Good Cross-Cultural Movies

By coincidence, my wife and I have seen several movies lately that deal with themes of ethnic relations. Culture clashes can give rise to funny as well as poignant moments. Last November, we saw Outsourced, in which an American goes to India to train his replacement.

Gran Torino remains in theaters. Clint Eastwood plays a widowed war veteran with rough and bigoted language. His neighborhood has been largely bought out by Asian immigrants, and an Asian gang roams the streets. Yet Eastwood’s character finds that he has more in common with his new neighbors than he thought, and he resolves to help them fight off the local gangsters. Unfortunately, some idiot reviewer spoiled the ending for me. But I still really enjoyed the movie, even though it takes the bigoted language too far and features some occasionally clunky acting.

Under the Same Moon tells the story of a boy living in Mexico who travels to the U.S. illegally to join his mother, also in the country illegally to find work. I enjoyed the story for two main reasons. The boy shows amazing determination and cleverness in making his journey. And a friendship that the boy develops on the road proves inspiring in its bonds.

The Visitor also deals explicitly with the immigration issue. Richard Jenkins brilliantly portrays a man who has lost the meaning of his life. He finds it again when by chance he meets a young foreign couple. He is inspired by the couple’s love and by the young man’s devotion to African drumming. The fact that the film takes an overtly political turn in the end didn’t diminish my enjoyment of it, though it will turn off some.

August Evening is a slow, ponderous film about an elderly man and the young widowed woman once married to his son. I really enjoyed the acting in this movie, especially by Veronica Loren, the young woman. Both the main characters struggle to move into the next stage of their lives. The father-in-law struggles to find work and maintain bonds with his family, and the woman tries to push out new love. The pair moves around Texas, staying for a time with the man’s two surviving children. Not much happens in this movie, but it’s a nice portrayal of a loyal friendship. And there is one very funny scene that I won’t describe here.

In The Band’s Visit, the band is from Egypt, and its members accidentally visit a tiny town in Israel. Very strong acting, especially by Saleh Bakri, who plays a young womanizer and musician, and Sasson Gabai, the band’s leader who often clashes with the younger player. As with August Evening, there’s not much going on plot-wise, but these characters are mesmerizing to watch, and again parts of the movie are very funny.

Finally, I will mention The Kingdom, in which FBI agents travel to Saudi Arabia to figure out who attacked an American installation. The best part of the movie, besides its heroic and tense finale, is the friendship between the lead American and the local officer assigned to protect and monitor the group. I must offer special praise to Ashraf Barhom, whose touching portrayal of the Saudi officer makes the film. Barhom, like Bakri, is from Israel. I hope to see much more of both of them.

We live in a global economy, in which international travel is easier than ever before. One reason I like these movies is that they help us discover the richness of our world, as well as the themes universal to humanity.