“Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”
Bong Joon Ho
Foreign films have been apart of the overall changing landscape of film as an art. The way cultures can enact varying plot similarities, without being devoid cultural integrity is phenomenal.
There have been many revered directors like Truffaut, Asghar Farhardi, John Woo, and Wong Kar-Wai to name a few. And all of them have made marks in film history with their unique perspectives on common human instincts and life and making that the bottom layer of the world they see.
Foreign films similarly — like the products Hollywood produces have a lot of duds that fall beneath the cracks because the response isn’t good enough for a bigger audience. But there are also varying directors who transcended barriers into the overall appeal of them.
Like how John Woo was a major influence in the action genre universally. The Hong Kong director directed a movie a lot of you may have seen and most likely loved, Face/Off. But his earlier films have these elegant and stylized cinematography for traits we’ve seen before, like The Mexican Standoff. The Killer is one of Woo’s most influential and accomplished action film that brought about more of a foray into stylized violence. One of the definite high points in the genre itself as well.
Or how In Wong-Kar Wai’s In The Mood For Love the relationship may have similarities to some of us, but there are various underlying details hidden in the depths of their mannerism. Though similar to how some us may tonally be during certain moments in life, the way they react at times is prevalent to their culture.
They inflect their voices differently and understanding why the usage of informalities differs, inherently so in Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite. But many films evoke similar traits with overall universal understandings. Like a tale about a girl and her dog in the 2014 Hungarian film — White God — but with a different spin that is more adjunct to the culture.
A few years ago Anthony Kaufman wrote, on Indiewire.com, about the decline of the films presence in theaters and the lack of aspiration by moviegoers to explore and read beyond the lines in between.
To be fair, Foundas’s argument ultimately is about subtitles. This allows the inclusion of wide-release, U.S.-originated productions dominated by foreign tongues such as “Inglourious Basterds,” “The Passion of the Christ,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” “Avatar” and “District 9.” (It may be worth noting that the last two subtitled alien dialogue.)
However, these films aren’t germane to international cinema. Works by Quentin Tarantino, Mel Gibson and James Cameron don’t open the doors for subtitled Cannes selections such as the Dardenne brothers’ French language “Two Days, One Night” or Andrey Zyagintsev’s Russian-language “Leviathan.”
This more or less was a finite in the years preceding 2014, but still holds true on the same fronts that Kaufman talked about then.
People have a comfortability with their dominant language because there are simple scenes one can look away at their phone or something but still able to get half of what is happening on the screen. Studios here and elsewhere make more money by targeting their own more, while this form of art should be expansive and not limited to our patriotic egotism.
There have been studios that have championed them, but no real alpha. Shit, there hasn’t been a real champion in the theater distribution aspect though NEON delivered two phenomenal films in Parasite and Portrait of A Lady On Fire in 2019. But there is still some rarity in the expanse.
A lot of the time demographics speak more about the distribution too. In a theater in the northern part of New Jersey, where the larger demographic is Hindi and Asian people, more films from their respective countries studios play in consistency with other major releases.
By 2014 streaming (VOD) platforms weren’t the real juggernauts they are now, they still don’t champion them as much as they could.
There is more exclusivity with these streaming services and it allows great selectivity, like Amazon Prime — who has been picking up many submissions (Academy Awards) and other gems from countries around the world.
Netflix, however, was once a champion and have now deteriorated their catalogue to a more progressive and off beat plethora of foreign content. They have a decent catalogue — but their tenacity to produce and distribute them, is least to be desired.
One of the biggest champions in streaming, albeit a decent UI, is the Criterion Channel. Criterion is a niche brand that releases DVDs and Blu-Rays from the most revered foreign and independent films — or niche directors too.
But honestly, at the end of day you have to really just suck it up and read. If it sounds like they are saying 15 words it most likely a 5 word sentence. So unless you’re a slow reader then there will be some parts you’ll definitely miss some things on first viewing — yet going back to it is half the fun.
Now go out and seek some films and you’ll definitely have fun exploring different stories in genres like Horror, Comedy, Action, etc.
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