the National Liberation Front of Algeria carried out a campaign of guerrilla warfare against the French authorities in an attempt to regain control from the French. Three terrorist attacks on civilians set off what is more commonly referred to as The Battle of Algiers. When the French government sent the French Army into Algiers to suppress the FLN, violence escalated and only garnered further support for the movement. The Algerian War raged on until 1962 and the FLN still exists in Algeria today.

Why it’s revolutionary: Director Gillo Pontecorvo shot the film in an almost documentary style and refused to romanticize either side of the war in The Battle of Algiers. The atrocities by the French and the FLN are portrayed with equal vigor and an honest display of a dark side of humanity that’s rare in movies. This ability to simply show dramatized events without taking a stance is The Battle of Algiers greatest accomplishment and cements its status as one of the greatest movies of all-time.

4.     The Wind That Shakes The Barley

In January 1919, Ireland signed a declaration of independence from the United Kingdom and started a revolutionary guerilla war commonly called The Irish War of Independence. Great Britain sent in soldiers composed mostly of old British soldiers from WWI and the garments they wore eventually led them to the “black and tans” moniker. They were known for their extreme brutality in their treatment of the Irish and stimulated support for the rebel group which became known as the Irish Republican Army (IRA), who began fighting for Irish independence. The success of the rebellion ended British rule in most of Ireland and fostered the creation of the Irish Free State, which eventually became the modern Ireland we all know today.

Why it’s revolutionary: Winner of the 2006 Palme d’Or at Cannes, The Wind That Shakes The Barley takes place in Ireland in 1920 during the Irish Revolution. The film follows two brothers who join the IRA and fight back against the invading British forces. What makes the film interesting is the portrayal of not only a nationalist revolution, but a social revolution, as well as the dehumanizing effects of war on each side. It’s a heartbreaking portrayal of rebellion and how far some men can go for their ideals.

5.     Red Psalm

In 1848, Hungarians began demonstration demanding reform to fight for their independence from Austria. After high powered official Count Franz Philipp Von Lamberg was murdered in Hungary, war between Austria and Hungary officially broke out. In 1867, The Austro-Hungarian Compromise recognized the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary. This gave sovereignty to the Kingdom of Hungary which became its own entity outside of the Austrian Empire.

Why it’s revolutionary: While it isn’t a biographical account of the Hungarian revolution of 1848, Red Psalm draws direct influence and inspiration from the events. The film centers around the revolt of a small group of peasants on an estate and contains the spirit of the revolutionaries who died many years before. What makes Red Psalm interesting is the straight-forward approach to how revolutions happen, coupled with a big dose of socialism and commentary on the ramifications of such ideals.

When does revolution end? It’s a simple question without an answer. Freedom is not a stationary ideal, but a living and breathing commodity that must be worked on and fought for unless we’re prepared to give it up. The equilibrium of human solidarity around the globe will ensure a future of this perpetual process even if it will never be complete. This is the importance of knowing the past and understanding it.

“Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

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