The Farmer's Three Films

A friend recently encountered a charming farmer who cheerfully admitted he had only seen three films in his life.

These were Cool Runnings, the upbeat tale of the Jamaican bobsleigh team; Forrest Gump, a vision of modern American history through the eyes of a bright-but-dim Tom Hanks; and Hedd Wyn, the Welsh-language depiction of the acclaimed war poet.

If a visiting alien asked for three examples of world cinema you could do worse than offer this selection.

Cool Runnings is a yarn about unlikely heroes triumphing over adversity, propelled by nothing but hope and friendship. It is a quintessentially “feel-good” film which addresses our enduring hunger for entertaining codswallop.

Forrest Gump justifies insertion in the canon partly because it took more than $670m at the global box office – this is a prime example of the type of thing humans like to watch.

This story of a exceptionally simple man’s enduring love for a kind-hearted but needy girl he knew as a schoolboy finds flashes of decency in some of the darkest episodes of recent American life. The eponymous Forrest serves in Vietnam, witnesses the Watergate break-in and wades through the dark side of 1960s counterculture but never loses his faith in homespun wisdom – and he repeatedly hits the capitalist jackpot as crazes ranging from shrimp to the Apple computer sweep the nation.

Critics divide on whether the film is a patriotic condemnation of the dishevelled excess and untethered liberty of modern America, or actually a cynical work which argues only an idiot can believe in the American dream. Either way, audiences loved the special effects which allowed Hanks to shake hands with JFK, laughed at the jokes and were swept up by the romance.

Hedd Wyn was a cultural milestone. It was the first Welsh language film to win an Oscar nomination, and the story of a World War I poet whose final work wins the Eisteddfod chair but who perishes from his war wounds deserves to be told in every culture.

As 2001’s Parisian romance Amélie demonstrated, more than a handful of people are willing to pay to see a film not in their first language. In fact, seeing a foreign language movie in a cinema with crystal clear subtitles is one of film’s greatest delights because it combines the pleasure of reading for 90mins with complete immersion in the sights and sound of another culture.

I am intrigued how this farmer, who could have done a lot worse in his cinema choices, spent the time that he didn’t devote to watching films. Perhaps he can speak more languages than Nick Clegg?

I’d also be delighted to hear your suggestions for the three films every human must see. Please do let me know what choices make your final cut.

A Thursday column