Impossible Obligations: The Personal as The Political

Programmed by Alex Kong

In the climactic moment of Andrzej Wajda's Ashes and Diamonds, the main character Macek finds himself faced with an impossible decision. He's maneuvered himself into an optimal position to strike a fatal blow against Poland's repressive Communist regime by carrying out a political assassination, and in so doing, to finally realize his underground resistance movement's utopian aspirations. But in the course of executing his mission, he crosses paths with a beautiful girl who holds out the promise of a happy life—a promise that will be foreclosed if he continues with his mission. In this way, Macek's personal happiness is put on a direct collision course with his political obligations--history has conspired to make them mutually exclusive options. This series showcases the films that take this intractable dilemma as their central concern.

The dilemma is not a new one--it reaches all the way back to the ancient Greeks, finding expression in the story of Agamemnon's sacrifice of his daughter Iphigenia in exchange for the safe passage of the Greek army to Troy. For Hegel, this myth embodied an irreconcilable conflict between filial and civic obligations that was exemplary of the tragic genre. What's ultimately at stake in this tragedy and others like it is a blurring of the boundary between the personal and the political; these stories shed light on the impossible dilemmas that result when these two spheres of life become one and the same. In his essay on King Lear, Stanley Cavell, too, saw tragedy (of Shakespearean proportions) in circumstances that collapse those spheres together: "we no longer know what is and is not a political act, what may or may not have recognizable political consequences. We had hardly expected, what now is apparently coming to be the case, that the ordinary citizen's ordinary faithfulness to his children may become a radical political act."

What this series demonstrates is that this situation, when "ordinary faithfulness” becomes political, surfaces in all times and all places, from Yugoslavia to Italy to India. In Joint Security Area, for example, an accidental friendship between a group of North and South Korean soldiers stationed at the DMZ runs up against the brutal realities of geopolitical division. An entirely arbitrary demarcation turns those who would otherwise be brothers against each other, and serves as a reminder of György Lukács' lament that "the split of the nation into warring parties always runs through the center of the closest human relationships, [when] parents and children, lover and beloved, old friends confront one another as opponents." And in Casablanca, Rick's future life with Isla is the price that he has to pay for his commitment to defeat the Axis. When the time comes for him to make the final choice, the ethical pull of that obligation is, in the end, too strong for him to resist, and Isla's love is the collateral damage. It might be a commonplace that justice demands the sacrifice of personal happinesses--but this series renews our sense of just how difficult that choice is for those that have it forced upon them.

1/12/2020 @ 7:00 PM


(Michael Curtiz, 1942) · Anchored by two of the biggest movie stars ever, Casablanca is one of the most iconic Hollywood movies of all time. Rick (Humphrey Bogart) runs a nightclub in Morocco, trying his best to stay neutral as the world is convulsed by war--but his old political sympathies are reactivated when his former lover Isla (Ingrid Bergman) and her husband, a committed radical, seek his help. Rick soon discovers that there's no hiding from the forces of history; as Trotsky said, "you may not be interested in the dialectic, but the dialectic is interested in you."

runtime: 102m format: 35mm


1/19/2020 @ 7:00 PM

Ashes and Diamonds

(Andrzej Wajda, 1958) · Macek (played by Zbigniew Cybulski, known as the "Polish James Dean") is a resistance fighter in the Polish Home Army, a nationalist organization struggling against the Soviet domination of their homeland. He finds himself with an opportunity to further the cause by assassinating an official, but his loyalty is shaken when he meets a beautiful barmaid. Ashes and Diamonds is a lyrical and tragic portrait of political radicalism, depicting both the price that it exacts and the idealism that fuels it.

runtime: 103m format: DCP


1/26/2020 @ 7:00 PM

The Home and the World

(Satyajit Ray, 1984) · One of India's great directors adapts a novel by one of India's great writers. Based on Rabindranath Tagore's classic novel, The Home and the World centers on Bimala, the wife of a wealthy noble. Her husband introduces her to his friend Sandip, a rebel agitating against British colonial rule. She's swept away by Sandip's passion and energy, and as she experiences both personal and political awakenings, she finds herself torn between her domestic obligations and her newfound sympathies.

runtime: 140m format: Digital


2/2/2020 @ 8:00 PM


(Luchino Visconti, 1954) · In Senso, Luchino Visconti, the great chronicler of the Italian aristocracy, paints a portrait of a country shackled by Austrian occupation and of a woman shackled by custom. Alida Valli stars as an Italian countess who falls for a charming Austrian officer (Farley Granger). But her all-consuming lust soon threatens to destroy the bonds of family, tradition, and nation as she barrels towards a disastrous confrontation between her passion and her political allegiance.

runtime: 123m format: DCP


2/9/2020 @ 7:00 PM

Le Petit Soldat

(Jean-Luc Godard, 1963) · Le Petit Soldat was Godard's first film with his muse, the incomparable Anna Karina, inaugurating one of the most fruitful collaborations in the history of cinema. She stars as the enigmatic beauty who, in the throes of the Algerian independence movement, bewitches the anti-Algerian agent Bruno (Michel Subor). Godard's unique cinematic sensibility is on full display: a singular blend of relentless intelligence, political conviction, and breathtaking flashes of beauty.

runtime: 88m format: 35mm


2/16/2020 @ 7:00 PM

Love and Anarchy

(Lina Wertmüller, 1973) · In an Italy ravaged by fascism, the innocent farmer Tunin (Giancarlo Giannini) is enlisted by anarchist rebels to assassinate Mussolini. He's sent off to Rome to perform the deed, where he links up with a lively group of prostitutes. But as the unlikely team hatches their plan, Tunin falls in love with one of them and starts to have second thoughts. Effortlessly balancing raucous slapstick and piercing melancholy, Love and Anarchy sounds a lament for Tunin's impossible dilemma.

runtime: 120m format: DCP


2/23/2020 @ 7:00 PM

Paradise Now

(Hany Abu-Assad, 2005) · Khaled and Said are Palestinian teenagers who hang out, smoke, and chase girls together. One day, they're drafted by a terrorist group to become suicide bombers. But Said's conviction in the righteousness of his cause is shaken when he meets a girl named Suha; and after a botched mission to Israel, Khaled starts to have doubts too. An Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Film, Paradise Now is a daring humanization of suicide bombers.

runtime: 93m format: 35mm


3/1/2020 @ 7:00 PM

Joint Security Area

(Park Chan-wook, 2005) · The Joint Security Area is the only point along the DMZ at which North and South Korean troops stand face-to-face--separated only by an artificial border, comprised of a few feet of empty space, that nevertheless acts a yawning chasm. JSA asks whether that chasm could ever be bridged. A group of North and South Korean soldiers form an accidental friendship that soon runs up against brutal geopolitical realities. Best known for Oldboy, Park Chan-wook here delivers a wrenching elegy for a country torn apart by war.

runtime: 110m format: DCP


3/8/2020 @ 7:00 PM

The Wind That Shakes The Barley

(Ken Loach, 2006) · Ken Loach, one of contemporary cinema's most decorated directors, tackles the struggle for Irish independence. Damien (Cillian Murphy) and Teddy (Pádraic Delaney) are brothers who join the Irish Republican Army to liberate their country from the United Kingdom. As the struggle intensifies, the brothers find themselves on opposite sides of their cause's crucial question: accept limited concessions, or continue the fight? Their irreconciliable answers soon threaten to pit them against each other.

runtime: 127m format: 35mm


3/15/2020 @ 7:00 PM


(Emir Kusturica, 1995) · In Kusturica's lament for the former Yugoslavia, the disintegration of a friendship stands in for the disintegration of a nation. Black-market arms dealers Marko and Blacky are partners in crime and debaucherous carousing. But their brazen profiteering is put on hold by war, and their bond is soon tested by the pull of other allegiances, political and national. Underground is a clear-eyed testament to the power of "imagined communities" to command life and death.

runtime: 167m format: DCP


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