International affairs can be messy, complicated, and distant from everyday life. It’s easy to make issues feel totally separate from us, particularly in the media echo chamber of 24-hour news. But sometimes, all it takes to bring down those walls of disinterest is a well-written and brilliantly acted film. Although not exhaustive, here are five releases from the past 10 years that offer a unique glimpse at issues still central to global politics today.
Ernesto “Che” Guevara is a polarizing figure in modern political history. Seen as a freedom fighter by some and a force for ill by others, Guevara lives on as an enigmatic medical student turned revolutionary who challenged the United State hegemony in South America. Steven Soderbergh’s 2008 epic biographical film is a subtle masterpiece that shines light on Guevara’s years with Fidel Castro and his final years in Bolivia. Benicio del Toro brings a weight to the legendary character, making him brooding and mysterious. Although unlikely to change any existing opinions of the man, “Che” creates a full picture of a real life rather than an idolized or demonized caricature.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a messy and complicated international tragedy that draws deep lines between opposing sides. But the 2005 film “Paradise Now” humanizes Palestinians often painted in black and white terms when shades of grey would be more appropriate. The plot focuses on two life-long friends who are tapped to carry out a suicide bombing in Israel. On the day of the attack the two are separated, and both struggle with whether or not they can complete the mission. Neither good nor evil, the young men must decide for themselves if they can kill innocent strangers in the name of resistance, and if the fight is worth laying down their own lives.
“Good Night, and Good Luck”
It’s easy to think of witch hunts and government-led oppression as things totally foreign to the United States, which is why George Clooney’s 2005 critical darling “Good Night, and Good Luck” is on this list. By telling the story of Edward R. Murrow’s epic takedown of Senator Joseph McCarthy and his anti-Communist House Un-American Activities Committee, Clooney’s film paints a picture of the land of the free living in fear. McCarthy’s witch hunt destroyed lives in the name of preserving the United States, and being aware that oppression can happen anywhere and in numerous disguises is critical to remaining empathetic to struggles around the world.
In 1988, General Augusto Pinochet was up for election. The referendum put before the Chilean people would decide if Pinochet and his military dictatorship should remain power for another eight years, or if elections should take place the following year. It sounds like an open and shut case, especially given the common practice of faux public votes designed to appear democratic. But Chile responded by launching an advertising campaign encouraging the public to vote “no” to eight more years of Pinochet. This is the moment in Chilean history explored in 2012’s “No”, starring Gael Garcia Bernal. The film is a fascinating look at an unorthodox method of countering dictatorship, made all the more relevant by the widely held negative view of advertising in politics.
“Five Minutes of Heaven”
We may love Liam Neeson for his bloody quests for justice around the world in movies like “Taken,” but his role in “Five Minutes of Heaven” is striking in a very different way. The 2009 British/Irish film centers on two men who were once on opposing sides during Northern Ireland’s Troubles, a time of sectarian strife that left the streets of cities like Belfast war zones. Neeson plays a man struggling to come come to terms with the things he did while part of the Ulster Volunteer Force. James Nesbitt plays the younger brother of one of Neeson’s victims, who saw his family shatter after his brother’s murder. The two are supposed to meet and reconcile on TV, but Nesbitt struggles to overcome his own lingering anger. The film paints a powerful picture of radicalization and the aftermath of civil conflict, refusing to give in to sentimental and simple victim vs villain stereotypes.
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