Alex Massie

A Foreign Policy Film Festival

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Stephen Walt and Dan Drezner each list ten films they think merit inclusion in a Foreign Policy Film Festival since they shed some light, one way or another, upon international relations. Well, that's a parlour game everyone can play. No need to hold tenure! Professor Walt suggests that war movies, spy capers and propaganda films ought to be excluded so, playing only moderately fast and loose with his criteria, here's another list:

The Man Who Would Be King (1975): You must have an Afghanistan movie these days and this is the best there is. Kipling's tale of imperial adventure, folly, ambition, lunacy and greed is also a great buddy movie and the only time Connery and Caine appeared on screen together. It's also a story that illustrates how quickly a seemingly splendid situation can spiral out of control. (The link above is to the superb and horrifying final six minutes.)

Army of Shadows(1969): Jean-Pierre Melville's masterpiece might be considered a war movie, but it's really more about resistance and collaboration. Set in France in 1942, it's a superb examination of the risks and terror of life under occupation and the constant trade-offs between security and collaboration. The movie also, of course, implicitly asks questions of an occupying power too: how far are you prepared to go to crush resistance or insurgency? It's also a good primer for helping to explain elements of Franco-American relations.

Passport to Pimlico(1949): Secession! Property Rights! Treaties! The fragmentation of the old nation state! Plus, it's a comedy from Ealing Studios. This British classic, made in 1949 and echoing the Berlin blockade, sees Pimlico declare independence after discovering an ancient treaty that suggests the area is actually part of the Duchy of Burgundy. London, typically, imposes border controls and starts a blockade. All good stuff for IR students. Plus, it contains Connie Pemberton's great line: "We always were English and we'll always be English, and it's precisely because we are English that we're sticking up for our right to be Burgundians!"

Henry V: (1944 & 1989):

If you're going to have one Shakespeare film on the list, you might as well have two: the Olivier and Branagh versions remind one that an individual text may be subject to more than one interpretation. Plus, of course, there's an awful lot of Just War theorising to be done on the back of Henry V.

Mad Max (1979): As Professor Drezner says, every list of this sort needs a flick from a dystopian future and mine is Mad Max - a film so good it survives even Mel Gibson's presence. Plus, who can't appreciate the idea of Australia as a Somalia-like failed state? A sort of Aussie Western on Wheels, Mad Max imagines a future in a world ravaged by oil shortages and the total breakdown of social order. Groovy.


Jules et Jim
(1962): Francois Truffaut's epic tale of the love triangle between Jules, Jim and Catherine is many things: profound, silly beautiful, moving, humane and so on. But you can also read it as an allegory of the long, complicated relationship between France and Germany and, before that, France and the Allied Powers for the mastery of europe. For that matter it's a movie that explores rivalry, friendship, competition, pride and, well, a hundred other things not unconnected to diplomacy or game theory.

Our Man in Havana (1959): Disturbingly timely! Wormold's invention of a network of agents and plans for a secret rocket-pads and launchers in Cuba impress his superiors in London so much that he's sent hige resources to continue his intellgience work. Eventually it all unravels but, rather than admit the ghastly truth, the intelligence service gives him a medal and fabricates a story that the vaccuum-hoover baeed machines he'd invented had all, conveniently, been destroyed.  Any resemblance between Wormold - played with characteristic brilliance by Alec Guinness - and Ahmed Chalabi is, of course, a matter for you to decide.

Local Hero (1983): Not just because it's one of my favourite movies, but also because it touches upon current concerns such as the price of economic development and the cost of environmental protection ("You can't eat scenery"). Plus, of course, the oil industry and multinationals. Above all, however, it's sweet and charming and funny.


Dr Strangelove
(1964): Well, you know, obviously. Still relevent today since we still cannot afford a mineshaft gap.

Anyway, what would be on your list?

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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