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La Jornada, Mexico

Two Controversial Films


By Arturo Balderas Rodríguez

Translated By Laura L. Messer

14 January 2013

Edited by Lau­ren Gerken


Mexico - La Jornada - Original Article (Spanish)

Two of the films nominated for Oscars this year, “Argo,” currently in theaters, and “Zero Dark Thirty,” set for release soon, were based on real occurrences related to U.S. foreign policy, particularly its intelligence agencies.

“Argo” is a cinematic reconstruction of the spectacular rescue of six U.S. citizens who worked in the consular section of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran, and sought refuge in the residence of the Canadian ambassador in the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution, which overthrew the monarchy of Reza Pahlavi and established a theocratic regime.

Another 52 U.S. citizens and diplomats, to whom the film only incidentally refers, were hostages for 444 days, after which time they were freed following arduous negotiations.

The film is peppered with fictitious events that do not distract from its historical context and instead maintain its dramatic tone throughout the film’s 120-minute duration. It is an appreciation of the astuteness of the U.S. intelligence agency, although it slips in a subtle criticism for its participation in the coup d’état which overthrew the democratically elected government of Mohammad Mossadegh, to the delight and benefit of British and American oil companies.

“Zero Dark Thirty” is a dramatization of the attack, also spectacular, on Osama bin Laden’s residence in Pakistan by a U.S. Army Special Forces commando unit. The outcome, as you know, was the death of the al-Qaida leader.

This film has created the most controversy, not only for its ending, but for the form in which it refers to the practices used to learn the whereabouts of the al-Qaida director. There are those who believe that the film does not take an explicit position against torture. For Senator John McCain, a prisoner of war during the Vietnam conflict, the film also does not sufficiently demonstrate the cruelty of those practices.

Other members of Congress have expressed their concerns about learning how the information to film some scenes in the movie was obtained, and the crudeness with which torture is presented.

They have indicated that this could have a harmful effect on U.S. foreign policy, particularly in Arab countries. In any case, the film warns of the futility of torture as a means of obtaining information, since the whereabouts of bin Laden were discovered by happenstance.

Regardless of its interpretations and the fate it suffers at the Oscars, it is worthwhile to see in order to form one’s own opinion on the matter.

In the end, both films allow a glimpse of the ups and downs of U.S. foreign policy and the scars that it has left in some parts of the world.



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