Web Analytics Made Easy -



The Good Life in Philosophical Films


B.Contestabile   First version 2015   Last version 2024





Table of Contents




1.     Introduction

2.     Basics

2.1  Philosophical Films

2.2  Interpretation

2.3  Method of Teaching

2.4  The Good Life

3.     Love

3.1  The Lady Eve (1941)

3.2  My Night at Maud’s (1969)

4.     Power

4.1  Now, Voyager (1942)

4.2  Persepolis (2007)

5.     Law

5.1  Mr.Deeds Goes to Town (1936)

5.2  Twelve Angry Men (1957)

5.3  Schindler’s List (1993)

6.     Salvation

6.1  Ghandi (1982)

6.2  Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring (2003)

7.     Conclusion



Further Reading


Appendix: Cinema Therapy









Starting Point

Martha Nussbaum raised the following claims:

Certain novels are, irreplaceably, works of moral philosophy [Nussbaum 1990, 148]

Texts which deepen and expand comprehension of the good life ought to be included in moral philosophy [Nussbaum 1990, 138-9, 142]

In other words: Literature can – according to Nussbaum – teach the good life by means of insight.



Type of Problem

What is a good life?

Can the good life be taught by films (in analogy to literature)?

What is the best method of teaching?



What is a good life?

Socrates had argued – in the Euthydemus, for instance – that the good can be characterized by the four cardinal virtues. He engaged in countless discussions about the meaning of virtues in practical life examples. Socrates was aware that he did not have enough knowledge, to definitely describe the good. Consequently, he characterized the good life by the endeavor (virtue) to improve ethical knowledge [Taylor, 60].



Can the good life be taught by films (in analogy to literature)?

The cinematic specification of a moral ideal (like monogamous marriage and children) is questionable insofar, as it tends to create stereotypes. More consequent, in terms of Socrates’ philosophy, is the filming of different moral learning processes. The good life can only be described by a collection of films (like Cavell’s Cities of Words) which varies life stories and environments. Furthermore, in comparison with literature, films have a limited potential to reflect the cultural and historical context of moral learning processes. It makes therefore sense to combine the films with a description of this context.



What is the best method of teaching?

The weakness of literature and films (as far as they attempt to teach the good life) is a biased description of reality coupled with emotions. Many authors promote their individual perception as if it were a general truth. There are, however, means to avoid this trap:

- Platon’s Socrates used to switch perspectives in order to correct distorted perceptions. His style is characterized by analytical thinking combined with empathy.

- A different approach consists in introducing a neutral observer (narrator) or in switching to a background story, which reflects the bias.


Available films never reach the level of reflection, which can be found in some works of literature (e.g. in those of Coetzee).

- Cavell hopes to reach this level by combining films with philosophical analyses [Cavell]. 

- The best method is probably a Socratic discussion, based on (contradicting) films, reviews, and analyses.






1.   Introduction



Starting Point

Martha Nussbaum raised the following claims:

-      Certain novels are, irreplaceably, works of moral philosophy [Nussbaum 1990, 148]

-      Texts which deepen and expand comprehension of the good life ought to be included in moral philosophy [Nussbaum 1990, 138-9, 142]

In other words:

Literature can – according to Nussbaum – teach the good life by means of insight.



Type of Problem

1.     What is a good life?

2.     Can the good life be taught by films (in analogy to literature)?

3.     What is the best method of teaching?




2.   Basics



2.1 Philosophical Films




Philosophy (Greek love of wisdom) is the study of general and fundamental questions about existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Such questions are often posed as problems to be studied or resolved. The term was probably coined by Pythagoras (c. 570 – 495 BCE). Philosophical methods include questioning, critical discussion, rational argument, and systematic presentation (Philosophy, Wikipedia)


(1)  On the basis of these methods it might be argued that film has nothing to do with philosophy, in particular

-      that philosophy is the realm of reflection and debate, whereas film is restricted to experience and action;

-      that philosophy is concerned with reality and truth, as opposed to film which is the realm of mere illusion, appearance, unreal images;

-      that philosophy deals with universal questions and is a serious business, whereas film is confined to particular narratives, and is designed only for entertainment and distraction.

(Philosophy through Film, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy).


(2)  On the other hand it is undisputed that literature and film can promote or criticize moral values:

There is substantial agreement between Murdoch and Nussbaum on the question of literature's ability to enhance moral understanding (…).

Art is far and away the most educational thing we have [Murdoch, 230].

For Nussbaum – in contrast to Murdoch – this is reason enough to consider literature and film as possible philosophical methods.



Disagreement between Murdoch and Nussbaum

(1)  Murdoch views philosophy as the critical examination of concepts and systematic reflection on presuppositions.

(2)  Nussbaum sees philosophy as the search for understanding.


(1)  Murdoch's description of philosophy's ideal style and aim implies that works of literature, however well they portray moral life and also enhance the reader's understanding, are not works of philosophy.

(2)  Nussbaum's view of philosophy is broad enough, to admit not only certain novels but also other written works (e. g. histories, biographies, religious texts) which portray moral life and have the capacity to provoke reflection in the thoughtful reader [Holland].


A possible compromise consists in including philosophical discourses within the novel:

Philosophical novels are works of fiction in which a significant proportion of the novel is devoted to a discussion of the sort normally addressed in discursive philosophy. These might include the function and role of society, the purpose of life, ethics or morals, and the role of experience or reason in the development of knowledge. Novels that might qualify as philosophical novels in terms of subject matter but which proceed by non-discursive means (such as allegory) would be excluded. If a novel, for example, which has social structures as its subject matter, but where the exploration of these subjects is entirely inferred rather than being the subject of overt discussion or debate, would be excluded (Philosophical novel, Wikipedia)



Definition used in this paper

The idea that the good life can be taught by films was brought up by the American philosopher and professor of aesthetics Stanley Cavell (see Cavell 2002, Conversations with History, Youtube). In this paper we adopt Cavell’s definition of a philosophical film, a definition which accords with Nussbaum’s wide conception of philosophical methods (and style). This definition does not require that the good life must be the subject of overt discussion within the film. If the understanding can be enhanced by means of imageries, allegories and metaphors, then we will consider this film to be philosophical, even if there is no discourse at all. This implies, among others, that silent films can have a philosophical dimension. Since insight is not only an intellectual but also an emotional phenomenon, even the soundtrack may contribute [Cavell, 229, 311].




2.2 Interpretation



The hermeneutic cycle

The term hermeneutics was introduced in philosophy mainly through the title of Aristotle's work On Interpretation [Hermeneutics, Wikipedia].

In the humanities the subjective influence of the researcher cannot be eliminated. Practically every attempt to evaluate the quality of interpretations independent of the involved persons is doomed to fail. Friedrich Schleichermacher discovered as early as in the 19th century the interdependencies between the text, the author and the reader.

Texts are understood as expression of the psyche, the life and the historical period of the author. Understanding is a re-experiencing and immersing into the consciousness, the life and the historical period, where the texts originated. Hermeneutics becomes the general art to empathize with the life that stands behind a certain brainchild (Hermeneutik, Wikipedia).


Hans-Georg Gadamer stressed that the meaning of a novel must be found within its cultural and historical context. The same applies to films in general and to the meaning of the terms philosophical film and good life in particular.


In his 1960 standard reference Wahrheit und Methode Hans-Georg Gadamer convincingly showed that the interpreter and the object of interpretation interdepend and go round in a hermeneutic circle. Subsequently hermeneutics expanded its influence on the whole spectrum of cognition by claiming that any form of knowledge is based on interpretation. Gadamer’s work strengthened the social sciences’ position relative to the natural sciences. The peculiarity of psychoanalytic interpretations, however, was not recognized as a problem at the time.



Hermeneutics and psychoanalysis

The relation between hermeneutics and psychoanalysis was examined by Paul Ricoeur in his research on the relation between interpreting and remembering. Ricoeur found that psychoanalytical insight is a special case within hermeneutic insight:

-      The general case says that the understanding of a phenomenon can be improved by discovering new connections between already known pieces of information.

-      In the special case of psychoanalytic insight at least a part of the already known information is hidden in the unconscious.

The quality of a psychoanalytic interpretation therefore has to do with the capability to evoke memories in the patients, in particular the memory of suppressed desires. A (simplified) psychoanalytical thesis says that an interpretation is accepted by the patient if and only if it accommodates his/her unconscious desires.


We are confronted with the following situation:

1.     On one side there are the objective quality criteria of hermeneutics like consistency, precision and differentiation.

2.     On the other side there is the unscientific criterion subjective interest and irreducible privacy [Cavell, 229, 245-246]

The psychoanalytic interpretation is a mixture of objective and subjective criteria.



Psychoanalysis and philosophical literature/ films

Cavell considers psychoanalysis to be philosophy, because it uses a philosophical method (hermeneutics) and because it improves (self-) knowledge [Cavell, 237, 282, 290]. He emphasizes that psychoanalysis is much closer to literature (and therefore also to film) than to science [Cavell, 286].


Freud likes to insist that his insights into the human mind have been anticipated by the creative writers of our civilization [Cavell, 287].

He takes the fable (a story intended to illustrate a moral) as an allegory of psychoanalysis. Most generally these allegorical connections turn on the presence of delusions from which the sufferer has to be, as Freud characteristically puts the matter, awakened; and on the feeling to be a prisoner of the circumstances [Cavell, 284]


Freud wanted to free the study of the mind from the hold of academic philosophy [Cavell, 289]. His intention was probably to suggest that psychoanalysis is a new (non-academic) form of philosophy. Freud chose the novel Gradiva in particular, as an allegory of psychoanalysis [Cavell, 289]. A romantic fable is – in particular with respect to emotions – completely different from the academic philosophical discourses in the 19th century.




2.3 Method of Teaching



Reaching attention

The social importance of films was probably at its peak during the Great Depression, which originated in the United States. It was the time and the place where Cavell got his inspiration to teach the good life by means of films:

The popular feature films of the 1930s and 1940s drew vast audiences across the world, and as such can tell us much about the hopes and fears of ordinary people as learned treatises by contemporaries claiming to speak on their behalf (…). From the time of the Wall Street crash until the inaugural address of Franklin Roosevelt in March 1933 America experienced a crisis of confidence unequalled in its history (…). Ninety million Americans went to the movies each week in this decade. Film had a dramatic impact in a country in which only radio could compete for the attention of the mass audience. The dictators knew the power of film. The democracies were no less influenced by it (Film and History 1929-1945, University of Cambridge, www.hist.cam.ac.uk)



Learning by imitation

No matter, if the message is individualistic or normative: the most important factor for the acquirement of new behavior is the behavior of peers. In films the peers are usually main actors with positive characteristics (likeable or good-looking or strong or intelligent etc.) so that the spectator can easily identify with them. The influence of peers is possibly as important as the one of genes [Pentland], an empirical result which could explain the astonishing effect of propaganda films and TV-advertisement.



Learning by insight

Learning by insight as opposed to learning by imitation can be promoted by describing a learning process. A well-known example for this method is the so-called “Bildungsroman”:

Novel of formation, novel of education or coming-of-age story is a literary genre that focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood (coming of age) and in which, therefore, character change is extremely important (Bildungsroman, Wikipedia).

-      Similarly, to a coming-of-age story, a film can describe the psychological and moral growth of adults. However, a single film usually takes place in a single environment and the learned is often forgotten if the environment changes.

-      Cavell’s goal is to teach a certain way of thinking. He therefore presents many different learning processes in many films [Cavell] and the spectators should figure out, by time, the common mindset in all these cases.

-      The available films never reach the level of reflection, which is evident in some works of literature (e.g. in those of Coetzee). Cavell hopes to reach this level by combining the films with philosophical analyses [Cavell].




In the context of films Cavell refers to Wittgenstein’s findings about the function of language. Language – including metaphorical, pictorial, and visual forms – can either support or hinder the insight, which is needed to change one’s way of living. Cavell believes that certain films meet Wittgenstein’s demand for clarity in the description of life forms. While this is true for the films Cavell has chosen, his (over-)interpretations are not a role model of clarity.

Cavell can explain complex ideas in a compellingly succinct way. However, most of the time the reader is confronted by seemingly endless, comma-ridden sentences that require a map and a compass to get through [Alford].

Cavell calls Socrates a forerunner [Cavell, 445-447]. The Platonic Socrates, however, strives for a simple and clear language.




2.4 The Good Life


Socrates had argued – in the Euthydemus, for instance – that the good can be characterized by the four cardinal virtues. Virtues are behavioral patterns which are directed toward goals. One could speculate that Socrates’ cardinal virtues were influenced by the Purusarthas (as depicted in the table below). For information about a hypothetical influence of Indian philosophy on Socrates see Indian Sources of Hellenistic Ethics.



























Where is altruism located in this table?

-      Biological altruism belongs to Kama and Artha

-      Non-biological altruism belongs to Dharma and Moksha.


Socrates was a moral and political philosopher and fought against moral relativists such as the Sophists [Taylor, 66]. Consequently his search for a good life was a search for the objectively good, and for a way of living that represents and promotes the good. Socrates engaged in countless discussions about the meaning of above terms in practical life examples. He was aware that he did not have enough knowledge, in order to definitely describe the good. Consequently, he characterized the good life by the endeavor (virtue) to improve ethical knowledge [Taylor, 60]. In a world of changing experiences moral learning is a never-ending process.


In the following we use above table as a rough framework for structuring films about the good life. The films are intended as a basis for Socratic discussions and can be considered like case studies, where abstract notions of the good become concrete.




3.   Love



3.1 The Lady Eve (1941)


A short description of the plot can be found in The Lady Eve (Wikipedia)





The good life

The ideal form of love – according to Cavell – is a kind of marriage, which is based on true (authentic) emotions and where the partners help each other to discover and develop their (moral) potential.

       Cavell argues that the genre of remarriage represented Hollywood's crowning achievement, and that beneath all the slapstick and innuendo is a serious effort to create a new basis for marriage centered on mutual lovereligious and economic necessity no longer applying for much of the American middle class (Comedy of remarriage, Wikipedia)

       The perfectionist vision is that the journey toward each other (…) will become for each a journey together of continuous interest [Cavell, 299].

In Pursuits of Happiness (1981), Cavell describes his experience of seven prominent Hollywood comedies:


-      It Happened one Night (1934) [Cavell, 145-163]

-      The Awful Truth (1937) [Cavell, 373-383]

-      Bringing Up Baby (1938)

-      His Girl Friday (1940) [Cavell, 340-351]

-      The Philadelphia Story (1940) [Cavell, 35-48] [Wolf]

-      The Lady Eve (1941) [Cavell, 282-312]

-      Adams Rib (1949) [Cavell, 70-81]


Cavell argues that these films, from the years 1934–1949, form part of what he calls the genre of remarriage, and he finds in them great philosophical, moral, and indeed political significance. According to Cavell, the emphasis that these movies place on "zeitremarriage" draws attention to the fact that, within a relationship, happiness requires "growing up" together with one's partner (Stanley Cavell, Wikipedia).


But how can we find a matching partner for “growing up” together? Why is one attracted to a person rather than another? Cavell thinks that psychoanalysis has the answer [Cavell, 282-312]:



The Lady Eve as an allegory of psychoanalysis

Freud takes the fable (a story intended to illustrate a moral) as an allegory of psychoanalysis. Most generally these allegorical connections turn on the presence of delusions from which the sufferer has to be, as Freud characteristically puts the matter, awakened; and on the feeling to be a prisoner of the circumstances [Cavell, 284]

-      Freud chose the novel Gradiva in particular, as an allegory of psychoanalysis

-      Cavell uses The Lady Eve as an allegory of psychoanalysis, by emphasizing the affinity with Gradiva.


Freud summarizes Gradiva as follows:

“The story as set in the frame of Pompeii and dealing with a young archaeologist who had surrendered his interest in life in exchange for an interest in the remains of classical antiquity and who is now brought back to real life by a roundabout path which was strange but perfectly logical.”[Cavell, 284].

Cavell notes that “this may be taken as a fair epitomizing of the story of The Lady Eve, the film which I have paired Freud’s text – with the classical archaeologist replaced by a zoologist” [Cavell, 284].


Cavell thinks that the epistemic and therapeutic concepts of philosophy were fulfilled in the form of psychoanalysis:

-      After a millennium or so in which philosophy, as established in Greece carried on the idea of philosophy as a way of life, constituted in view of the task of caring for the self, call this philosophy’s therapeutic mission, and

-      after another millennium or so in which philosophy has seemed prepared to discard this piece of its mission, philosophy has discovered methods which can make good on philosophy’s originating goal of liberation [Cavell, 237].

He then compares the state before liberation with Plato’s image of our lives as those of chained prisoners in a cave.


Both Freud and psychoanalysis have been criticized in extreme terms. Karl Popper, for example, argued that psychoanalysis is a pseudoscience because its claims are not testable and cannot be refuted (Psychoanalysis, Wikipedia).

But philosophical psychoanalysis is different from orthodox psychoanalysis. It is rather a method than a theory. Philosophical psychoanalysis is practiced on the basis of free association and hermeneutics, without using an expert language and without being fixed on Freudian concepts like the drive theory [Hampe 2006]. It is a tool for gaining insight, independent of any possible mental disease. The concepts of the unconscious, association and interpretation date back to ancient concepts of knowledge acquisition and can therefore be attributed to philosophy.




Know thyself (γνῶθι σεαυτόν).


Oracular statement from Delphi





Cultural and historical context

The meaning of love changes considerably in the course of history:

1.     In traditional families the prime concern was the material and social well-being of the group.

2.     Since the last third of the 18th century happiness was increasingly tied to the idea of romantic love [Burkhart, 179]. Romantic love has a religious trait [Burkhart, 183].

3.     Romantic love is unstable and cannot guarantee the symmetry of the genders. For that reason the concept of partnership is currently favored. Partnership is better suited to control and solve the problems of daily life, except for the problem of passion. Emotions have their own logic and are not easily sacrificed to the ideal of equality and justice [Burkhart, 184].

4.     In the 1960s the idea came up to search happiness outside of stable relationships. Divorce was institutionalized and consecutive marriages gained acceptance. Self-realization finally culminated in the life style of a single or in free relationships without obligations [Burkhart, 184]. Attractive people possess a kind of “capital” which they can invest in the “markets of happiness”. The unattractive are in the same position as the poor in former times [Burkhart, 186].


The comedy of remarriage is a sub-genre of American comedy films of the 1930s and 1940s. At the time, the Production Code, also known as the Hays Code, banned any explicit references to or attempts to justify adultery and illicit sex. The comedy of remarriage enabled filmmakers to evade this provision of the Code. The protagonists divorced, flirted with strangers without risking the wrath of censorship, and then got back together (Comedy of remarriage, Wikipedia).


Surprisingly Cavell – an expert in psychoanalysis – did not address this double standard:

-      Officially the films promoted the ideal of a monogamous, steadily deepening partnership

-      Unofficially the moviemakers satisfied the spectators’ interest for adultery and illicit sex.




3.2 My Night at Maud’s (1969)


A short description of the plot can be found in My night at Maud’s (Wikipedia)





The good life

Partner selection is decisive for the quality and stability of a relationship and the well-being of possible children. Rohmer’s films suggest that we should strive for a reconciliation of love and reason. In a situation of uncertainty, we have to make a choice for the kind of happiness that is harder to attain (less probable), but more valuable.


My night at Maud’s is the third of the Six Moral Tales (1962-1972) by Eric Rohmer.

The tales are influenced by F.W.Murnau's Sunrise (1927): a man, married or otherwise committed to a woman, is tempted by a second woman but eventually returns to the first woman.

-      In Cavell’s remarriage comedies (chapter 3.1) the second woman is a new perception of the first woman.

-      In Rohmer’s films the second woman represents passion and impermanence, whereas the first woman stands for the durable “deeper” love.


Rohmer’s films are subtle psychological investigations about what characters think about their behavior. Rohmer has cited the works of Blaise Pascal, Jean de La Bruyère, François de La Rochefoucauld and Stendhal as inspirations for the series of films (Eric Rohmer, Wikipedia).



Love as a bet

The solution to the modern love crisis was sought by the Catholic Rohmer in the French past, in the tradition of the 17th century, in short: in the world of Racine, Descartes and above all – in the world of Blaise Pascal. For Rohmer, Pascal had found the truth: We, the representatives of modernity, have lost orientation. No moral directive informs the lovers who is destined for whom. Modern freedom does not make things easier for people; it makes things more difficult, because it reveals the ambivalence of passion. They must transform their spontaneous desire into durable love; they must choose. Only very few people in Rohmer’s films succeed. One of them is called Jean-Louis and appears in My Night at Maud’s, Rohmer's first cinema success. The story is not by chance located in Clermont-Ferrand, the birthplace of Blaise Pascal. The film is about how, under the conditions of radical freedom, random desire can be transformed into personal love. The director's heart beats for the waiting and the dreamy, for all those who are not yet fully interwoven into the net of the impersonal dating society and who have decided to believe in love. These people wait for the "right one", and – in analogy to Pascal’s wagerthey bet quite reasonably on love. "My characters," said Rohmer, "are idealists of love, they strive for the absolute." Hidden in the grief of the seekers, in their curious longing and hope, is Rohmer's cinematic fiction: Only those who believe in the absolute of love will be granted its miracle. So just being "romantic" is not enough – without a reasonable choice, without a decision, no one will be happy (Thomas Assheuer, Zeit Online, Jan.2010).



Cultural and historical context

The cultural and historical context of Rohmer’s films it is the French New Wave (French: La Nouvelle Vague), an art film movement which emerged in the late 1950s. The movement was characterized by its rejection of the era's traditional filmmaking conventions in favor of experimentation and a spirit of iconoclasm. New Wave filmmakers explored new approaches to editing, visual style, and narrative, as well as engagement with the social and political upheavals of the era. The New Wave is often referred to as one of the most influential movements in the history of cinema.

The term Nouvelle Vague was first used by a group of French film critics and cinephiles associated with the magazine Cahiers du cinéma in the late 1950s and 1960s. These critics rejected the Tradition de qualité ("Tradition of Quality") of mainstream French cinema, which emphasized craft over innovation and old works over experimentation. This was apparent in a manifesto-like 1954 essay by François Truffaut, Une certaine tendance du cinéma français, where he denounced the adaptation of safe literary works into unimaginative films. Along with Truffaut, a number of writers for Cahiers du cinema became leading New Wave filmmakers, including Jean-Luc Godard, Éric Rohmer, Jacques Rivette, and Claude Chabrol. The associated Left Bank (Rive Gauche) film community included directors such as Alain Resnais, Agnès Varda, and Chris Marker (French New Wave, Wikipedia).




4. Power


4.1 Now, Voyager (1942)


A short description of the plot can be found in Now, Voyager (Wikipedia)





The good life

In Now, Voyager Cavell refers to Friedrich Nietzsche and (the Western understanding of) self-realization [Cavell, 208–246].

The will to power describes what Nietzsche may have believed to be the main driving force in humans: achievement, ambition, the striving to reach the highest possible position in life; these are all manifestations of the will to power (The will to power, Wikipedia).

The Nietzschean concept of power is influence in its widest sense [Zerm, 41-43].

Cavell emphasizes that Nietzsche’s philosophy helps to liberate oneself from false authorities.



Liberation from a dictatorial mother

At the beginning of the film Now, Voyager we are confronted with a familiar abuse of power:

Charlotte Vale is an unattractive, overweight, repressed spinster whose life is brutally dominated by her dictatorial mother, an aristocratic Boston dowager whose verbal and emotional abuse of her daughter has contributed to the woman’s complete lack of self-confidence (Now, Voyager, Wikipedia).

The mother effectively reduces Charlotte to silence, until later in the narrative – thru the help of a psychiatrist – she gets access to speech. Charlotte’s will to power is activated in the therapy and then materializes in a stepwise liberation. She decides – at least temporarily – to leave her mother by going on a cruise [Cavell, 228].



Liberation from a conventional role model

On the cruise Charlotte falls in love with a married man called Jerry, and becomes a dashing woman, surrounded by admiring, voluble friends [Cavell, 230]. She separates from Jerry after the cruise and gets engaged to a young widower. However, after a reunion with Jerry, she realizes that she does not love the widower and breaks her engagement. Charlotte returns to the place, where she started her psychotherapy (a therapy center for children), works hard and moves up to the board of directors [Cavell, 231]. She finally found a satisfying role in life, without being married and without having her own children.


Charlotte could have played the conventional role if she had married the widower. She decided for the unconventional, in order to stay true to her feelings.

A question, which is discussed for example by Robert Nozick, is whether we love the person or the qualities that are manifested by the person and that could be maybe found in someone else (…). If one is simply attached to physical qualities, for instance, he/she can indeed find someone else possessing them. As DiBattista's essay on Now, Voyager [DiBattista] shows, it makes sense to ask whether the beloved and the sensations and experiences offered by love really are unique and irreplaceable [Bertinetto].


The fact that Jerry was unique for Charlotte (and insofar irreplaceable) does not mean that she can never get married. She can later find new friends and relationships and maybe even rediscover "true" love. The message of the film (in the context of marriage) is only that one should not get married in order to forget an unhappy love, or in order to fulfil a predetermined social role.



Cultural and historical context

Now, Voyager (1942) was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically and aesthetically significant.” What is the significance of the film Now, Voyager?

1.     The film was produced, when psychoanalytic theories were popularized in the United States. It can also be associated with the growing power of women during World War II (Cinematernity).

2.     It is the first of many roles where Bette Davis enlarged the parameters of acceptable female behavior (Hollywood Melodrama).

3.     The American culture (in the year 2005) was obsessed with the ritualized physical transformation known as makeover. Now, Voyager has been associated with the birth of makeover programs and transformation narratives (Hollywood Catwalk).


Makeover programs

Films such as Now, Voyager (1942), Sabrina (1954), Working Girl (1988), and Pretty Woman (1990) reveal, with particular clarity, the psychological and cultural assumptions that both create and sustain the makeover (…). The makeover in consumer culture and the makeover in film engage in an endless cycle of creation and vicarious satisfaction of our collective desire for transformation. Unlike the makeover in television and women’s magazines where ‘ordinary’ people are improved through changes in their appearance, the makeover in film presents us with actresses who are essentially disguised, through costuming and cosmetic effects, as these same ordinary people – and not just ordinary, but unattractive or even ugly. When an actress playing the part of an unattractive woman receives a makeover, it becomes simply a reinstatement of her already recognized glamour and celebrity persona. Because of this, I argue, the makeover in film ultimately represents a contradictory ideology. While it asserts that with a little bit of make-up and the right haircut, anyone can be sexually competitive and climb the social ladder, the makeover simultaneously reinforces very strict ideals of physical beauty, as embodied by the female star.  In other words, the makeover is egalitarian and at the same time elitist, presenting unrealistic standards of appearance somehow attainable by anyone (…)

Finally, in my conclusion, I offer some possible explanations for the relative absence of male bodies within the makeover narrative in film (…) A potential influence is the fundamental argument made by feminist theory that in visual representation, including narrative film, women are valued primarily for how they look, while men are valued for what they do.

[Dancey, Diss.Abstract]




4.2 Persepolis (2007)


A short description of the plot can be found in Persepolis (Wikipedia)





The good life

Persepolis is a film about the resistance to imposed ideologies and the individual’s quest for the holy grail of freedom. Similar to Now, Voyager, it may serve as an example of Nietzschean (Western) understanding of self-realization. In Now, Voyager the oppression comes from inside the family, in Persepolis from the outside. The psychotherapist is replaced by a wise and worldly grandmother. Persepolis is a coming-of-age story with a deep and strong sense of truth.


From Nietzsche's point of view morality can only function in an authentic form, and not in the form of indoctrination and oppression. For morality to function at all, the individual must first be interested in acting morally [Zerm, Abstract].




“Abandoned my faith in morality – why?

Out of morality”


[Nietzsche, Vorrede 4;3,16].





East meets West

Persepolis is a marvelously emotive work composed of multicultural influences. East meets West in the main actor Marjane. Ultimately, Persepolis is concerned with the state of exile, a condition that, as evidenced by Marjane’s teenage stabs at trying to ingratiate herself into various social scenes (nihilistic punk, groovy disco, anarchic hippie), hopelessly frustrates identity formation. The feeling of belonging to many places at once and yet none at all is omnipresent, creating an undercurrent of miserable friction that, as the lonely conclusion implies, can never be completely resolved. That desire to fit in, to love and be loved, and to be a part of something, is the story’s universal core, whether it be conveyed via Marjane telling a man at a bar that she’s French, wearing the veil and marrying a lousy Iranian good-for-nothing, or—following a friend’s fatal attempt to leap to safety—accepting that “freedom always has a price” (as Grandma says). The sense that total contentment and inner peace is elusive may linger even as Satrapi ends her tale by repeating the happy memory of her grandmother. Yet as confirmed by this gorgeous, accomplished, stirring work, she’s most certainly found her own distinct, defiant voice (Nick Schager, www.slantmagazine.com/film/persepolis)



A unique form of expression

Satrapi describes her animation style as “stylized realism,” where scenes are based in realism, but the images are design-oriented—sometimes almost to the point of abstraction. But this is no distancing device; on the contrary, the stylized images end up heightening the emotional impact of the story. When a young man is shot to death during a police crackdown of a demonstration against the Shah, the blood seeps from the body in a pool of black ink that covers the screen in darkness. By rendering her incredible story in these starkly expressive images, Satrapi not only adds intensity, but also strips the movie of cultural ornamentation, and the story becomes a universal one that we all can relate to, no matter what country we were born in (Beverly Berning)

Satrapi after having found a unique form of expression is finally heard and respected. Although she probably never thought of Nietzsche in doing what she did, it corresponds exactly to Nietzsche’s ideal of self-realization [Gugerli].



Cultural and historical context

The Iranian Revolution, also known as the Islamic Revolution or the 1979 Revolution was a series of events that culminated in the overthrow of the Pahlavi dynasty under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was supported by the United States, and the replacement of his government with an Islamic republic under the Grand Ayatollah Khomeini, a leader of one of the factions in the revolt. The revolution was supported by various Islamist and leftist organizations and student movements (…).

Some observers believe that the Iranian revolution began as an authentic and anti-dictatorial popular revolution based on a broad coalition of all anti-Shah forces and that the members of the coalition thought Khomeini intended to be more of a spiritual guide than a ruler. Khomeini was in his mid-70s, never held public office, been out of Iran for more than a decade, and told questioners “The religious dignitaries do not want to rule” (…). However, in early March 1979 Khomeini announced, “Do not use this term, democratic that is the Western style”, giving pro-democracy liberals (and later leftists) a taste of disappointments to come (…). In mid-August 1979, shortly after the election of the constitution-writing assembly, several dozen newspapers and magazines opposing Khomeini's idea of theocratic rule were shut down (…). In succession the National Democratic Front was banned in August 1979, the provisional government was disempowered in November, the Muslim People's Republican Party was banned in January 1980, the People's Mujahedin of Iran guerrillas came under attack in February 1980, a purge of universities started in March 1980, and leftist Islamist Abolhassan Banisadr was impeached in June 1981 (…). Human rights groups estimated the number of casualties suffered by protesters and prisoners of the new system to be several thousand (…). Brief trials lacking defense attorneys, juries, transparency or the opportunity for the accused to defend themselves were held by revolutionary Sharia judges.


Views differ on the impact of the revolution. For some it was "the most significant, hopeful and profound event in the entirety of contemporary Islamic history," while other Iranians believe that the revolution was a time when "for a few years we all lost our minds", and which "promised us heaven, but created a hell on earth." (Iranian Revolution, Wikipedia)




5. Law



5.1 Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)


A short description of the plot can be found in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (Wikipedia)

A detailed description can be found in Filmsite Movie Review (www.filmsite.org/twelve4.html).






The good life

The good life in the context of justice requires a clarification of the term justice. In Mr.Deeds Goes to Town Cavell refers to John Rawls [Cavell, 164–207]. Rawls called his concept Justice as fairness in order to make clear, that justice in a strict sense is beyond our reach [Rawls]. Fairness is less than justice but represents a useful benchmark for comparing political systems. We can accordingly distinguish between a fair life and the life of a moral perfectionist.


1.     The fair life

A fair life engages for fair public laws and their enforcement.

Example: Let us assume that the implementation of the United States constitution is way below Rawls’ benchmark of fairness. In this case a fair life – according to Rawls – requires the engagement for human rights (e.g. the abolition of capital punishment), for the equality of opportunity, for the (economic) welfare of the worst-off and for intergenerational justice (keyword sustainability).


2.     The life of a moral perfectionist

A moral perfectionist doesn’t rely on a fixed concept of justice, his/her life is rather characterized by a permanent endeavor to examine and improve ethical concepts. This also includes topics beyond constitutions and laws, such as

-      the abuse of power in the private realm,

-      effective altruism, including animal welfare

-      antinatalism [Benatar].

Without the register of moral perfectionism Rawls’ theory cannot reach its goal of being able to say (to oneself, if no further) that one is above reproach [Cavell, 174]

For a comparison of Rawls’ and Cavell’s concept see Moral Perfectionism and Justice [German].



Liberty versus solidarity

Rawls’ solution to the conflict between individual interests and the common good is to make individual interests useful for the community (instead of suppressing them). In Rawl's theory

-      the liberty principle stands for individual interests

-      the difference principle stands for making individual interests useful for the community.

It is not necessary for the functioning of a community that the conflict between self-interest and common interest be resolved by eliminating self-interest. It seems that the combination of competition and a progressive tax system leads to a better result for the worst-off. In our film, however, there is no balance between liberty and solidarity, so that private initiative must replace politics.



The Great Depression

The film Mr.Deed Goes to Town by Frank Capra has to be seen in the context of the Great Depression.

The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression in the decade preceding World War II. The timing of the Great Depression varied across nations, but in most countries it started in 1930 and lasted until the late 1930s or middle 1940s. It was the longest, deepest, and most widespread depression of the 20th century. (Great Depression, Wikipedia).

Frank Capra’s films feature prominently in the classes on American history because they chimed so perfectly with the zeitgeist. Mainstream movies are designed to appeal to the largest audience possible, so their commercial fate tells us how successfully they have captured the mood of the moment. Capra’s Mr Deeds Goes to Town tells us things about America in 1936 that we can't get simply from a study of New Deal legislation (Film and History 1929-1945, University of Cambridge).



Hollywood as cultural mythmaker

It was argued that Capra's popularity during the Depression was no accident. His democratic visions in films were also "psychic escapes, safety valves”. Capra felt the Depression caused him to take a "hard look at life from the eye level of the hard-pressed Smiths and Joneses, lift the human spirit and revitalize American cultural mythology. Economic breakdown, fascism, and communism threatened American ideals, particularly the "virtue of deferred gratitude and the assurance that hard work and perseverance would bring success." Fewer than half of the unemployed during the early '30s still believed in "rugged individualism" and the "formula of work, save, and success."

Hollywood stood to gain long-sought prestige through its role as cultural mythmaker (…). In his autobiography, Capra asked "Was there some film to be made out of the Depression? Of course--wealth versus ideals; Big Money against little people”.

Eighty million people went to the movies each week during the early years of the Depression, despite ticket prices ranging from fifty cents to a dollar. When the people went to see Frank Capra movies, they saw what one critic has since called "the essence of Depression America (…) e.g. the long, long line of unemployed men in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town." (…). For Capra, America's problems were crooked businessmen and political opportunists who ultimately acted un-American and wrecked the system. He possessed an essentially conservative view (…). Throughout the '30s, Capra remained skeptical of organized (working-class) mass movements and fundamental change (Capra’s Films in the 1930s, University of Virginia).



Self-reliance versus politics

Because Capra chose to avoid any extended treatment of the working-class movements of the '30s, the solutions he offered seem particularly implausible. Critic Herbert Biberman took Capra to task for his apolitical vision:


“You tell us that private charity holds a more creative future for millions of Americans than does the Work Progress Administration. Where is there a factual basis for such a theory in the whole of American history? Was the Revolutionary War a manifestation of organized neighborliness of an unpolitical character?...Will "unpolitical neighborliness" prevent the eight- hour day from becoming the twelve-hour day?...Do you believe politics should be left to the mugs (criminals)? The mugs, from [Hamilton] to Hitler, have tried to spread such a belief." 

Capra did not take notice of the people who won the sit down strikes, were murdered at Republic Steel, and managed to oust anti-labor Republican administrations in Pennsylvania steel towns. He avoided the 'real' opportunities for change like government regulation or union mutualism (…). Like others in the '30s and '40s, Capra was worried that reliance on government and mass movements threatened to swallow the idea of individual self-reliance (…). Capra called his films after Deeds "the rebellious cry of the individual against being trampled by massiveness – mass production, mass thought, mass education, mass politics, mass wealth, and mass conformity." Although the small town was becoming an anachronism, and the mythic small-town hero's ability to navigate urban mass culture was increasingly suspect, Capra continued to rely on his formula. But finally, the qualities associated with the typical American hero prove inadequate to surmount the difficulties posed by an increasingly institutionalized, modern society. The relationship of the hero to the people is so completely mediated by an assortment of technologies and institutions that he can't reach them effectively. And Capra, like Emerson, remained doubtful of the people's ability to act without the inspiration of the hero (Capra’s Films in the 1930s, University of Virginia).




5.2 Twelve Angry Men (1957)


A short description of the plot can be found in Twelve Angry Men, Wikipedia



Twelve angry men4



The good life

This film is about a good life in the context of law enforcement.

12 Angry Men explores many techniques of consensus-building and the difficulties encountered in the process among a group of men whose range of personalities adds to the intensity and conflict. It also explores the power a single person has to elicit change (Twelve Angry Men, Wikipedia).

The defender of justice in this film withstands the pressure of group opinion. In an environment where emotion and prejudice struggle to control the field he defends a way of thinking, which is reminiscent of Socrates.

The principle of reasonable doubt, the belief that a defendant is innocent until proven guilty, is one of the most enlightened elements of the American Constitution, although many Americans have had difficulty in accepting it (Roger Ebert)



Socratic debate

This is a film about deliberations, about the process of examining evidence and weighing it. Here we watch as what, on its face, appears unassailable is shown to be doubtful. That is the essence of the jury process. It is what courts and lawyers, when doing their best work, hope will be the product of the adjudicatory process. In the film, jurors are called together to do this work and we watch them do it. The movie is about a process. The true hero of the piece is the deliberative mechanism that the law sets out to foster. Give-and-take is at its heart. Its answers may be tentative, but the way they have been fashioned validates them in an uncertain world. Psychologists, like Tom Tyler, tell us that, both as participants and as onlookers, the way we most often assess fairness of a result is through the quality of the adjudicatory process. Here we watch a decision win validation through an honest process. That is about as good a job as we can do. We may succeed or fail to get the right answer, but the effort legitimizes our system. I believe it also ennobles us as we must meet the world's challenges, not with violence or rhetoric but with legally structured debate based on evidence. What is ultimately on trial is not an eighteen-year-old boy, or even a jury, but the human ability to live under the rule of law. The winners are the law and the men who have preserved it. They have met the challenge and transcended their limits as individuals. Twelve acting together have achieved more than anyone could have [Landsman, 757].


The film also reminds us that the truth is not self-evident. It is contingent and must be struggled over. Here we see the struggle personified, and we are moved. Dignity arises out of the effort to do the best possible job when a clear answer does not exist. That dignity is enhanced when a body of men undertakes the effort knowing that there is a risk that they may fail. It is not at all clear that the defendant is innocent. What the jury concludes is that there is reasonable doubt about his guilt. When we can accept such doubt, we honor our best instincts and resist the temptation to impose too simple a solution on a complex reality. The director, Sidney Lumet, said of his film, "This is not a tract. This is not a pro-jury or anti-jury thing. It's... about human behavior. ' The truly impressive artistry of the movie lies in its ability to capture human behavior [Landsman, 757].


But the film is not so much about individual human behavior (or performance) as about group action. The real brilliance of the piece is found in the ensemble work of the cast. They appear to listen to each other and to react to each other. Their interactions personify the triumph of the group--the point that the film sets out to make. We see the group grow and change before our eyes, in order to rise above its individual constituent parts. This is what juries can and often do. Lumet and his actors don't just tell us this; they show us. Here, Lumet captures an almost intangible reality [Landsman, 758].




12 Angry Men has been repeatedly revived since it first aired on television in 1954. In each iteration it has continued to have something to say to us about the human ability to rise above the self to do justice. In 1991, Shun Nakahara, a Japanese director, decided to remake the film as a comedy in which the central joke was the wild improbability of a group of Japanese with the particular foibles of their society--extreme politeness, deference to hierarchy, and an overwhelming desire to avoid confrontation-ever working together as a jury. To almost everyone's surprise the movie, though played for laughs, ended up suggesting that Japanese citizens too can rise to the challenge of dispensing group justice. 12 Angry Men seems to have found something universal and good in human nature. That is an insight to cherish and recall [Landsman, 758].



Symbolic and metaphoric approach

Even in the 1950s, it would have been unlikely to have an all-male, all-white jury. However, it’s slightly forgivable since the play made the jury and trial largely symbolic and metaphoric. The jurors were made to represent a cross-section of American attitudes towards race, justice, and ideology, and were not entirely realistic. The film is a powerful indictment, denouncement and expose of the trial by jury system. Not only is the teenaged defendant on trial, but also the jury and the American judicial system with its purported sense of infallibility, fairness, and lack of bias. Alternatively, the film could also be viewed as commentary on McCarthyism, Fascism, or Communism, the threatening forces in the 1950s (Filmsite Movie Review).

Following some information about the American film industry at that time:



Cultural and historical context

The film industry that produced 12 Angry Men faced profound challenges. It had been under intense government scrutiny since at least 1949, when the so-called "Hollywood Ten" had been hauled before Congress and refused to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee. The industry's reaction to this and other inquiries was a shameful effort to expel all those with prior communist associations from the movie business. Writers, directors, actors, and others with significant past ties to "red" organizations were placed on a blacklist enforced through the efforts of the major studios. Those on the list were denied all Hollywood employment. By contrast, those who cooperated in the government witch hunt by providing the names of individuals who had been involved with the Communist Party or other left-wing organizations during the 1930s and 1940s were exempted from the purge. The 1950s film industry committed itself to an effort to produce patriotic fare. One of the favorite themes in that effort was the dramatization of ways in which the United States was different from and superior to the Soviet Union [Landsman, 750].




5.3 Schindler’s List (1993)


A short description of the plot can be found in Schindler’s List, Wikipedia





The good life

This film is about a good life in terms of defending human rights.

It also explores – like Mr.Deeds Goes to Town and Twelve Angry Men – the power a single person has to elicit change.



Resistance to evil

In telling their stories, Steven Spielberg found a way to approach the Holocaust, which is a subject too vast and tragic to be encompassed in any reasonable way by fiction. In the ruins of the saddest story of the 20th century, he found, not a happy ending, but at least one affirming that resistance to evil is possible and can succeed. In the face of the Nazi charnel houses, it is a statement that has to be made, or we sink into despair (Roger Ebert)


Despite the grisly subject matter, this movie is essentially about uncovering a kernel of hope and dignity in the midst of a monstrous tragedy. The story of Oskar Schindler's sacrifices for the Jews sets this apart from other Holocaust dramas. Uncompromising in its portrayal of good, evil, and all the shades in between, Schindler's List offers a clear view of human nature laid bare: hatred, greed, lust, envy, anger, and, most important of all, empathy and love. Because this film touches us so deeply, the catharsis has a power that few -- if any -- other moments in film history can match. And that's what establishes this as a transcendent motion picture experience (James Berardinelli)


"Schindler's List" gives us information about how parts of the Holocaust operated, but does not explain it, because it is inexplicable that men could practice genocide. Or so we want to believe. In fact, genocide is a commonplace in human history, and is happening right now in Africa, the Middle East, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. The United States was colonized through a policy of genocide against native peoples. Religion and race are markers that we use to hate one another, and unless we can get beyond them, we must concede we are potential executioners. The power of Spielberg's film is not that it explains evil, but that it insists that men can be good in the face of it, and that good can prevail (Roger Ebert).


“I think ‘Schindler’s List’ will wind up being so much more important than a movie,” said Walt Disney Studios then-chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg at the time. “I don’t want to burden the movie too much, but I think it will bring peace on earth, good will to men. Enough of the right people will see it that it will actually set the course of human affairs.” (Akiva Gottlieb)





The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil

is for good men to do nothing.


Origin disputed




Madness and normality

Goeth was clearly mad. War masks his underlying nature as a serial killer. His cruelty twists back on his victims: He spares a life only long enough to give his victim hope, and then shoots him. Seeing "Schindler's List" again recently, I wondered if it was a weakness to make Goeth insane. Would it have been better for Spielberg to focus instead on a Nazi functionary--an "ordinary" man who is simply following orders? The terror of the Holocaust comes not because a monster like Goeth could murder people, but because thousands of people snatched from their everyday lives became, in the chilling phrase, Hitler's willing executioners (Roger Ebert).


The matter of who lived and died was completely, utterly, existentially arbitrary. As one of the characters observes, the casualness and randomness of Nazi cruelty was such that at no point could one develop a strategy for survival; there was no safe way to behave, and even extreme cleverness couldn’t save you in the long run. All morality, justice and personal worth was erased (Todd McCarthy)


The Holocaust is not a unique example for the destruction of morality, justice and personal worth. The destruction happened, and still happens, in different locations under different circumstances. Most people know it, or could at least know it, if they wanted. Following some examples:

-      the Hoeryong concentration camp

-      the refugee kidnapping in Sinai

-      the Mexican drug war



Impact versus historical authenticity

Resnais’ Night and Fog, Lanzmann’s Shoah and several other European Holocaust films — which most of those who go to Spielberg movies will not have seen — had already done more than half the job beforehand. For some of us, there seems little left to say about the Holocaust, unless it is accomplished in a very special way. Though it should quickly be admitted that for a great many others it has to be said for the first time, and possibly again and again. Not so long ago, a poll taken in America showed that a substantial number didn’t know about the concentration camps and a scarcely credible number knew but disbelieved. Schindler’s List is certainly a film for them (Derek Malcolm).


Claude Lanzmann made a more profound film about the Holocaust in Shoah, but few were willing to sit through its nine hours. Spielberg’s unique ability in his serious films has been to join artistry with popularity—to say what he wants to say in a way that millions of people want to hear (Roger Ebert).

High quality films about the Holocaust are also

-      The Pianist (2002) by Roman Polanski

-      Black Book (2006) by Paul Verhoeven

-      Son of Saul (2015) by László Nemes.


Deborah Lipstadt, who fought a legal battle against a Holocaust denier, said: “Is it the best depiction of the Holocaust in film? I don’t know. But did it reach a tremendous number of people who would otherwise not have been reached? Did it bring the story to countless people who no other filmmaker would have been able to reach? There is no question. So, in terms of its impact, it certainly deserves its iconic status.”


Though I too find “Shoah” to be a monumental and essential experience, I am ultimately grateful for the existence of Spielberg’s film. “Schindler’s List” may not have brought peace on earth, but the phenomenon of the film helped ensure the Holocaust would remain a matter of public consciousness and provided a boon to historians. After the film, Spielberg established the USC Shoah Foundation, which has collected the testimonies of more than 55,000 Holocaust survivors. (Akiva Gottlieb)



Mass entertainment versus historical authenticity

We are clearly not living in a world defined by Spielberg’s humanism, but the film remains a kind of litmus test for Hollywood moviemaking, asking whether it’s morally defensible to dramatize unspeakable horror and trauma via the language of mass entertainment


The most obvious and durable critique of “Schindler’s List” is that the highest-profile Holocaust movie ever made (one designed to be used as an educational tool) is focused on a statistical anomaly – the Nazi who has a change of heart. Oskar Schindler, played by Liam Neeson, is a war profiteer and bon vivant who initially sees Jews as cheap labor for his enamelware factory, but eventually, for reasons that remain somewhat opaque, decides to offer them a safe haven from certain death.

It’s a drama that invokes the Great Man theory of history, in which grand elements of fate become a matter of individual choice. It tells the story of the 6 million murdered by focusing on the 1,200 whom Schindler saved and, more precisely, on the savior himself.

As journalist Philip Gourevitch wrote in a pointed dissent in 1993,"The mindless critical hyperbole which has greeted ‘Schindler’s List’ suggests that powerful spectacle continues to be more beguiling than human and historical authenticity -- and that the psychology of the Nazis is a bigger draw than the civilization of the people they murdered.”

For the critic J. Hoberman, “Schindler’s List” has always been a problematic film. “He made a feel-good movie about the ultimate feel-bad experience,” he said


It’s certainly a defensible approach, as film scholar Annette Insdorf said when it was released. “Oskar Schindler himself was a larger-than-life figure, who did indeed save over 1,100 Jews,” Insdorf said. “How? By manipulation. By a showmanship (not unlike Spielberg’s) that knows -- and plays -- its audience, but in the service of a deeper cause.” (Akiva Gottlieb).




6. Salvation



6.1 Ghandi (1982)


A short description of the plot can be found in Ghandi (Wikipedia)





The good life

In Mahayana Buddhism life in this world is compared to people living in a house that is on fire. People take this world as reality pursuing worldly projects and pleasures without realizing that the house is on fire and will soon burn down (a metaphor for the inevitability of death). A Bodhisattva is one who has a determination to free sentient beings from samsara, i.e. from the cycle of death, rebirth and suffering (Bodhisattva, Wikipedia).


Ghandi has been called a Bodhisattva of the 20th century. Although he was born as a Hindu and remained a Hindu, his virtue ethics can be given a Buddhist interpretation [Gier, 222].

-      He taught a simple, ascetic, and selfless life

-      He refused the dogmatism of conservative Hindus [Gupta]

-      He represented the ideal of non-violence and spirituality, and seemed not to be afraid of death





An eye for an eye

leaves the whole world blind.







One could argue that Ghandi’s political fight moves him near to the Nietzschean power struggle and disqualifies him as a Bodhisattva. Ghandi, however, never showed an ambition to candidate for political offices. He was rather a remarkable human being than an effective leader [Gupta].



The philosophy of liberation

In the Western perception, Ghandi is mainly associated with the liberation from “oppression and discrimination”, but he can also be associated with the liberation from economic materialism, which moves him closer to Buddhism:

When Gandhi first set foot in British India, he had already been to Britain and South Africa, and had created quite a stir for the betterment of the people. But in India, he realized that he had first to live the life of a peasant to understand what it is to be an Indian. This resolve led him to

-      shed his westerners clothing and wear a simple loincloth

-      criticize the dependence on imported clothing and material, and mobilize awareness of local industry

-      organize the historic Dandi march for withdrawal of the salt tax



Ghandi called attention to the tie between economic dependency and political dependency. He considered the Indian’s demand for Western products to be a delusion of basic needs, a delusion which facilitated the British oppression. Political liberation could be supported – that was his conclusion – by the liberation from unnecessary desires and by the revival of a more spiritual way of living.





“Mr.Ghandi, what do you think of Western civilization?“

 Ghandi: “I think it would be a good idea.”





We could now reason if Plato aimed at the liberation of desires or at the liberation from desires. Compare Ghandi’s philosophy with the one of Freud (end of chapter 2.2):

-      Plato – in his Allegory of the Cave – pictures everyday or “ordinary” experience as a delusion. The therapeutic motive in Plato’s and Socrates’ philosophizing is to free us from this imprisoned experience of everyday [Cavell, 292].

-      In Plato’s Republic, the approach of redemptive philosophy is greeted by the inhabitants of the Cave with murderous hostility [Cavell, 295].

At some point, Ghandi was confronted with murderous hostility as well (see Assassination of Mahatma Ghandi).



The Great Man view

Among the few who took a more negative view of the film, historian Lawrence James called it “pure hagiography” (Ghandi, Wikipedia).

The film pursues a "Great Man" view of history. The origins of this view lie in Greek thought: the Greeks believed that history was composed of the great deeds of individual men, streaks of achievement that interrupt the cyclic rhythms of everyday life. But if this strand of history has illustrious origins, the same cannot be said of its subsequent development. Attenborough's Gandhi may be Hegel's World-Historical Figure, but what has happened to Hegel’s philosophy of history? [Gupta]


No doubt Gandhi draws on our empathy for the underdog. But in showing how one man – armed with nothing but willpower – succeeds in doing the seemingly impossible, it strikes a utopian chord. It seems to say, "Yes, you too can change the world." To most Americans, raised on notions of individual achievement, this is a tremendously appealing concept. Unfortunately, either as an historical fact about the Indian independence movement or as a view of social movements in general, the attribution of responsibility to one person has never had a basis in reality [Gupta].



Political view

The film ignores political complexities. The British left India for several reasons, only one of them being the nationalist agitation. They must have realized that to exploit raw materials and cheap labor, it was not necessary to bear the costs of colonialism. This would be the age of the New Imperialism, and the penetration of capitalism to the far reaches of the world system would assure the continuation of economic exploitation behind the twin veils of "free and equal exchange" and "comparative advantage." Besides, weakened by the war, the British were in no position to stop the new global powers (like America) from muscling in to share the spoils. The balance of power had shifted and colonialism, always a monopoly holding, could no longer be tolerated.


Complementing these external factors were internal ones that were no less important. Popular movements were mushrooming all over the nation. Some of these were directed specifically against the British. Others, like the strike wave among urban labor groups and the numerous peasant revolts, merely seized an opportunity of state weakness to demand fundamental changes. Several of these uprisings had substantial communist involvement. There is evidence to suggest that the Congress was as disturbed by these movements as were the British. In their hastiness to assume power before things "got out of hand," the Congress proved quite willing to pay the price of partition. If it is true that the British left India for reasons other than just the nationalist agitation – global politics on the one hand, and the pressure of popular movements on the other – it follows that they probably had more power, and the Congress less, than Attenborough has led us to believe. The British would thus have had a very important role in legitimizing the leader of the Indians. It is for this reason that Gandhi cannot be regarded as the "spontaneous" choice of the masses, or even of the small percentage of the population that actually supported him. This may also explain why his supporters perceived Gandhi as being the most likely leader to succeed in the quest for independence: they realized that the British would rather deal with him than with any truly revolutionary force. [Gupta]



Social view

When it is tradition itself that needs to be changed, symbolic action becomes a two-edged sword: it must both cling to tradition and cut away from it. More importantly, it must be complemented by substantive action that seeks to alter the material bases which underlie relations of domination. On this score, Gandhi was a failure.

-      He is responsible, for example, for having given the name Harijan (meaning "children of God") to the lowest castes, but look where it got them: they are trampled on now as they have always been, except that now they have God on their side.

-      Similarly, one does not need to be a sociologist to see why Gandhi's "solution" to the population problem would never work: however much spiritual energy he may have derived by abstaining from sexual activity, it would have been difficult to persuade others of the value of this technique


During 1975–2010, the Indian population doubled to 1.2 billion. India is projected to be the world's most populous country by 2024 (Demographics of India, Wikipedia).



Military view

The film was criticized by some right-wing commentators who objected to the film’s advocacy of non-violence, including Pat Buchanan, Emmett Tyrrell, and especially Richard Grenier (Ghandi, Wikipedia).

The national myth says that India owes its independence to the non-violent mass movements that the Indian National Congress under the leadership of Ghandi initiated. A more realistic picture emerges if one connects the independence achieved in 1947 with the World War that had been fought before. Indeed, the thesis of spontaneous mass movement becomes fragile as soon as one realizes that millions of Indians – the world’s largest volunteer army – fought against the Axis powers (Rome-Berlin-Tokyo) in the British Indian armed forces. Many Indians were willing (without conscription) to fight the war of the imperialists because they were paid well and regularly. Only from 1942 on there were military splinter forces, which worked against the British. Behind these forces stood Subhash Chandra Bose, a leader of the Indian independence movement. Unlike Ghandi, he was convinced that independence had to be achieved by military means. In 1943 he built up an "Indian National Army" of about 40,000 men in Japan-occupied Singapore but could not convince the majority of Indians in British service. The situation only changed when Japan capitulated in September 1945 and the war ended. When the British demobilized their huge Indian army, the soldiers felt abandoned because they were given neither land nor permanent employment. Indian politicians welcomed the unemployed soldiers with open arms. Finally, an accusation by the British against officers of the "Indian National Army" broke the camel's back. Now the National Congress and the previously loyal soldiers took the side of the Liberation Army. After a revolt in February 1946, it was finally clear that the Indian troops no longer served their British masters. Decolonization in early 1947 was foreseeable and almost inevitable, also for military reasons [Roy].




The political success of non-violence and/or civil disobedience is tied to many side constraints. Ghandi’s combination of an ancient Indian tradition (Ahimsa) with political agitation – applied in a unique historical situation – cannot easily be transferred to other political conflicts. Furthermore, a look at today’s India makes clear, that the hard-earned political freedom was soon replaced by new forms of oppression, violence and dependencies. Ghandi’s assassination can be seen a symbol for the failure of his mission.





Whoever wants to be a good person is punished by life.


Niccolò Machiavelli





However – from a Buddhist perspective – that does not mean that Machiavellian politics is right and Ghandi’s non-violent politics was wrong. In contrast to some Western forms of altruism, the Buddhists engagement does not go with an expectation that the world can be repaired, engineered, managed, and finally be made acceptable. It only assumes that the world can be made less evil (locally, temporarily) than it would be otherwise. In addition, orthodox Buddhists and Hindus believe that justice is enforced by the law of reincarnation (a law which still exists in the form of genetic reincarnation). Those who cannot free themselves from material attachments and violence are reborn and must suffer again. In a symbolic language this “truth” is presented in the following film:




6.2 Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring (2003)


A short description of the plot can be found in Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring (Wikipedia)





The good life

The Buddhist selflessness is in a complete contradiction to Nietzsche’s will to power and the Western understanding of self-realization.

Since Buddhism denies the existence of a separate self, self-realization is considered to be a contradictio in terminis (Self-realization, Wikipedia).

Buddhists strive for the liberation from the ego and from the ego’s reincarnations (Salvation, Wikipedia). The early Buddhist ideal of a good life is characterized by childlessness, non-violence, and meditative retreat.


Selflessness is the result of ethical knowledge and – at least in the beginning – hard work. The subject of ''Spring'' is spiritual discipline.

The film makes people think about what comes naturally to people and what doesn’t. It talks about how feelings of anger, attachment and lust come easily but detachment, peace and repentance does not (https://antarabasu.medium.com).

The early Buddhist lifestyle requires an immense effort, in particular for young people in a secular environment. What are the reasons for making this effort? The loss of interests, the inability to feel anger and rage, the weakening of the will to live, all this comes naturally as one gets older.





Don’t worry about avoiding temptation.

As you grow older – it will avoid YOU.


Joey Adams





It may be true that the Buddhist insight comes naturally with age, but – from a Buddhist perspective – this insight comes too late. In the adult phase, when people start families, the seed is planted for the further spread of suffering. It seems that there is (still) a predominance of suffering and the hoped-for technological salvation could be a utopia as well as religious promises of salvation (see The Cultural Evolution of Suffering).




“Spring” uses a symbolic and metaphoric approach to teaching the good life, an approach which is reminiscent of a Japanese form of poetry, called Haiku.

-      The monastery in the middle of a lake, and the lake in the middle of a forest suggest that “we” are in the middle of nature (Vitor Guima)

-      The seasons indicate that we are dealing with forces much stronger than ours. Seasons are a metaphor for life’s stages and for the doctrine of rebirth (Deborah Hornblow). For those who do not believe in the ancient doctrine: current science says that 99.9% of the human genome is permanently being reborn.

-      The story is an optimistic metaphor insofar, as it proceeds from innocence, through love and evil, to enlightenment (Michael Atkinson). Even though humans begin life as base creatures and commit terrible sins, they can learn from their mistakes (Reeling). Individual salvation is possible.

-      But the story is also a pessimistic metaphor because the learning process never ends. Each new generation starts without knowledge and experience.

The most obvious critique of “Spring” is that the aestheticized representation of nature distorts reality. Nature may seem harmonious to a detached observer, but it is also the arena of a merciless (Darwinian) fight for survival (see The Biological Evolution of Pain).



Buddhism and Hollywood

Buddhism, once thought of as a mysterious religion from the East, has now become very popular in the West, and is one of the largest religions in the United States. As Buddhism does not require any formal "conversion", American Buddhists can easily incorporate dharma practice into their normal routines and traditions. The result is that American Buddhists come from every ethnicity, nationality and religious tradition. In 2012, U-T San Diego estimated U.S. practitioners at 1.2 million people, of whom 40% are living in Southern California (Buddhism in the United States, Wikipedia).

In other words: There is a large Buddhist community within the reach of Hollywood, the place that is notable as the home of the U.S. film industry.


Why is it unlikely that Hollywood ever produces a film like “Spring”? An obvious answer is the risk of economic failure. Basically, a good life according to Buddha is difficult to be shown in films, because it is simple, unspectacular, and introverted. The American film industry likes action and heroes in a figured struggle for the preservation of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The early life of the Dalai Lama was spectacular enough to be depicted in Kundun and Seven Years in Tibet. But before 1997 there were no Hollywood films on Buddhism at all. In Cavell’s list of philosophical films [Cavell] the philosophy of the Buddha is disregarded.


When Cavell was asked why he is so involved with romantic comedies he referenced the following story:

A filmmaker, who was very successful based on making thrillers with little intellectual or political content, wishes to make a film about something true and important, about suffering. He escapes the world of Hollywood in order to experience the suffering of, after all, most people in the world, in preparation for making his important film of witness. The narratives take him to the bottom of the world, in the form of being falsely convicted of murder and sentenced to a southern chain gang, where he discovers that the laughter provided by a Hollywood cartoon may provide the only rare moments of respite in a stretch of fully desperate existence. He contrives to be recognized in this place of anonymity, and returns to Hollywood to apply his hard-won insight, which means leaving unrealized his film about suffering [Cavell, 337].

(Side note: It seems that Cavell viewed Sullivan’s Travels)


In 1993, the Hollywood filmmaker Steven Spielberg realized a film about something true and important, about a hell of suffering called Holocaust (chapter 5.3). It turned out that Cavell was right insofar, as the subject matter can elicit severe depression in some people (Todd McCarthy). But the Holocaust is only one of many examples. We are confronted with facts like the following:

-      The report about Ian Brady, who tortured and murdered five children between 1963 and 1965

-      In 1970 a neurosurgeon photographed wounded soldiers in the Vietnam War and published a report in the Zeit Magazine (October 9).

-      In 1972 a 13-year-old Columbian girl became victim of an earthquake. Her last hours were reported on TV; see Omayra Sanchez (Youtube).

-      The images of emaciated cancer patients and victims of strokes.

-      The enormity of Animal Slaughter (see The Blood of the Beasts)

This list could be continued almost indefinitely. Some examples document the cruelty of nature, others the cruelty of humans. Nature had been merciless a long time before the emergence of mankind, but then reached the (provisional) peak of its cruelty.


According to Cavell we need a guideline which preserves us from dying of pity for the world, without becoming pitiless [Cavell, 174].

-      He suggests that the occupation with suffering doesn’t make sense if it causes depression. Depression produces additional suffering instead of reducing it. Literary and cinematic anti-depressants (like the comedies in chapter 3.1 and in the Appendix) are therefore defensible or even desirable.

-      In cases where depression is no issue, the ethical goal “to be above reproach” requires an altruistic engagement that goes beyond the commitment to fair laws (chapter 5.1).




-      The original Buddhist doctrine fundamentally rejected violence. In the history of Buddhism, the monasteries often pursued an apolitical strategy, where spiritual support was offered to all kinds of rulers, in exchange for protection. Examples: Ashoka in India (3rd century BC), Anawrahta in Burma (11th century), Kublai Khan in China (13th century). Samurai rulers in Japan (12-16th century), Trần dynasty in Vietnam (13th century). Without patronage, donations, and military protection the monasteries could not survive. An illustrative example is the Decline of Buddhism in the Indian subcontinent.

-      Does Cavell’s term “to be above reproach” exclude violence? Cavell does not elaborate on topics of violence, except from its representation in films. He advocates open dialog and the free exchange of ideas, but does not talk about the social, political, and military prerequisites for the freedom of speech. The right to criticize and to think freely, however, is not a gift, it must be defended. Liberal democracies, with their commitment to the freedom of thought, represent a new kind of protective power for Buddhism. Buddhism is still the fourth largest world religion, but it will lose influence in the coming decades for demographic reasons [Statistica].




7. Conclusion



What is a good life?

Socrates had argued – in the Euthydemus, for instance – that the good can be characterized by the four cardinal virtues. He engaged in countless discussions about the meaning of virtues in practical life examples. Socrates was aware that he did not have enough knowledge to definitely describe the good. Consequently, he characterized the good life by the endeavor (virtue) to improve ethical knowledge [Taylor, 60].



Can the good life be taught by films (in analogy to literature)?

The cinematic specification of a moral ideal (like monogamous marriage and children) is questionable insofar, as it tends to create stereotypes. More consequent, in terms of Socrates’ philosophy, is the filming of different moral learning processes. The good life can only be described by a collection of films (like Cavell’s Cities of Words) which varies life stories and environments.

Furthermore, in comparison with literature, films have a limited potential to reflect the cultural and historical context of moral learning processes. It makes therefore sense to combine the films with a description of this context.



What is the best method of teaching?

The weakness of literature and films (as far as they attempt to teach the good life) is a biased description of reality coupled with emotions. Many authors promote their individual perception as if it were a general truth. There are, however, means to avoid this trap:

-      Platon’s Socrates used to switch perspectives in order to correct distorted perceptions. His style is characterized by analytical thinking combined with empathy.

-      A different approach consists in introducing a neutral observer (narrator) or in switching to a background story, which reflects the bias.


Available films never reach the level of reflection, which can be found in some works of literature (e.g. in those of Coetzee).

-      Cavell hopes to reach this level by combining films with philosophical analyses [Cavell].

-      The best method is probably a Socratic discussion, based on (contradicting) films, reviews, and analyses.






1. Alford, Steven E. (2006), Philosopher shares thoughts Hollywood-style

2. Benatar David (2006), Better Never to Have Been, Oxford University Press

3. Burkhart Günter (2002), Glück in der Liebe, in Glücksforschung - eine Bestandesaufnahme von Alfred Bellebaum (Ed.), UVK Verlag, Konstanz

4. Bentley Jerry (1993), Old World Encounters: Cross-Cultural Contacts and Exchanges in Pre-Modern Times, Oxford University Press, New York

5. Cavell Stanley (2004), Cities of Words, Harvard University Press

6. Dancey Angela Clair (2005), Before and After: The Makeover in Film and Culture, Diss. Ohio State University

7. DiBattista Maria (2014), The Untold Want of Now, Voyager, in Understanding Love: Philosophy, Film, Fiction, Oxford Scholarship Online

8. Gier Nicholas F. (2004), The Virtue of Nonviolence: From Gautama to Gandhi. Suny Press.

9. Gugerli David (2006), Nach Feierabend. Zürcher Jahrbuch für Wissensgeschichte 2. Die Suche nach der eigenen Stimme, Zürich

10.  Gupta Akhil (1983), Attenborough’s Truth: The Politics of Ghandi, The Threepenny Review, No. 15, pp. 22-23

11.  Hamilton Alexander (1788), The Federalist No.70, p.448, New York

12.  Hampe Michael (2006), Psychoanalyse als antike Philosophy. Stanley Cavells Freud, in: Nach Feierabend 2, Zürich

13.  Hettlage Robert (2002), Generative Glückserfahrungen, in Glücksforschung - eine Bestandesaufnahme, von Alfred Bellebaum (Ed.), UVK Verlag, Konstanz

14.  Höffe Otfried, Hrsg.(2006), Aristoteles: Die Nikomachische Ethik, Akademie Verlag

15.  Holland Margaret G. (1998), Can Fiction be Philosophy?, 20th World Congress of Philosophy, Boston, Massachusetts.

16.  Landsman Stephan (2007), Mad about 12 Angry Men, Chicago-Kent Law Review, Volume 82, Issue 2, Article 15

17.  Lipp Wolfgang (2002), Glück und Unglück – Schicksal und Schicksalsbewältigung, in Glücksforschung - eine Bestandesaufnahme von Alfred Bellebaum (Ed.), UVK Verlag, Konstanz

18.  Lotter Maria-Sibylla (2006), Nietzsche in Amerika. Über menschlichen und unmenschlichen Perfektionismus”, in: Nach Feierabend. Zürcher Jahrbuch für Wissensgeschichte 2. Die Suche nach der eigenen Stimme, hrsg. David Gugerli et. al., Zürich, S. 35-54

19.  Murdoch Iris (1982), "Philosophy and Literature," in Men of Ideas ed. Bryan Magee, Oxford: Oxford University Press

20.  Nietzsche Friedrich (1881), Morgenröte, Gedanken über die moralischen Vorurteile, Verlag von Ernst Schmeitzner, Chemnitz, Germany

21.  Nussbaum Martha (1990), Love's Knowledge: Essays on Philosophy and Literature (LK), New York: Oxford University Press

22.  Nussbaum Martha (1994), The Therapy of Desire, Princeton University Press, New Jersey

23.  Pentland Alex (2014), The Death of Individuality, New Scientist, April 5, p.30-31

24.  Peterman James, F. (1992), Philosophy as Therapy, An Interpretation and Defense of Wittgenstein’s Later Philosophical Project, State University, New York

25.  Rawls John (1958), Justice as Fairness, in Philosophical Review 67, pp.164-194

26.  Roy Kaushik (2020), Nicht allein Ghandis Verdienst, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Switzerland, May 27, p.7

27.  Statistica (2024), Prognostizierte Veränderung der Zahl der Angehörigen der Religionen weltweit bis zum Jahr 2050, available from de.statistica.com

28.  Taylor C.C.W.(1998), Socrates, Oxford University Press

29.  Wolf Susan (2014), Loving Attention, in Understanding Love: Philosophy, Film, Fiction, Oxford Scholarship Online

30.   Zerm Stephanie (2005), Moral als Selbsterschaffung, Eine Untersuchung zum moralischen Perfektionismus in der Philosophie Friedrich Nietzsches, Diss. Universität Hannover




Further Reading


1.     Abad Diana (2012), Groundhog Day and the Good Life, Film-Philosophy 16.1, Edinburgh University Press, UK

2.     Bertinetto Alessandro (2014), Review of Understanding Love: Philosophy, Film, and Fiction, University of Udine

3.     Fieser James (2020), Philosophical Films, Resource for philosophy teachers, University of Tennessee

4.     Jones Ward, Samantha Vice, eds. (2011), Ethics at the Cinema, Oxford University Press, UK

5.     Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews (2002), Films, An electronic journal, University of Notre Dame, Indiana, USA

6.     Sinnerbrink Robert (2016), Cinematic Ethics, Routledge, Abingdon, UK

7.     Rawls Christina, Diana Neiva & Steven Gouveia, eds. (2019), Philosophy and film, Routledge, New York

8.     Wikipedia, Linguistic film theory

9.     Wolf Susan and Christopher Grau (2004), Understanding Love: Philosophy, Film, and Fiction, Oxford Scholarship Online




Appendix: Cinema Therapy


Cinema therapy or movie therapy is a form of expressive therapy – like art, music and dance therapy. It is also used as a form of self-help (Cinema Therapy, Wikipedia)


In this appendix we focus on encouraging stories with a sense of humor:

o   Laughter diminishes anxiety or fear and improves overall mood (Laughter, Wikipedia).

o   Humor – if it is not self-defeating or aggressive – reduces depression (Humor research, Wikipedia)


The effect of films, however (like that of literature and music) is an individual matter. The examples given below have proven to be amusing for a great number of viewers, but that does not exclude that they are a nuisance for others; see chapter 2.2.


Modern Times (1936)

Silent black comedy film about the ambivalence of industrialization and creative ways to survive during the Great Depression.


Mon Oncle (1958), English: My Uncle

Parody of modern architecture and lifestyle in a suburb of Paris.


The philosopher’s Football Match (1972)

Parody on philosophers in general, and on the conflict between ancient (more practice-oriented) and modern philosophers in particular (four-minute sketch, available on Youtube).


Local Hero (1983)

Comedy-drama about an American oil company representative who is sent to the west coast of Scotland to purchase a village and surrounding property for his company.


Bagdad Café (1987)

Fairy-tale comedy about a self-liberation from the bigotry of everyday life and the human qualities that lie dormant in every person.


When Harry Met Sally (1989)

Romantic comedy questioning if men and women can just be friends.


Green Card (1990)

Romantic comedy about an American woman who enters a marriage of convenience with a Frenchman so he can obtain a Green Card.


Groundhog Day (1993)

This film could serve as a humorous example for Cavell's moral perfectionism. In each one-day cycle the main actor learns something about morality and finally becomes a “good” person.


As Good as It Gets (1997)

Romantic comedy-drama about a misanthropic, bigoted, and obsessive–compulsive novelist, who is challenged by a single mother with a chronically ill son, and an artist who is gay.


Notting Hill (1999)

Romance between a London bookseller and a famous American actress who happens to walk into his shop.


Amélie (2001)

This romantic comedy is a whimsical depiction of contemporary Parisian life, set in Montmartre. It tells the story of a shy waitress, who decides to change the lives of those around her for the better, while dealing with her own isolation.


My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)

Romantic comedy about a middle-class Greek woman who falls in love with an Anglo-Saxon Protestant. Her family does not agree with this relationship at all.


About a Boy (2002)

Romantic comedy-drama about a cynical, immature young man, who learns to act like an adult by the friendship with a young boy.


The Terminal (2004)

Romantic comedy-drama about an Eastern European man who is stuck in New York's John F. Kennedy Airport terminal when he is denied entry to the United States and at the same time is unable to return to his native country because of a military coup.


Welcome to the Sticks (2008)

Comedy about a branch manager of the post office from the south of France who is punitively transferred to a northern region. Like many a southern Frenchman, he initially has prejudices about the north and its inhabitants.


Marcello Marcello (2008)

Romantic comedy and parody of the human weaknesses in an Italian village.


The Women on the 6th Floor (2010), French: Les Femmes du 6e étage; also known as Service Entrance

Socially critical comedy which compares the life of a wealthy family with the life of underpaid domestic workers living in the same house.


Midnight in Paris (2011)

Fantasy film questioning if the 1920s, the Belle Époque or the Renaissance were better than the present. It also confronts the world view of materialists with the one of artists.


Il giorno in più (2011), English: One Day More

Romantic comedy about a womanizer who falls in love with a beautiful stranger he sees every day on the streetcar. When she moves, he follows her all the way across the Atlantic.


Wadja (2012)

Comedy-drama about an 11-year-old girl from Saudi Arabia who wants a bicycle more than anything else, although social norms disallow it.


Jesus liebt mich (2012), English: Jesus Loves Me

Comedy about human and divine love in expectation of the apocalypse.


The Awakening of Motti Wolkenbruch (2018)

Coming-of-age story about a young Jewish man who falls in love with a shiksa and breaks with Orthodox traditions.


Arab Blues (2019)

Comedy about a Tunisian psychoanalyst who, after having been educated in Paris, moves back to Tunisia and opens a therapeutic practice there.


Licorice Pizza (2021)

Coming-of-age story about two mixed-up kids trying to make their way in a world that feels promising and perilous in equal measure.


Catherine Called Birdy (2022)

Medieval comedy about a girl who should marry a wealthy man as soon as possible, but does not agree with it at all and thinks up many a prank to get rid of her suitors.


Burning Patience (2022)

Romantic comedy-drama about a young fisherman who becomes a letter carrier for the famous writer Pablo Neruda. A friendship develops between the two and Neruda helps the young man to conquer his great love. This film is a remake of Il Postino: The Postman (1994) and Ardiente paciencia (1983).


Rye Lane (2023)

Romantic comedy-drama set in the South London areas about two strangers who have a chance encounter, after having both been through recent breakups.