There are films that entertain and then there are films that, in Heaney’s words, "Catch the heart off guard and blow it open". Choosing such films for this short article was as difficult as being asked to choose your Desert Island discs.

I saw Otto Preminger’s ‘Porgy and Bess’ in the Regal cinema back in 1959. I was familiar with the wonderful Gershwin score: ‘Bess You is my Woman Now’, and ‘Summertime’ but had no idea what the film was about; no ‘Rotten Tomatoes’, to give it a score. The reality of black peoples’ lives in a poor community in 1920’s America was a very different view of black lives as portrayed in romanticised films and television shows of the 50’s. ‘Porgy and Bess’ opened a door into another world for me.

Costa Garvas’s 1969 epic political thriller, ‘Z’, is set during the repressive Junta regime in Greece. It is a fictionalised account of the assassination of the democratic Greek Senator, Grigoris Lambrakis. Impossible to film in Greece, it was shot in Algeria. The film opens with the Director declaring, "Reference to actual events and persons is entirely intentional". Mikis Theodorakis, of Zorba the Greek fame, composed the music which drives the sinister atmosphere of the film. ‘Z’, which in modern Greek means ‘He lives’, won both the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and the Jury Prize at Cannes. The closing scenes, taken from actual news footage of the events, are very powerful. The film was banned in Greece and not shown until after the fall of the Junta, eight years later. Well worth looking up and watching again.

There are films which tear at the heart but which you feel compelled to keep watching. ‘City of God’ is one of these. Based on a true story, and set at the height of a brutal drug cartel war in 1970s Rio de Janeiro, it carries a searing message to the outside world. I missed this film first time round as the theme, gang warfare, didn’t appeal, but thankfully came across it on Netflix. The directors, Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund, chose to use real-live ‘favelas’ (slum dwellers), and to film at some risk to themselves, in the huge slum known as ‘City of God’ giving the film an authenticity impossible to find in a scripted studio setting. A powerful drug cartel takes over local crime scene, the profits of which the small-time thieves in the slum shared to help the community survive. The ensuing violence faces the favelas with impossible choices. A work of art that deals with real life.

The Lebanese film ‘Capernaum’ tells the story of a 12-year-old Syrian refugee boy, Zain El Hajj, who ends up living on the streets of Beirut taking care of a stranger’s child. The film opens with Zain serving a five-year prison sentence for stabbing a man. The story is told in flashbacks through which his previous life is revealed; taking care of his seven younger siblings, trying to make money instead of going to school. As the case threatens to become a labyrinth with no exit, Zain himself decides to sue his parents for child neglect. "For having given me life." The scenes of Zain and the baby on the streets bring home what poverty and desperation mean, and conversely what compassion and humanity mean. The final shot of Zain attempting to smile for an identity card photograph risks blowing your heart open.

‘The Lives of Others’ is a powerful political and psychological thriller that illuminates a shadowy period in recent German history. With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 the archives of the East German secret police, the Stasi, were opened to the public. Many thousands of East German citizens discovered how their everyday lives had been secretly monitored for decades. At its core the film has a powerful personal story of one citizen set against a backdrop of politics and power games. A successful playwright, Dreyman, lives a privileged life in East Berlin. Unknown to him a senior Stasi agent, has bugged his apartment. As the agent listens to Dreyman and his friends discuss politics and art, he becomes fascinated with this other life. Over time he is convinced that Dreyman is not a threat to the state, but fully understands that the conversations he is recording would provide enough evidence for the state to destroy him. At the heart of the film lies the question; How is a good man to act when society has ruled out the possibility of decent behaviour? A timely reminder of our precious right to privacy.

‘The Lives of Others’ was the inaugural film of Fermanagh Film Club. If this article has stirred your interest in film, please come along when we can reopen our doors. Everyone welcome.