Life and Nothing More…(1992)

Natural disasters have a far different effect on Third World nations than on Europe or America. Immediate relief can be slow in coming, and the region may be crippled for generations.

More than 50,000 people died in the 1990 earthquake in Northern Iran. The event received little Western media coverage. Life and Nothing More... follows an Iranian documentary director (Farhad Kheramand) and his pre-adolescent son (Bubu Bayour) as they make their way through the rubble to try and establish contact with some mountain people he once filmed. En route, they encounter, among others, a newly wed couple who rushed to get married right after the quake and some soccer fans who erect an antenna to watch the World Cup even when basic necessities like food, water and adequate shelter are in short supply. Master filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami (Where Is the Friend's Home) mixes documentary footage with dramatic re-creations to produce a moving, hopeful portrait of an impoverished people struggling to put their lives back together.

Brian's Song (1971)

The fatal disease is a Hollywood staple. The Emmy-winning Brian's Song, a TV movie about real people, overcomes the limitations of the tear-jerking genre with strong characterizations and themes. It starts out looking like a typical sports film but soon switches gears. Brian Piccolo (James Caan) and Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams) are both rookie running backs who have made the Chicago Bears football team. Piccolo is white, Sayers black. At first fierce rivals, they become best friends when it's discovered that Piccolo has cancer.

Instead of being a downer, the movie succeeds in lifting our hearts. Piccolo's determined will to live inspires Sayers to fulfill his athletic potential, a situation which legendary coach George Halas (Jack Warden) skillfully manipulates. Director Buzz Kulik and screen-writer Bill Blinn fashion some unusual touches including a super-macho hazing sequence. But they keep their main focus on the real-life human drama. A particularly memorable moment is the locker room scene when Sayers tells his team-mates about Piccolo's illness.

The Burmese Harp (1957)

War changes people — sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.

The possibility of death forces a person to confront the meaning of existence. But the thrill of combat and hatred of the enemy can also damage the soul. The Burmese Harp, one of the Vatican's top 45 films, shows how wartime experience can provide opportunities for redemption and regeneration on both a personal and collective level. A Japanese sergeant in Burma (Shoji Yasui) surrenders to the British at the end of World War II. He's then injured while trying to persuade a more fanatical army unit to give up.

To escape from the hospital, the sergeant steals a Buddhist monk's robes and travels across the devastated countryside. The journey transforms him, and he begins to behave like the holy man he's impersonating. Director Kon Ichikawa is critical of his country's traditional militarism and the war's purpose — a perspective unusual among Japanese of his generation. Elements of both Christianity and Buddhism are offered as moral guides.