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The Art of Life in Film
by Mary Nyiri

Three films take place in different decades and concern people from diverse countries, but there is a common theme that emerges – the importance of friendship. Living in a foreign land, which can include returning to your homeland after years away, means building new relationships with people who may be extraordinarily different from those with whom you were friends before. An Arab from Palestine finds romance with a Jew. A young Columbian boy is befriended by an Asian girl. Music provides common ground for a young couple to renew their romance after a long absence when one of them has lived a very different, western life while the other was left behind under Communist rule. Friendships are often found among people in similar circumstances but developing friendships among the locals really helps bridge the cultural divide.  

In the film Amreeka (America), when Palestinian single mom Muna arrives for the first time in the USA at passport control the agent asks, “Occupation?” Muna replies, “Yes, we have been occupied for 40 years.” Different perspectives like additional luggage arrive with Muna who ventures from her homeland for the promise of America. Muna also brings her teenage son Fadi and they move in with her sister Raghda in Illinois. Raghda’s husband is a physician. Even though Raghda and her family have settled into a lovely house and have seemingly adapted to living in America, the tragedy of 9/11 changes attitudes towards the Christian Palestinians that disrupts their American dream. “We’re a minority here and a minority there,” says Muna. Her brother-in-law suffers cancellations from prejudiced patients and receives death threats in the mail. Fadi is bullied at school for being a terrorist. Not all is against them though as former banker Muna finds friendship with her young co-workers making burgers at White Castle and she feels the touch of romance with Fadi’s school principal who is Jewish. Immigrants must learn to solve their own problems, often with little help from those who consider themselves natives.

In Entre Nos (Between Us), Mariana, a young Columbian woman brings her two young children to join their father in New York City. He finds work in Miami and abandons them. With no money, no job and no English, Mariana gets evicted. Living on the streets, they collect soft drink cans for cash. An unusual alliance is forged when Mariana agrees to split some of her profits with a large black man who offers to watch her cans overnight until the next pickup. Another single mother lets Mariana a room even though she doesn’t have the full rent. Based on a true story, the film shows the grit and determination needed to survive in a country where immigrants are not always welcome but they believe their lives will be better than in their homeland.

Whether living in the US or abroad, the choice to emigrate is never an easy one, nor always voluntarily made. A humorous look at a family that emigrated from Hungary but is deported for political reasons is presented in Made in Hungaria (Made in Hungary). It’s 1963 and 18-year-old Miki is not happy to rock-n-roll behind the iron curtain. His parents take him back to their old flat which they now have to share with a stranger who dictates the hours of use for the kitchen and toilet. The Communists have the family under surveillance but Comrade Bigali hopes to exploit Miki’s musical skills for his own son’s benefit. Miki just wants to make music and fall in love which isn’t much different from his long-lost comrades. His music moves his former girlfriend into rekindling their romance.

When I first came to Germany, I wanted to impress my new German friend with my fresh command of the German language so at the Witthüs cafe in Blankenese, I insisted on ordering my own tea and cake. The laughter that followed was a bit embarrassing but now I, too, enjoy the occasional joke by ordering ein Kaninchen Tee (rabbit tea!), instead of ein Kännchen Tee (pot of tea). My new friend became my husband and fifteen years later I am still a stranger in this German land but feel mostly at home with my German family and friends and those Americans I have found who enjoy similar circumstances. After seeing these films, I most fully agree with Oscar Wilde: Art imitates life far more than life imitates art. See one of these films and live a little, laugh a lot or maybe shed a tear or two of compassion.