Monday, September 23, 2013

Two Interesting Movies

I watched two really interesting films over the weekend that had some very insightful things to say.  Both of them had to do with the Middle East, the Muslim world, and the conflict between the Western and Islamic worlds.

The first of these was "The Gatekeepers".  This is a surprising documentary film from Israel that is structured around interviews with the six surviving heads of Shin Bet, the Israeli internal security service.  Frankly, I was amazed that these men agreed to do the interviews in the first place, given the secretive, dangerous, and controversial nature of their work.  I was even more surprised by some of the things they had to say.

"The Gatekeepers" provides insight into Shin Bet's activities ever since the 6-day war in 1967.  The men discuss things that they were involved with first-hand, such as the first and second intifada, the growth of Jewish settlements in occupied territories, targeted assassination, the various peace processes, and more.  Some of their comments were hard-line, as you might expect.  Other comments were not.  They showed a respect and understanding of their Palestinian opponents that was not what I would have thought to hear.  In retrospect, maybe it shouldn't have been a surprise: these men needed to deeply understand the Palestinian (and also the later Jewish underground) movements in order to effectively counter them.  They also made clear that they thought Israeli leadership - from the Prime Minister and President to the Knesset - were on the wrong track and had squandered many opportunities for improved relations with the Palestinians, if not outright resolution of the issues.

The Israel-Palestinian issue is going to remain a flashpoint for Middle Eastern politics and policies for the foreseeable future.  This film provides some insight and understanding that will help shape your views, regardless of where you currently stand.

The second film was "The Reluctant Fundamentalist".  Based on a novel of the same name, it is a story about the evolution of a bright young Pakistani man from a poor-but-privileged family in Lahore, to a rising star in a high-end Wall Street investment firm, to his experiences in America after 9/11, to his abandonment of Western life and return to Lahore and new life as a college professor.  It is a tale that gradually unfolds as he is talking with an American journalist in tea bar.  And it is full of surprises: as the protagonist notes early, "nothing is as it seems".

The acting was superb.  Riz Ahmed played the leading role as the young Pakistani, Liev Shrieber the role of the journalist, and Kate Hudson as the Pakistani man's American girlfriend.  They all brought their A-game to roles that were powerful, layered, and nuanced.  The story was a thriller with something important to say, which is something that doesn't happen very often.

Two films in one weekend.  That never happens for me as I'm not much of a movie watcher.  But these were exceptional and I highly recommend them.

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