Feeling Stale? Watch a Foreign Film.
I’ve mentioned previously that I will (usually) watch anything that is not nailed down, and I mean it. Watching movies that are out of my element or comfort zone often open me to new ideas, different ways of looking at things, and make me consider the world in a different way (something I wrote an article on a little while back).
Of course, I wasn’t always like that. I often stayed close to films I knew, or at the very least, actors and names I recognized. It wasn’t until I became more serious about my writing that I let an interesting story take precedence over actors or names when choosing what movies to watch. With Hollywood and its actors becoming almost like family overstaying their welcome in my collection of movies, I find it refreshing to watch a foreign film.
I wasn’t always an advocate of foreign films. Foreign films were, well, foreign to me. I remember the first time seeing a truly foreign film was in my Grade 11 English class. I don’t remember what we had been talking about or how it related, but we started a film called Life is Beautiful. I wasn’t sure what to make of it at first, but as the film went on, I found myself completely captivated. When the bell went signalling the end of class, a number of us sighed and moaned. We had just started becoming immersed in the story, and were finally growing accustomed to the subtitles that ran across the bottom of the screen. The film was an incredible piece of cinema, and I recommend it highly to those who haven’t seen it.
In university, I took an elective film class (bird course, anyone?) and found myself faced with thirteen films I had never even heard of. All of them were foreign, and the majority of them from different countries. Stray Dog. Nights of Cabiria. There were some I liked, a lot I didn’t, but it wasn’t because of the country or the actors. A lot of it had to do with the story.
Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “But the subtitles are distracting! I can’t read that fast!” Or maybe “I don’t get it.” Or “Why would I watch a foreign film when I can just watch a film in my own language?” (to which I respond “Why eat out when you can cook at home?”)
People forget that films are a method of storytelling, a method of communicating. We forget that the people who often make movies have a story they want to tell or a message they want delivered. Unfortunately with Hollywood films, that message or story is buried under millions of dollars of special effects, make-up and celebrity incomes. It’s not about the packaging — it’s about the present.
I saw a beautiful little film once called A Millionaire’s First Love. It was a Korean film I watched a few years ago with actors I didn’t know. The story, however, was very familiar. In fact, it was very similar to A Walk to Remember. I remember A Walk to Remember because of how many girls in my class thought how hot Shane West was, and the big sad finale and the hit song that the movie produced from Mandy Moore. But over the years, A Walk to Remember has faded, while A Millionaire’s First Love has stayed with me.
Why? Because I wasn’t distracted. I’m sure in South Korea the actors are just as famous as our actors here are, and it had a hit song. But as an outsider, what captured me was the story. I wasn’t distracted by a Shane West or a cheesy line. I was forced to focus on the story and the characters in their raw form. I had to do the work, to make them meaningful for me. And that action, that step of engaging myself with the story rather than sitting back in a theater and letting it wash over me, made the difference. If you only get out of movies what you give, then that film had me working from the opening scene.
Foreign films can hold a bit of a stigma for some people. After all, they’re almost the upper echelon of the film industry. Foreign films are not ‘popular’ films. Saying you watch foreign films regularly is like saying you had brie and a 1992 Chateau Ste Michelle Riesling for dinner at the Kennedy’s last weekend. But there’s a certain inhibition that foreign films have that typical studio films don’t. Some, not all, have a sense of being untouched, almost magical. Regardless, if you’re looking for a film rather than the latest product from a famous actor, give a foreign film a try. If it works, great! You’ve got a world’s worth of countries to choose from, each with their own cinematic history. If not, well, you can always wait until the new Leonardo DiCaprio film comes out.