Sunday, January 3, 2016

My Students Teach Me About World Cinema

The theme of my English 101 courses this past semester was "Writing About World Cinema."  The prompt for their final research paper was as follows: "Choose a country which was once a former European or American colony, which has since achieved its independence, and write an essay in which you explore how filmmakers in that country have used cinema to express the hopes, dreams, and problems of post-colonial life and independence.  Your goal should be to open your reader's eyes to the cinema of a country which they may not be familiar, a country that may even still be developing its own film culture and industry."  Reading their papers, I am blown away by the great diversity of films and directors there are in this big and amazing world.  Here are some of the countries/films my students wrote about...


Waiting for the Hearse directed by Alejandro Doria (1985).  A dark comedy about a family's failure to care for their elderly matriarch.

Bolivia directed by Israel Adrian Caetano (2001). The story of a working class immigrant living during Argentina's Great Depression (1998-2002).

Leonera (Lion's Den) directed by Pablo Trapero (2008).  The story of a woman falsely accused of murdering her husband--explores systemic sexism in the criminal justice system.


Awara (The Vagabond) directed by Raj Kapoor (1951).  A romantic/musical film which incorporates traditional Hindu imagery.

Apajarito (The Unvanquished) directed by Satyajit Ray (1956).  The second film in Ray's acclaimed Apu Trilogy.

The Chess Players directed by Satyajit Ray (1977).  About the apathy of the Indian ruling class on the eve of British colonial takeover.  Also explores interesting differences between Indian and British versions of chess.

Sholay (Flames) directed by Ramesh Sippy (1975).  After his family is murdered by a notorious and ruthless bandit, a former police officer enlists the services of two outlaws to capture him.

Monsoon Wedding directed by Mira Nair (2001). A story about an arranged marriage set in post-colonial India, exploring class, gender, and complex cultural traditions.

Salaam Bombay directed by Mira Nair (1988). A drama depicting the desperate lives of homeless children on the streets of Bombay (or Mumbai).

Lagaan directed by Ashutosh Gowariker (2001).  A musical drama about the struggle between Indian people and their British colonizers, as demonstrated by an epic cricket match.

Mangal Pandey: The Rising directed by Ketan Mehta (2005).  A biopic about the life of Mangal Pandey, a soldier who became famous for his role in the Indian Mutiny of 1857 against the British colonizers.


Tizoc directed by Ismael Rodriguez (1957).  A love story between a poor Native Mexican man, and a wealthy white European woman.

Nosotros Los Pobres (We the Poor) directed by Ismael Rodriguez (1948). A film about the lives of poor people living in Mexico City, and a man unjustly framed for the murder of his employer.

Nosotros Los Nobles (We the Nobles) directed by Gary Alazraki (2013).  A modern inversion of the classic film "Nosotros Los Pobres" about the lives of three spoiled, affluent children who are forced to get jobs.


Las Doce Sillas (Twelve Chairs) directed by Tomas Gutierrez Alea (1962).  Set just after the Cuban Revolution, the film is about a man whose wealthy aunt hid her fortunes in twelve chairs, not wanting to give her possessions to the new socialist order.

Death of a Bureaucrat directed by Tomas Gutierrez Alea (1966).  Satire of communist bureaucracy.

Memories of Underdevelopment directed by Tomas Gutierrez Alea (1968). Tells the story of a writer whose family left Cuba after the Bay of Pigs invasion.  He watches people passing by his apartment through a telescope.

The Last Supper directed by Tomas Gutierrez Alea (1976).  Set in pre-revolutionary Cuba, it tells the story of a plantation owner who re-enacts The Last Supper from the New Testament, using his slaves as the twelve disciples to teach them about Christianity.

The Clandestine Ones directed by Fernando Perez (1987).  Depicts a group of young people fighting against the Batista dictatorship, which Fidel Castro's revolution ultimately overthrew.

Madagascar directed by Fernando Perez (1994).  Tells the story of three generations of women who represent different stages of the Cuban Revolution.

Hong Kong

Song of the Exile directed by Ann Hui (1990).  Explores exiles of Japanese Imperialism, Chinese nationalism, and British colonialism.

Chunking Express directed by Wong Kar-wai (1994).  Two melancholy Hong Kong policemen fall in love: one with a mysterious female underworld figure, the other with a beautiful and ethereal server at a late-night restaurant he frequents.

In the Mood for Love directed by Wong Kar-Wai (2000).  A story about conflict between romantic and platonic love, spanning several decades.

2046 directed by Wong Kar-Wai (2004).  A film which explores love and infidelity, with science fiction elements.


Man of Ashes directed by Nouri Bouzid (1986).  Follows a young man struggling to find happiness during his engagement, as he secretly copes with memories of being molested as a child.

War Reporter directed by Mohamed Amine Bourkhris (2013). Documentary following the Arab Spring Revolution in Tunisia.


La Noir de... (Black Girl) directed by Ousmane Sembene (1966).  Tells the story of a Senegalese girl who works for a wealthy French couple.  Due to exploitation and alienation, the girl eventually commits suicide.  It's about the lingering traumas of colonialism.

Mandabi (The Money Order) directed by Ousmane Sembene (1968).  The story of a man who, due to lack of official identification, is unable to cash a money order check.  It's about the imposition of western economic concepts onto a traditional African culture.

Xala (Impotence) directed by Ousmane Sembene (1975).  Satire of corruption set on the eve of Senegal's independence from France.

Moolaade (Protection) directed by Ousmane Sembene (2003).  Drama about a woman trying to protect other women from the traditional practice of female circumcision.

Touki Bouki directed Djibril Diop Mambety (1973).  A road movie about the misadventures of two young people trying to raise money through different con schemes.  Also about post-colonial alienation.

Hyenas directed by Djibril Diop Mambety (1992).  A comedic film about love and revenge that is also a critique of neocolonialism and consumerism.

The Little Girl Who Sold the Sun directed by Djibril Diop Mambety (1999).  About a young beggar girl, Sili, who on crutches, confidently makes her way through a city of obstacles, evading a group of bullies, and selling newspapers to make money for herself and her blind grandmother.


Hock Hiap Leong directed by Royston Tan (2001).  A short film about an old coffee shop that is destroyed as a part of urban development.  It's about the emotional scar of rapid urbanization.

15 directed by Royston Tan (2003).  A film about the lives of three 15-year-old gangsters living in suburban Singapore.

Singapore Dreaming directed by Colin Goh and Yen Yen Woo (2006).  A story about an old woman trying to hold onto the past as the world is racing past her.


Neria directed by Godwin Mawuru (1993).  Tells the story of a woman struggling against patriarchal gender roles.

Flame directed by Ingrid Sinclair (1996).  Spanning the turbulent years of the 1970s to the 1990s, the film follows one woman who involves herself in the various political struggles of her country.


The White Silk Dress directed by Luu Huynh (2006).  A film which spans the era of French Colonialism to the outbreak of the Vietnam War from the perspective of two ordinary Vietnamese people.

Three Seasons directed by Tony Bui (1999).  A story about the lives of several characters as they live in post-war Ho Chi Minh City.

The Scent of Green Papaya directed by Tran Anh Hung (1993).  The story of a servant girl whose personal struggles between tradition and modernity reflect larger social struggles.


The Ballroom of Romance directed by Pat O'Connor (1982).  Set in an economically depressed rural Ireland in the 1950s, when lots of young men were immigrating abroad, it's about an Irish woman looking for a husband amidst "slim pickins."

The Butcher Boy directed by Neil Jordan (1997).  Set in rural Ireland during the 1960s, the film portrays the contrast between the exterior beauty of the landscape and the psychologically dysfunctional lives of the characters.

The Field directed by Jim Sheridan (1990).  About the struggle over a field of farmland between an older Irish man and an American entrepreneur.


Bye Bye Brazil directed by Carlos Diegues (1979).  Tells the story of a declining circus carnival, that is going away due to the advance of electronic media.

Xica directed by Carlos Diegues (1976).  Tells the story of the real historical figure Xica de Silva, an African slave who rose into Brazilian high society in the 19th century.

Quilombo directed by Carlos Diegues (1984).  Based on a true story about African slaves who fled a sugar plantation and established their own society called the Quilombo dos Palmares, which welcomed Jews, Muslims, Indians, poor whites, and other socially marginalized people.

Sri Lanka

Amma directed by Sirisena Wimalaweera (1949).  An important early Sri Lankan film adapted from a play of the same name.  It was actually shot in Madras, India.

Rekava directed by Lester James Peries (1956). About rural village life in Sri Lanka.  The first film fully shot in Sri Lanka.

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