3 movies that portray the deeper societal effects of economic recession

Jun 10, 2020

There are plenty of lists with movies which somehow try to explain the mechanisms of an economic or financial crisis. But there are much less of those lists that try to include the films that show those who are fundamentally affected by it. This is a quick introduction to that kind of perspective. Let’s see!

1. The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

Easily one of the most famous portrayals of the Great Depression by John Ford, based on the classic novel of John Steinbeck. During the crisis, thousands of smallholder farmers have been displaced, as the economic recession and the natural disasters push them to the edge. It captures the helplessness and the range of emotions of the family which is forced to leave everything behind with the little (or nothing) they have. As they start their journey to California, the movie becomes an early road movie: obstacles, solutions and even bigger obstacles our heroes have to face. It is a classic portrayal of struggling families, where each person has their own role and task in order for the family to survive.

2. Bicycle Thieves (1948)

It is a cult classic of Italian neorealism, a genre that is focusing on authenticity, the unsung, ordinary heroes, not the winners of society, but rather the underdogs. It was selected into the legendary list of Expo58: The 12 Best Films of All Time. Bicycle Thieves was directed by Vittorio de Sica and written by Cesare Zavattini. The main character is Antonio, who is living in post-war, economically collapsed Rome. He just got a job, which requires a bicycle, fortunately, he has one. But he can’t be happy for long, because his bike is stolen not long after. The movie focuses on this day when he is wandering in Rome, looking for his bike which could mean some sort of financial stability for him and his family. The visual language of the film is quite raw: they tried to shoot in the field as much as they can, with natural lights and mostly amateur actors in order to create authenticity.

3. Roncsfilm (1992)

It may not fall into the well-known cases of economic crises, but actually Hungary faced some pretty deep economic recession right after the collapse of communism. The society and the economy were trying to get used to the market economy, but they had no idea how that was supposed to work or what kind of rules should they apply there. No surprise that a few got really rich really fast, and the rest was trying to survive. This latter group is the subject of this film. The setting is the late 80s in Budapest, a neighbourhood in the infamous 8th district, which was one of the poorest areas back then. It’s a series of short, grotesque anecdotes with poor anti-heroes and absurdly tragic storylines in the midst of huge changes in Hungary.