Political Film Society - Beyond Borders

PFS Film Review
Beyond Borders


Beyond BordersAccording to Sarah Jordan (played by Angelina Jolie) in Beyond Borders, there are some 50 million refugees in the world; the United Nations High Commission for Refugees handles half, and various nongovernmental organizations cope with what they can of the rest. Directed by Martin Campbell, the film is dedicated to the refugees and the aid workers, whose courage makes life possible where hope is almost lost. The principal focus is on Dr. Nick Callahan (played by Clive Owen), who represents a courageous NGO, presumably Medicines sans Frontières. The story begins in 1984 at a banquet of a fictional Aid Relief Organization in London. After Sarah's father-in-law receives praise for generous donations to the organization. Callahan bursts into the banquet hall with an emaciated ten-year-old Ethiopian boy whose condition provokes tears from Sarah. Having just returned from Ethiopia with the boy, Callahan lambastes the organization for spending funds on the banquet but has nothing for a very real crisis in Ethiopia, where millions are starving and dying from disease. Soon, Callahan and the boy are arrested for the intrusion. Callahan is released after being taken to a police station. The boy, sent to an alien detention center, manages to escape; the next day he is found dead from overexposure to the cold. Sarah then decides to cash in her life savings, go to Ethiopia to see conditions for herself, and, before the film ends, she ends up visiting similar non-UNHCR refugee camps in Cambodia in 1989 and Chechnya in 1995 (though the actual locations are Kenya and Canada). What filmviewers learn is that UNHCR helps only the politically correct refugees; the most desperate cases are left for the NGOs, which are understaffed and undersupplied, often in war zones. Although Dr. Callahan speaks quite harshly to Sarah about her unexpected presence in Ethiopia, both before and after she delivers to him several thousand dollars in traveler's checks, she falls in love with him for his courage amid impossible conditions. Since she can only observe, Sarah leaves but hopes to learn of Dr. Callahan's whereabouts in the future. On returning to London, she resigns from her job in an art gallery to assume a position at UNHCR. Her visits to Dr. Callahan in 1989 and 1995 occur after her sister Charlotte (played by Teri Polo) tracks him down; each time, she leaves her loving husband Henry Bauford (played by Linus Roache) and family. One of the children whom she leaves behind is conceived while she is with Dr. Callahan in a Khmer Rouge-controlled zone within Cambodia, so one purpose of the 1995 visit is to inform him that he has a daughter. Filmviewers will correctly expect that one of the two or both will die in the end, given the hazardous conditions of aiding victims of wars, and the story appears rather amateurish in combining Saving Private Ryan (1988) with Tears of the Sun (2002). Nevertheless, the conditions depicted on the screen of Ethiopia, Cambodia, and Chechnya are so stark that the Political Film Society has nominated Beyond Borders for an award as best film exposé of the year as well as best film in raising consciousness about both human rights and peace. MH

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