The average American isn’t much of an art-house film fan. They aren’t for everyone, but once in a while, a film breaks through and achieves mainstream status and appeal. Look at the Oscar nominations of the last few years; there are many films made for a select audience that garnered a wider appeal.
Foreign films have it even tougher. Reading a film feels a bit beneath a lot of filmgoers. They want the language they know. This is really unfortunate. Many of film’s greatest achievements have either been created or improved by cinema made outside of the U.S. In fact, we are not the most productive country in terms of film releases in a year. India produces anywhere from five to ten times more films per year than we do. With this amount of movies being released, not just in India but worldwide, how can America claim the monopoly film advances? I urge you all, watch foreign cinema. It really is a treat to learn about other cultures through their art.
You wouldn’t manipulate van Gogh and call it better because we Americanized it (learn not trust that word).
- A Starry Night in Gotham
The same goes for foreign films. There are literally thousands, probably millions, of great films you have never experienced. Open your mind to new languages and new adventures. After a while, the subtitles become familiar and you will later feel like the characters indeed spoke English.
The last little thing I want to throw in before I get to my list of favorite foreign flicks is to avoid every opportunity to watch a film dubbed. There is a reason we make fun of these films. The dubbing allows you to look at the mouth of a character while they speak instead of reading subtitles. This dissonance makes it hard to watch. The words you hear aren’t matching the mouth shapes and it feels unnatural. Leave it as it’s original language. Allow the wonder of a new or unfamiliar language wash over you. Plus, for those learning a language, it helps a great deal to hear it spoken in real situations.
That’s it for my spiel. Now to my top five favorite foreign language films:
– The Seventh Seal (Det sjunde inseglet) – Swedish
I wrote about this film before on my Breakdown: Recommendations for a Friend so I won’t rehash every detail year. Simply said, I hope to finally get a copy of this for Christmas this year.
– Amélie (Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain) – French
Every few years or so, a foreign film makes a big splash on American soil. Antonio Banderas, Marion Coittard, Jean Reno, and Bruce Lee, Jet Li, Gerard Dépardieu (the list goes on for miles) have all transitioned from cinema from their country of origin to find levels of success in American films. Amélie is Audrey Tautou’s crossover hit. Though she has remained rich in French cinema, she occasionally pops up in films like The Da Vinci Code, adding to her appeal. Tautou, who I refer to as the French Audrey Hepburn, plays Amélie, a young woman looking to bring some adventure to those around her. She punishes a cruel grocer, sends a lawn gnome around the world, and falls in love with a mysterious man. A charming and heartwarming movie filled with imagination.
– Battle Royale (Batoru rowaiaru) – Japanese
A girl fascinated with Japanese culture suggested this to me. Battle Royale is about the overwhelming level of crime in Japanese youth. To solve this, the government has arranged a lottery. The class chosen from that lottery is sent to an island, where they must fight until only one student is left alive. These kids, most of them nonviolent, must kill their peers and stay out of reach of the minefields that change on a random schedule. There is a sequel, but I have yet to see it. This one, however, is a violent epic battle.
– Black Book (Zwartboek) – Netherlands
This film I already talked about at length (click here). Having seen it four or five times now, I still really love the story.
– Priceless (Hors de Prix) – French
After Amélie, I became engrossed in French cinema, specifically Audrey Tautou films. This one I found by accident one afternoon in San Antonio, Texas. When I learned our class would have a half-day, I looked at films playing in town. When I came across this one, I raced there the second we were dismissed. Tautou plays a gold digger who finds herself at the receiving end of a hotel clerk’s affection. When he runs out of money to entertain her with, she leaves. He decides to play her game and become a gold digger too, just to stay close to her. She coaches him as he becomes more and more attractive to her. Probably my favorite French film. I was so impatient to own this, I bought the all region DVD instead of waiting forever on the American release.
Other foreign films to see:
– The City of Lost Children
– The Grand Illusion
– Night Watch
– A Very Long Engagement
– High Tension
– The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
– Paris, Je t’aime
– Y Tu Mama Tambien
– The Host