Diplomats are obliged to be up to date with cultural events. They should know the laureates of Chopin Piano Contests, they should know recent premieres at Broadway and West End. And they absolutely should know the Oscar laureates. As we are awaiting the 90th Academy Awards ceremony, let’s look back at the history of “Best Picture” laureates that are to some extent attached to international relations. International relations students, experts and of course diplomats should surely watch them. Here is part II of the miniseries.
- “The Sound of Music” 1965 – the action is set in Austria in late 1930s. The Anschluss of the country conducted by the Third Reich is a key background to the plot. Maria joins the family of von Trapps (a widower and his 7 children) where she tries to decide whether to become a nun in near future, and where she teaches children music, singing and love despite the strict rules of education, introduced by the father. Maria and General von Trapp (played by Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer) fall in love, but are challenged by the Anschluss and Nazis who want General von Trapp to lead one of warships. The family tries to escape Austria and get to neutral Switzerland. The movie is useful to anyone willing to understand Europe in dark late 1930s, the prelude of the WW2 nightmare.
- “Patton” 1970 – a laureate of 7 Oscar awards, devoted to the World War II stage of the life of General George S. Patton that included episodes in North Africa and Europe (i.e. the invasion of Sicily). The story was written by Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund H. North, and featured a breath-taking title role played by George C. Scott. General Patton was a controversial figure and the movie reflects it, like when Patton slaps and tells off a crying soldier and is later side-lined during the D-Day grand operation. The opening scene with Patton’s speech aiming at raising his soldiers’ morale, is perceived as one of the greatest scenes of all.
- “The Deer Hunter” 1978 – Robert De Niro, John Cazale, John Savage, Christopher Walken, Meryl Streep – what a cast, what a movie. The movie is as much about the Vietnam War (although you will not learn much about its political/international relations dimension – as it is about how young American soldiers – and their close ones – handle its nightmare and absurd. It is a movie about friendship between ordinary men (not war heroes) and the way war disrupts it. And last but not least, it is a movie about human psyche and factors pushing people to play Russian roulette. The fate of main characters is cruel and tragic, as the war they go through.
- “Gandhi” 1982 – a biopic presenting the life and achievements of Mahatma Gandhi, played stunningly by Ben Kingsley, who won an Oscar for this role (the movie got also seven more Oscars). The movie starts with the scene of the assassination on Mahatma Gandhi and shortly takes us to the formative moment 55 years earlier, when young Mahatma is thrown out from a train in South Africa for travelling in an all-white compartment and later starts – ad wins – the first nonviolent campaign. Some years later Mahatma Gandhi goes back to India and starts a huge non-violent resistance campaign aimed at achieving the independence of India from the British Empire. The goal is achieved, but – to Mahatma Gandhi’s sadness, the new country is soon divided on religious matters on India and Pakistan and fights between Hindus and Muslims start.
- “Platoon” 1986 – another Vietnam-War-inspired movie about human psyche and the mayhem of war. Directed by Oliver Stone, stars Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe, Charlie Sheen, Forest Whitaker and many more. It is the opening movie of Oliver stone’s trilogy on Vietnam War; the other two titles are “Born on the Fourth of July” (1989) and “Heaven & Earth” (1993). A young recruit joins a military unit on the front of the Vietnam War and is soon to realise that he will have to struggle not only (or not primarily) with the enemy, but with his own fears and meltdowns, as well as with a disastrous rivalry between his two commanders.
- “The Last Emperor” 1987 – a Bernardo Bertolucci’s three-and-a-half-hour-long (!) movie presenting the story of the life of the last emperor of China, Pu-Yi of the Qing dynasty (played stunningly by John Lone). A laureate of 9 Academy Awards. The first Western movie pictured in the Forbidden City in Beijing. It is an epic movie presenting the times from the early 20th century up until the communist revolution in China. It shows how the only world the emperor knows, with its politics, culture and luxury, falls into pieces and to what extent an individual (even if/especially an emperor) falls victim of external political circumstances and civilizational processes.
- “Schindler’s List” 1993 – a Steven Spielberg’s movie with the 6th highest rating in IMDb, 7 Academy Awards (including one for the Best Cinematography for Janusz Kamiński) and a fantastic cast that included the one and only Liam Neeson as well as Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes and also Polish leading actors like Andrzej Seweryn and Maja Ostaszewska. Inspired by a true story of Oscar Schindler, a German entrepreneur who rescued over 1000 Jews in Cracow in the times of World War II and the Holocaust by employing them in his factories. The move pictures the massacre of the liquidation of the Cracow ghetto conducted by Nazi Germans. The tragic scenes motivate Schindler to rescue as many lives as possible.
- “Forrest Gump” 1994 – this Robert Zemeckis’ movie has the 12th highest rating in IMDb (it has beaten “The Shawshank Redemption”, ranked 1st in IMDb, and “Pulp Fiction” that keeps inspiring popular culture!) and is known to probably every movie maniac in this world. And if the world did not love Tom Hanks before, it certainly fell in love with him after “Forrest Gump”. The movie tells the story of a slow-witted and very likeable, kind-hearted American. It also tells the story of America in the 2nd half of the 20th century, including the mass popularity of Elvis Presley (and later also John Lennon), the Civil Rights Movement, the Kennedy family, the nightmare of the Vietnam War, the hippies movement, the ping-pong diplomacy between the U.S. and China, Neil Armstrong on the moon, the Watergate scandal, the birth of the Apple Computer, and many more stories. What a lesson of history and politics!