Trump landed in Europe like a lead weight. One writer called his speech at NATO headquarters a “disaster.” After the visit, the head of the German government mused that maybe Europe cannot depend on the U.S. anymore. Fair enough. In retrospect, Trump’s few days on the continent look like a bad blind date.
But it is not all the president’s fault.
While Trump was the target of anger, he is not the sole source of the problem. Truth is, Europe is at war with itself. The continent is dealing with uncertainty about the future of the European project, economic malaise, terrorism, refugees, and how to handle pesky neighbors like Putin and the Middle East. The debate over Europe’s future is messy and will likely get messier. Trump just walked into the middle of a family feud that is unlikely to end anytime soon.
World cinema can help explain this sorry state of affairs. The conditions making Europe sick have been incubating for a long time. Here are six films that tell the story:
6. Triumph of the Will (1935)
Hitler asked his favorite filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl, to make Nazism look cool. She directed, produced, edited, and co-wrote this film about the Nazi Party Congress of 1934. Recognized as one of the most dramatic pieces of propaganda ever filmed, Triumph of the Will is a powerful reminder of a dark past. Today, Europeans constantly fret about the reemergence of extremism. Unfortunately, they also lump in legitimate aspirations of nationalism and popular sovereignty, like the Brexit vote, as threats to freedom and liberty in Europe.
5. The Mouse That Roared (1955)
This Cold War comedy depicted the ultimate “free-rider” problem. The Duchy of Grand Fenwick plans to solve its fiscal crisis by declaring war on the United States. After an expected quick and crushing defeat, the duchy expected to be flooded with U.S. aid on the scale of the Marshall Plan. That was a funny movie. However, European states not carrying their weight for their own defense is a real problem. When Trump zeroed in on the issue in his recent speech, he tapped into a serious issue that many members of NATO still have not come to grips with.
4. Brazil (1985)
Film critic Jack Mathews aptly described this dark, haunting comedy as “satirizing the bureaucratic, largely dysfunctional industrial world.” The movie is essentially George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) with laughs. The film also highlights the real danger to freedom and prosperity in Europe—not the rise of populism, but the crushing bureaucracy of an unelected, unaccountable European Super State. Indeed, Brexit was a backlash against the dark side of European reintegration and a vote for democracy.
3. Barcelona (1994)
In this comedy, two clueless Americans tour a Spanish city, getting a glimpse of the future of Europe—pretty much a Utopian place compared to an uptight, violent and crass America. The problem is that this is the vision of Europe in the heads of many Europeans, not the Europe they have. Rather than a carefree and borderless world, Europe has big problems that will be difficult to solve.
2. The Baader Meinhof Complex (2008)
This award-winning film tells the real-life story of the rise and fall of a left-wing terrorist group in Germany. It’s a cautionary tale of how ill-prepared Europeans are to deal with a serious terrorist threat. Today, Europe faces a serious threat of Islamist terrorism that it is ill-equipped to deal with.
1. La Haine (1995)
The French black-and-white crime drama is a gritty depiction of violence and anger centering on three young men from an impoverished multi-ethnic French housing project. This was a face of Europe many Europeans never wanted to acknowledge existed. “It’s ironic,” wrote Andrew Hussey, a professor of cultural history living in Paris a few year ago, “that a film once held up as the mirror of all French social ills now seems to be, in retrospect, a document from a golden age. But these are difficult and dangerous days in France…”
Do not cancel your European vacation. And, don’t write-off the future of the transatlantic community. There is still every hope that it will be a beacon of freedom and prosperity for decades to come. But, let’s face it. Europe has much bigger problems than Trump.