The same inarticulateness and lack of differentiation described below makes it difficult to come up with much germane to the major event of the day, but when words seem like a luxury, there’s always film. Most war movies come off as voyeuristic or dilettantish, but there are three that come to mind which don’t seem altogether frivolous. Maybe they make for a good break from the news.
Fires on the Plain: Kon Ichikawa filmed the post-war novel in 1962, when the self-flagellation present in a lot of 50’s films (see Kobayashi’s 10-hour purgative The Human Condition for that) seems to finally wane; here it seems to be directed at all of humanity. A soldier with tuberculosis wanders through plains and jungles amongst desperate men killing and eating each other. His sickness is not made out to be a sacrament, only a method of detachment that makes the film something other than nonstop horror.
Beau Travail: It’s not really a war movie, but it is a military movie, and a very aesthetic one, with endless shots of soldiers training on African beaches. They keep quiet, too, which turns the artifice into something visually affective. The story is a rewrite of Billy Budd, and is nearly irrelevant. It’s about a mindset and a lifestyle, and the non-verbal aspects of them. Claire Denis has never come close to matching it.
The Red and the White: Miklos Jancso made this movie in 1967 in Hungary and supposedly passed it off as pro-Soviet propaganda, though I can’t believe anyone ever bought that explanation. It deals with the Russian Revolution skirmishes along the Hungarian-Russian border around 1919, and like Jancso’s The Round-up, takes place on one large piece of mostly open land, which might as well be the entire world for how it’s shown. No characters, no plot, no explicit structure, and still one of the most powerful things I’ve ever seen. The plot summary linked to above gives a better idea of the sensibility than any actual attempt at description.
You don’t watch these things to try to empathize with experiences (luckily) foreign to you, but to be shown something inexplicable, at least by all those fancy modernist novels you read. Hey, I liked the first 90 minutes of Three Kings too….