Night and Fog : Alain Resnais(1956)- This bone-chilling documentary has a strange way of making the Holocaust come alive. There is a goldmine of detail in this exceptionally well made film. The background score guides the audience emotionally, while a strong but straight narration lends the magic of storytelling to this film. A must watch for any history nerd, but also for everyone looking to go beyond the story of Anne Frank and dig deeper into what went on in the infamous Nazi concentration camps.
The Act of Killing: Joshua Oppenheimer (2013)- This film has an interesting take on narrative. Not for the faint-hearted, The Act of Killing is about the 1966 genocide that targeted communists in Indonesia. Persecuted and hunted down by their own government and its hired goons, close to a million people were tortured, raped and butchered in this orgy of blood. Oppenheimer’s masterpiece brings this chapter of the Cold War to life, by getting actual perpetrators of the genocide to re-enact their actions.
Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain: Ravi Kumar (2014)- This movie takes the audience into the dusty lanes of Bhopal, a town in central India. With poverty and unemployment a constant problem in the community, the coming of Union Carbide looked like a promise of the future to the people of Bhopal. That is, until 1984 happened. One that fateful night of 2nd and 3rd December 1984, a deadly gas leak of the highly toxic Methyl Isocyanate (MIC) claimed the lives of at least 4,000 people. The number of non-fatal casualties was higher than 500,000. ‘Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain’ is a horrifying story of bloodthirsty capitalism and idle bureaucracies, resulting in a catastrophe of arctic proportions. An interesting fact- Till date, the remains of the doomed Carbide plant haven’t been removed from Bhopal because Dow Chemicals, the successor to Union Carbide refuses to take responsibility for the mistakes of its predecessor. Watch this movie for its rich storytelling, stellar performances and the undeniably important nugget of history that is very relevant even today.
Amu: Shonali Bose (2005)- Amu is another gem from India. Set in present times, it tells the story of a dark chapter in India’s history. Amu, a young Bengali woman who lives abroad has constant flashbacks of something she cannot place. She feels a strange connection to the heritage of the Sikh community. A heartfelt conversation with her mother reveals the biggest secret of her life. Amu is a story about the 1984 anti-Sikh riots which claimed the lives of 8,000 Sikhs, according to independent estimates. Watch this movie for its great direction, storyline and stunning visuals. However, it is not for you if you have a weak stomach.
All Quiet on the Western Front: Delbert Mann (1979)-This movie is the only mainstream choice that features on this list. Set against the backdrop of the World War I, this film is a poignant portrayal of the horrors of war. Tracing the story of young Paul Baumer, the film boasts of great frames, bold shots and an impeccably raw form of storytelling. With sequences that leave the viewer shaky and moved, All Quiet on the Western Front does a fine job of sketching the finer points of history, choosing to skip over the big moments and focusing on the relatively inconsequential ones. Watch this movie for its direction, its visuals and its hauntingly poetic take on what history must have looked like when it actually happened. If any movie brings statistics to life, it is this one. If you are a bigger history nerd, then you can also check out the 1930 novel by the same name, written by Erich Maria Remarque. Remarque’s own experiences as a young German soldier who fought in the first World War, lend great scenic detail to his writing. Originally written in German, a translation by A.W. Wheen is also available in the market.