Colonialism, social change as well as resistance to revolution and colonialism are overarching themes throughout the films, Salt of the Earth, the Battle of the Algiers and the Memories of Underdevelopment. This paper seeks to review the films with a view to exploring how revolution and resistance are dealt with, in the films. This exploration will also provide answers to the critical questions of the intention of the film makers while making the film. In this process, the paper shall conduct an audit of the success or failure of the filmmakers in putting across their message to the audience in the film. Finally, the paper shall make a determination as to whether films are propaganda, purely for entertainment or are acts as historical lessons.
We begin with the film, Memories of Underdevelopment which was a film made following the Fidel Castro revolution in Cuba. The film, directed by Thomas Gutierrez Alea seeks to lay bare the subject of underdevelopment in Latino America from a Cuban perspective in a number of ways. In the opening scenes, one is able to observe the protagonist in the film, known as Sergio Correri happy to see his wife off as they flee to the United States following the popular Bay Pigs invasion for America. It is clear that Sergio is scornful of the ability of the revolution to make a real needed social change in Cuba and notes that this was no more than one of the latest passion for an ever dynamic society. It is also clear from the watching of the film that Sergio’s furniture business has been expropriated by the state. Despite this, Sergio has some modest income that he receives as the landlord of several apartment buildings. Owing to this financial situation, Sergio is able to get time to stroll around or use his telescope to spy on other people’s homes from his balcony. Sergio is seen severally, walking along the streets of Havana and has a deep passion for women. One particular woman in this film who is the object of desire by Sergio is named Elena. However, lack of experience on the part of Elena excites Sergio though it almost undoes him when he takes advantage of the situation to prey on another woman. As a result, Elena’s family accuses Sergio of seduction and rape though he is acquitted and temporarily chastened. It is then that Sergio thinks of what the new crisis and the discovery of Soviet missile installations that were done by the United States hold for his country and its future.
It must be mentioned from the outset that underdevelopment is a thing that pervades the whole society of South America. Underdevelopment manifests itself in either insufficient development or simply a colonized economy. The movie “Memories of Underdevelopment” is a classic film that depicts the themes of revolution and social change. As mentioned above, Sergio stays behind when his family moves to the United States as he seeks to watch the unfolding of the revolution that he thinks is impotent. Sergio is of the belief that he is Europeanized and that underdevelopment means that Cuban mind is underdeveloped. He is particularly critical towards women whom he chastises for their forgetfulness and inconsistency yet his remembrance of everything just paralyzes him. This film has two stories one which is explicit while the other is implicit. The director of the film, Alea, is able to use each of the stories to comment on its counterpart. For instance, in the background, we are able to observe and capture the story of the Cuban society that moves the force of revolution and history. It is clear that the film rests upon political history. This evidenced by a number of scenes from the film. At first, we are able to watch from the opening sequence, a public dance where a political leader is assassinated. Another instructive sequence in the midst of the film is a depiction and analysis of trial of the counterrevolutionary officers who were captured at Playa Giron. The scenes of the Cuban people that are on the street and at the beginning of the film at the public dance serve to set up a sense of race against which things unfold. It is indeed, against this background that we are able to see Sergio, who is a tall fair man being depicted as a very white man. This is efficient on the part of the film maker as the Latin audience is able to capture owing to the primacy of skin color in the region, as an index of class. The director of the film, Alea again demonstrates his prowess in efficiently capturing the themes of the film namely revolution and social change by repeating the opening sequence which shows dark-skinned Cubans in a dancing mode. In the midst of this, we are shown some sudden shooting of one of the men in the dance and Sergio is seen in the crowd with his whiteness standing out. Without doubt, the film makers use Sergio, an affair protagonist, to emphasize the middle class intellectual’s alienation from the people in a visual manner.
In a quest to understand the intention of the film maker or what they wanted to achieve, it is essential to expend with some facts. The film, Memories of Underdevelopment, was created based on a novel. The director of the film, Thomas Alea also commented on the motivation behind the transformation of the film form a novel. He argues that the film is more developed as it shows objective reality that surround the significant protagonist. Before dispensing with the film, it is also essential to take into consideration the documentary elements found in the narrative sections of the film. We are shown a round table discussion where Sergio is in attendance and whose theme is Literature and Underdevelopment. In the panelist discussion, one of the panelists named Desnoes tell of his long stay in the United States and his role as a spic whilst criticizing the American white dream. Another of the panelist speaks of how underdevelopment is a sick word which needs to be replaced with capitalism and socialism. Yet another panelist by the name Jack Gelber wonders why they are having a roundtable discussion, which he considered an impotent form of solution after a revolution. This is a demonstration of a desire for social change. It may well be said that the film makers were efficient in the making of the film.
The film ”Battle of the Algiers” is set in an Algerian setting capturing the events following the Algerian war against the French Government between the years1954-1962. The film, directed by Gillo Pontecorvo is a critical commentary of the urban guerilla warfare and casts the spotlight on the methods that were used by the colonial power to destroy the guerilla movement. It may well be stated that the film seeks to demonstrate revolution and resistance to colonialism in Algeria between the natives and the French colonialists. The film Battle of the Algiers is basically a construct of the events that happened in the capital city of Algeria during the war for independence. The film starts from a narrative where we see an organization of the revolutionary cells in the Casbah. There then arises a partisan feud between the Moslems and the Pied-Noir where each sides exchange fire causing the introduction of French paratroopers. These paratroopers are brought so as to deal with the revolutionary and resistance movement called the National Liberation Front. We are able to watch what the defeat of the National Liberation Front is as the French paratroopers subdue the entire leadership of the movement through assassinations and captures. The audience of the film is also shown the tactics that were used by the guerilla and the French insurgency as well as the atrocities that were perpetrated by the two sides. At the end of the film, there is a coda which shows nationalist riots and demonstrations by the people, an indication that though the French may have won the Battle of Algiers, it had lost the Algerian War. I would argue that the film achieves its intended purpose and the film makers made an impact on the audience. In particular, they made use of composite characters and changed the names of the actors. Images contrasts are also brought up for crucial dramatic moments especially in instances of assassination. There are also no dolly movements nor complicated set-ups owing to the use of a locked-off camera during the shooting of the film.
Next, we examine the film, Salt of the Earth created in the year 1954 in a Mexican setting. The director of the film is Herbert Bilberman and the producer is Payul Jarrico. The film seeks to advance the feminists political and social perspective with the story in the film revolving around a strike at a mine against the Delaware Zinc company in Zinctown, New Mexico. It features the miners, the company and the police reacting to the long and difficult strike. The opening part of the film starts with a narration from a miner’s wife named Esperanza Quintero. In the narration, she speaks of how she is at pain to begin her story and then introduces herself as the wife of a miner. She says that the home is theirs though the house is not. She tells of how she was, as a child in the village which was by then named San Marcos but which changed its name to the current Zinc Town as it is described in the film. She makes it clear that her origins and roots penetrate deeper into the village.
The miner’s strike is due to inequity in wages offered by the company as well as other health and safety concerns. The husband to Esperanza named Ramon Quintero is shown helping in the organization of the strike though he treats his wife in an indiscriminate manner while at home. We see his wife, Esperanza who is heavy with their third baby, reluctant at first toeither take part in the strike or even assert her rights for equality at her home. The Salt of the Earth film is fundamentally a story of a husband who objects to the striking of women and in this case, his wife in the affairs of the strikers. His wife Esperanza after an initial reluctance finally gets determined to participate in the strike alongside other women. The film particularly castigates brutal acts by police in dealing with the mining strikers.
Nonetheless, matter of significance is of women being accorded the chance to express themselves and participating in the strike that is the crux of the matter in this film. The film makers are able to demonstrate drama as well as raw emotion together with raw power in depicting this contention. We are able to see people differing in opinion and ideologies in many instances. This is coupled with head on confrontations between couples within their tiny homes. The conflict as depicted shows a desire by parents to see a bright future for their children as well the self-esteem, pride, and self-worth of those who lack primary necessities. We then move to the question as to whether the film makers have been efficient in achieving their intentions. My answer is clearly in the affirmative. One of the established film players named Miss Reveuletas is able to play her role of a wife in compelling her husband accept equality at home while an unestablished actor named Juan Chacon is able to take up the role of a husband in a forceful manner. The filmmakers are also able to depict the sheriff referred to as Will Geer as a discerning and a tough sheriff in an impressive manner. On the other hand, the union organizer that leads the strike named Clinton Jencks together with another actor by the name Frank Talevera play their roles in a creative and plausible way.
Having explored the significant themes of revolution, resistance, colonialism and social change as depicted in the film, it then turns to the question as to what the films are. I cannot regard them as purely for entertainment though they partly serve that purpose. More so, they cannot be propaganda though they may have an inkling of that. This is because they depict a number of truths and a desire for emancipation. To me, these films are stark history lessons that must be learned by these nations to ensure progression in the societies, going forward.
Biberman, Herbert J. Salt of the Earth: The Story of a Film. New York: Harbor Electronic Publishing, 2006.
Burton, Julianne. Cinema and Social Change in Latin America: Conversations with Filmmakers. Austin: Cengage Learning, 2006.
Lorence, James J. The Suppression of Salt of the Earth. How Hollywood, Big Labor, and Politicians Blacklisted a Movie in Cold War America. New Mexico: University of New Mexico Press, 2007.
Mellen, Joan. Film Guide to The Battle Algiers. Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2007.
Memories of Underdevelopment. Dir. Tomás Gutiérrez Alea. Perf. Edmundo Desnoes. 2007.
Rossoni-Kino, M. "Spectatorial Distanciation in Memories of Underdevelopment." The Western Undergraduate Journal of Film (2011): 101-112.