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Eight movies to watch after finishing 'Andor'
Greetings from Read Max HQ! Usually this roundup column is a grab-bag of articles, books, movies, and TV shows I’ve been enjoying and think readers would, too. Today’s edition is slightly different -- a list of movies to go with the season finale of the first season of Andor, which is available to watch today.
If you’re the kind of person to whom “a new Star Wars TV show on Disney+” is even remotely appealing, I would guess that you’ve already heard about and likely watched most of Andor. If you’re not that kind of person, let me be one of many people to insist, who perhaps already have insisted to you, that Andor is shockingly good, much better than “a new Star Wars TV show on Disney+” has any right to be, and is absolutely worth watching even if the idea of more Star Wars content in your life is absolutely repulsive.
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The show follows a thief and pilot named Cassian Andor, played by Diego Luna, as he travels through the galaxy picking up odd jobs and having adventures -- grim, terrible adventures. Andor the character appeared in the movie prequel Rogue One as a rebel commando, but Andor the show is a prequel to that prequel, taking place in the years before Andor joined up with the Rebellion, and its purpose is to narrate the circumstances that turned him into a committed rebel and track the process of his radicalization. It’s “gritty Star Wars,” yes, but instead of “pointlessly gritty, annoyingly macho Star Wars” it’s “politically gritty, surprisingly thoughtful Stars Wars,” which is a nice surprise.
One particular reason to love Andor is that it has the same relationship to postwar movies about harried resistance fighters and desperate prisoners that the original Star Wars had to movies about plucky flyboys and noble samurai. (Which is to say, it transposes the themes, narratives, and stock characters of its predecessors to a crazy sci-fi universe.) For this week’s recommendations roundup, I wanted to make a list of “movies to watch after Andor” -- some of the movies that it seems like Tony Gilroy, the show-runner, was drawing on when he conceived of the show.
I’m a “used to work a video store”-level movie dork, not a “strong opinions about Edgar Ulmer”-level movie dork, so to some extent this is just shallow survey of “European guys doing resistance things” movies. It leaves off some almost-too-obvious choices (Casablanca, The Great Escape, e.g.), some more contentious ones (Carlos or Baader-Meinhof Complex, say), basically all the non-Star Wars sci-fi that Andor is drawing on (Brazil, THX-1138, and 1984, for starters). It’s also, I’m sure, missing some great non-European movies that help make up the show’s DNA but about which I still have a blind spot. All of which is just to say -- what else should be on the list? Please add more in the comments!
And, look, it feels a bit ridiculous, I’ll admit, to compare a Disney-produced Star Wars show to, say, The Battle of Algiers, but it’s very clear when you watch Andor that it’s what Gilroy and his writers and directors had in mind, and if Andor is anyone’s gateway to watching The Battle of Algiers, well, that can only be a good thing, right? So if you just finished Andor and want to see what inspired it, or want to scratch the same particular itch, I highly recommend all of the following:
Army of Shadows
Gripping, emotionally brutal tale of a French Resistance cell directed by the great Jean-Pierre Melville, who himself was a member of the Resistance. This is the movie I thought of most often while watching Andor, which is similarly concerned with the moral and psychological costs of commitment to rebellion. There’s a lot of Melville in Andor, actually -- his “occupation movies” like this and Le Silence de Mer, but also the less overtly political Melville of his more famous cool-gangster movies, like Le Cercle Rouge and Le Deuxième Souffle. Andor, after all, is a petty criminal occupying a seedy milieu; he enters the rebellion not through the front door of politics but through the side door of making a quick buck by getting into business with a guy.
The Battle of Algiers
An astonishing, unsparing depiction of Algerian resistance and French colonial repression directed by Gillo Pontecorvo and starring mostly non-professionals in the leading roles. This is probably the movie that most directly inspired Andor, even more than Army of Shadows: Like Andor, The Battle of Algiers tracks both a pretty thief’s imprisonment and subsequent radicalization and and the increasing brutality of a frustrated, bloodthirsty occupying army. (I’ve never seen Pontecorvo’s other films, but they sound similarly relevant -- a concentration-camp drama called Kapo and a political-assassination thriller called Operación Ogro.)
The story of a tragic freak whose desire to be normal makes him an immense monster. I would guess that lots of of Syril Karn, the simpering security officer whose failures and humiliations lead him into acts of idiotic violence, comes from Bernardo Bertolucci’s baroque attempt to delve into the psychology and sociality of fascism.
The Guns of Navarone
There are a lot of “crack commando team behind enemy lines in WWII” movies that Andor plays off of -- The Dirty Dozen, Where Eagles Dare, even A Bridge Too Far -- but I’m going with Guns of Navarone, which is particularly interested in the interplay between occupied locals and the foreign soldiers they’re supposed to work with. There’s some great tension generated by the unclear loyalties of various members of the commando team, plus a good role for the great Irene Pappas, who died this year.
Hangmen Also Die!
Bertolt Brecht’s only Hollywood film script, though the truly great title was apparently written by a production secretary who won a contest. Tells a fictionalized version of the story of “Operation Anthropoid,” in which SS second-in-command Reinhard Heydrich was assassinated in Prague by the Czech Resistance. (Three other movies, Operation Daybreak, Anthropoid, and the very recent The Man With the Iron Heart, based on Laurent Binet’s great novel HHhH, detail the same event, but I haven’t seem them. Maybe they’re good!) An extremely dark and tense tale of underground resistance, assassination plots, extrajudicial executions, and political violence.
A Man Escaped
A guy makes friends in prison while he tries to escape. One of the greatest movies ever made? An incredibly efficient and compelling depiction of a Resistance fighter imprisoned in France plotting an escape and building trust with his fellow inmates.
A cynical, funny Hollywood prison-escape movie from Billy Wilder. William Holden plays a P.O.W. who acts as a macher and operator in his camp, dealing with German guards and running a speakeasy and gambling ring -- and upon whom suspicion immediately falls when the other prisoners realize there’s an informant in the camp. I’m picking this over The Great Escape (or even something like The Grand Illusion) because it’s also a great story about a cynic transformed (sort of) into a believer by circumstance and opportunity.
The French Resistance tries to stop a German general from stealing French masterpieces via the titular train, without destroying the art. Just an incredible movie, by maybe the greatest action director of all time, depicting in (thrilling!) detail individual human sacrifice for some kind of let’s-hope-it’s-worth-it ideal.
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