What Is Political Cinema

On Sunday the 26th April 2009, we discussed what is a political film? Is there something called a political film? If so, then what kind of film it is, does it have a specific kind of topic or does it have a technique? In my view all films are political because films by nature are political. Actually to be able to address what a political film is we need to really understand what we mean by the term political. Politics is anything and everything to do with power. Films are political because they seek to change the existing power relations in the society. Films inherit this attribute from the art. Art is always political because it seeks a change in the power relations.

It may be slightly confusing for you to comprehend what this change in power relations mean? Not all films show heroes beating up villains and not in every film do we have heroines arguing their heads off with their fathers. Then what is the power change? Actually, power works through various ways that are not always visible to the common sense. Michel Foucault alerted us to this possibility of power operating through invisible and almost imperceptible ways and one of the ways it does so is by our understanding of what is right and what is wrong. Our opinions make us assume some positions in the society and this is the society’s power over us. When we learn to look at things in a different manner, we untangle ourselves from the habits that had bound us in terms of our thoughts. This is how we challenge the powers that constructed us. Hence films, because they must challenge the powers that bind us by allowing us to look into things more carefully are inherently political.

Notwithstanding the above assertion we often have cinema that reinforce our traditional thoughts and beliefs. One way in which films do this is by creating stereotypes that reinforce community and gender identities and do not allow them to emerge out of their contemporary states. In this case too the film is political because it tries to re impose the existing power structure. Defined in this way, we have nothing to specify as political cinema since every film becomes political cinema. What should we do in order to recover something as political cinema?

I do not subscribe to the view that political cinema must be something which is a genre by itself. Many times, political cinema only articulates ideologies and refers to metaphors that are already in the political public sphere. In this way they only repeat that which is already in politics and thus attempts to challenge no notion or norm. Hence such films collapse as political cinema. Compared to such films that overtly talk about the political cinema, cinema that does not do so but challenges the existing beliefs in society through its narratives are more potent as politics.

This brings us to a possibility of discriminating between the political essence of films and political films. Could we then define political cinema as that cinema which tries to influence viewer into activities that are political? Now we have said that all that changes ones attitudes is political and so how can there be any specific desire of a film maker to make cinema political? Yet, intuitively we all know that there is something which is called a political cinema. I think that some films help us to look around us and realize that we can actually change ourselves. We feel liberated as a result of this and proceed to be better organized in the world. In some cases, we feel liberated but as a result of such liberation suddenly begin to see how the world is organized around us, how it constrains us and how we can raise ourselves to changing it. When we are thus empowered not merely in being able to change ourselves, our lives but the entire world that we live in, we encounter the political cinema. The political cinema thus should discuss constraints not only around us and which we can easily overcome by moving away from them, but those constraints in our external environment and those which determine us and impinge upon us from above like the law, state, institutions and other similar things. Political cinema must enable us to see what is presently beyond us but which we can manipulate and change by engaging ourselves.

About secondsaturn

Independent Scholar. Polymath.
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