It’s fair to say that any university degree will usually shape the way you see, discuss and ultimately appreciate a particular subject. For instance, chances are if you study history you’ll have an in depth and often obscure knowledge of a certain period, or a well researched timeline of a particular historical figure.
Film studies is no different. In my case I have quite a varied knowledge of film movements around the world, going far beyond Hollywood and English language films. When I tell people I often watch and in fact enjoy watching films in a foreign language people are surprised and will usually respond that they do not wish to join me in this venture. I believe this is due to the concept of a lack of accessibility and familiarity. Not only do a lot of people feel reading subtitles is tedious, but also often the styles of foreign language films are very different from what the average British person enjoys consuming. This is not to say that what we consume as a nation is bad, but I’ve found even some film students strangely closed minded to the idea of foreign language film, regardless of genre, age of the film or the outstanding reviews a film may receive.
So where is the middle ground and why do I like foreign language films?
I think the it’s worth saying that I don’t believe I actually watched a foreign language film until I was sixteen, and I have not enjoyed every foreign language film I have watched…but surely that’s just like me also saying that action cinema is not my thing, so the classics such as Die Hard, and the James Bond films have never floated my boat.
My suggestion to anyone wishing to branch out in their viewing is to ease yourself in and do your research. The first foreign language film I remember watching was Pan’s Labyrinth, a historical fantasy, and Spanish language film, directed by Guillermo del Toro…who incidentally also directed other very well-known movies such as The Shape of Water and Hellboy I and II. I’ll admit my now rusty, but nonetheless, grasp of Spanish does help me when watching films in Spanish, as I don’t have such a heavy reliance on the subtitles, but I’ve also watched a plethora of films in languages which I don’t even know the word for ‘Hello’.
Doing your research means trying to find a film from a genre you may enjoy; as much as I want to encourage you to watch the many wonderful European art films out there, it’s far easier to access foreign language films with a familiar format. In my second year of university I watched a film in class called Dangal, featuring Aamir Khan, and in all honesty I think it went down so well with everyone because it had such a compelling but ultimately linear narrative; despite the language barrier there wasn’t a huge need for interpretation, neither was anyone confused by the plot. I also went on to watch Secret Superstar in my own time. (Both films are on Netflix and I’d definitely recommend.)
Foreign language films with a connection to history are also very popular; although rather sad in subject matter, one of the most critically acclaimed films about the Holocaust is Life is Beautiful, which somehow blends subtle comedy into such a bleak picture.
I think ultimately the huge barrier to most people is the idea of reading subtitles, and having that distract you from what’s happening on the screen, and honestly that’s really not the case; you can very easily get comfortable skimming dialogue and enjoying what is happening on screen. Overall, one of the best things about these films, from my perspective, is that they make me focus! I can’t stray away and scroll through my phone, and as such I really do get a new appreciation for films, and foreign language films will often keep me more engaged with this in mind.
At some point I may well do a list of some of my favourite foreign language films, but I think this ramble will do for now; I hope it’s encouraged you to have a scroll through the international section of Netflix once in a while.
Take Care Everyone, I’ll Speak to You All Soon!