Recommended: 5 movies on copybook rebellions
The first time student rebellion and films met on a national stage was May 10, 1968, in France. The Cannes film festival was eclipsed by student protests that broke out in Sorbonne University over the French government’s policies, including in education. They were joined by two million workers two days later. At the festival, half the screenings were stopped with directors such as Jean-Luc Godard backing the students. In this season of protests – in Hong Kong over the extradition law and in India over the JNU student fee hike – we look at films that have taken up students’ issues with nuance.
La Chinoise (1967): Made towards the end of Jean-Luc Godard’s New-Wave period, the film focuses on the dynamics of a Leftist student group. They discuss politics, make love, and prepare to assassinate the status quoist Soviet cultural ambassador (the French Left was pro-Mao), all in the half-jokey way that was Godard’s even in his political films.
If… (1968): In director Lindsay Anderson’s film on student revolt, Malcolm McDowell (of A Clockwork Orange fame) and his public-school mates are inspired by Che Guevara and rebel against authority figures. At the height of the rebellious Sixties, it tapped into the anti-establishment zeitgeist.
Zabriskie Point (1970): Michelangelo Antonioni’s film stars non-professional actors, Daria Halprin and Mark Frechette. Halprin was a student when acting in this classic counterculture film about an America in churn over civil rights. Frechette was spotted having an argument at a bus stop by Antonioni’s assistant, who found his attitude -- “he’s 20 and he rages” -- just right for the film.
Yeh Wo Manzil toh Nahin (1987): The film that won Sudhir Mishra a National Award is about three men, former student activists and friends. How they look back on their student days when they return to their university on its centenary, is the story of Yeh toh.... Mishra picks up the same subject of student radicalism, in the backdrop of the Naxalite uprising of the ’70s, in his Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi (2003), though the first is the better film.
Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves (2012): This three-hour movie is about sloganeering, happy to bare, and very angry radicals who participated in the 2012 Quebec student revolt. The four young people live in a commune, see their elders as sell-outs, but directors Mathieu Denis and Simon Lavoie go beyond stereotyping student rebellions, by showing what limits them.