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Movies that will enrich your enjoyment of the 2018 World Cup

WORLD CUP FAN

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Paul Asay - published on 06/23/18

A look at some of the countries and some corresponding movies that provide a glimpse inside their borders.

Every four years, 32 countries from around the globe gather together for a spectacle that practically shuts the world down. Businesses close. Schools let out early. For some countries, soccer’s World Cup is a month-long party — or, at least, a party for as long as the country’s competitive, that is.

I love the World Cup. Even when the United States isn’t in the hunt (like this year), seeing a soccer titan like Argentina tie with tiny Iceland is as fun as it gets. But it’s not just the sport itself that’s cool. It’s the international variety we see on sport’s biggest stage: All of these countries are so different — in style, in attitude, in culture. It reminds us that, even as the world shrinks and grows a bit more homogenous, how beautifully different we still all are — and how much we can learn from one another.

RUSSIA
Shutterstock.com

But for those of us whose passports are woefully lacking in stamps, how can we and our families get to know each of these countries a little better? Why, through the movies, of course! Here’s a look at a few of the countries participating in this year’s World Cup and some corresponding movies that may provide a quick, potentially moving glimpse inside their borders. (Or, at least, provide you with a couple of hours of family fun.)

Russia

The host country was not expected to contend for anything this World Cup. But home-field advantage can do wonders, and in its first two matches the Russian squad is now 2-0, outscoring its opponents a convincing 8-1.

Finding great movies that showcase the sprawling country of Russia can be as daunting as the country itself. The old U.S.S.R. made what’s considered one of the classics of silent film in 1925 with Battleship Potemkin, and novels by Russia’s acclaimed novelists have been made and remade into many a fine film.

But my favorite “Russian” film may be David Lean’s sweeping 1965 epic Doctor Zhivago (PG-13) — a love story that straddles old Czarist Russia and the formative Soviet Union. It can be a difficult movie, but the cinematography and scenery is breathtaking. And if you don’t have air conditioning, watching Zhivago and Lara plow through snowy Siberia can be a cool, emotional respite from the summer’s heat. You can rent the film on YouTube, Amazon Prime and other sources for $2.99.

DOCTOR ZHIVAGO
Warner Brothers

Spain

While arguably not the powerhouse they were back in 2010 when they cruised to their first World Cup, you can never count out Spain (even though they lost their coach on the eve of the Cup).

The country itself is beautiful and friendly — at least that’s the way it looks like in The Way, a touching story of a father carrying his son’s ashes along the Camino de Santiago, which traverses all the way across the northern part of the country. This PG-13 movie starring Martin Sheen and directed by son Emilio Estevez is sure to touch you, and perhaps inspire you to make a pilgrimage of your own. You can rent it on YouTube, Amazon Prime and other services starting at $1.99.

THE WAY
Filmax Entertainment

France

It’s been 20 years since France last won a World Cup, but the country fields as talented a squad as you’ll see.

They’re equally deep in the world of movie-making, pioneering cinema when the United States was still learning how to operate a camera and churning out some of the world’s best films. So what to choose? I’m going with the gentle, classic 1956 movie short The Red Balloon — the story of a young boy and a helium-filled balloon that follows the kid around like a puppy. Key here: The boy and balloon traipse through some of Paris’s most picturesque neighborhoods, and the film’s simple (but surprisingly resonant) storyline is almost immune from language barriers. Many say the end of the film offers a poignant echo of Christianity, too. You can stream it on iTunes, Amazon Prime and other services beginning at $2.99.

THE RED BALLOON
Films Montsouris

(If you’re looking for something a little longer and still offers at least the feeling of Paris, check out Pixar’s Ratatouille. And it’s available on Netflix for free!)

Germany

Before being shocked by Mexico in its opening game, defending Cup champ Germany was considered by many to be the tourney favorite.

They, like France, have a storied cinematic tradition, too. Alas, many of their classics from back in the day are rather… dark (the country really pioneered the horror flick in the 1920s), and many of the movies centered around Germany focus on Nazi Germany. (Nazis. I hate those guys.)

But Wings of Desire breaks the mold a bit. This 1987 West German film — made, obviously, before the country’s reunification — concentrates its story on an angel who falls in love with a lonely trapeze artist, and who becomes human to be with her. The story is fraught with spiritual messages, obviously, and not all of them positive. In addition, this PG-13 film includes a bit of partial nudity and some strong language. But it’s still considered one of the all-time classics of international film, and it has a great deal to say about what it means to be exhilaratingly, gloriously human. The movie’s available to rent on Amazon Prime and YouTube for $3.99.

WINGS OF DESIRE
Argos Films

Mexico

After its massive upset of Germany in its first game, Mexico feels pretty good about its chances. And without the United States in the hunt, it’s officially North America’s team.

The country’s also been the locale for some pretty great films, including a couple I’ve mentioned here before (Nacho Libre, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre). But one of the most delightful Mexican-centric gem is one of the newest: 2017’s Coco. While the PG film has some spiritual issues to navigate, it’s really all about family and music, and it illustrates Mexico’s vibrant culture in a beautiful, kid-friendly way. And you can stream it on Netflix for free.

COCO
Disney Pixar

Iceland

Okay, there’s no chance that Iceland’s going to win the World Cup. They’re the smallest country ever to make it in, in fact. But it’s hard to root against this likable underdog, and the country forms the backdrop of one of my favorite movies.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (PG, 2013) doesn’t take place entirely in Iceland, of course. But when Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) is forced to go to the island nation in search of a reclusive photographer, we’re treated to Iceland’s incredible, stark beauty during an exhilarating skateboard ride. It’s a wonderful, inspirational movie that might’ve boosted tourism to Iceland to boot. You can rent the film on YouTube, Amazon Prime and a variety of other services beginning at $2.99.

THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY
Twentieth Century Fox

We haven’t mentioned movies from lots of other countries, of course. Brazil and Argentina, Belgium and Portugal are a few of the favorites we’ve not paired with movies, not to mention the other 22 countries playing. But this’ll have to suffice for now. I have World Cup games to watch!


WORLD CUP TROPHY

Read more:
Faith and the 2018 World Cup: little-known Christian details about soccer (football!) stars

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