Image via screen capture – clip from ‘Le Fabuleux Destin D’Amelie Poulain’
It is a sad notion to think that our cinematic world is guarded by a big white sign on a big green hill; must we fall on bended knee at every new rom-com featuring Matthew McConaughey?
Is there anything else out there? How do we find it? Is it better, worse than or just as soul-crushing as that one-liner in ‘Road House’? (“I see you’ve found my trophy room, all it’s missing is your ass!”)
When something’s not readily available or right in front of your eyes, you might not know it exists, as is the case with foreign films. For instance, did you know there’s a toaster that toasts bread according to colour, rather than number? Did you think to look for one? Probably not, but it’s out there. As are some of the best films ever made, from Spain and Japan to France, Germany and Sweden – I could go on.
English-speaking cinema tends to curtail foreign-speaking films because, truly, they won’t make as much money. So where do you go to find the best in world cinema? And why are so many people missing out on masterpieces like ‘Oldboy’, ‘Amores Perros’ and ‘Amelie’?
The Cinema Experience
Quite simply, people don’t want to read subtitles. Understandably, they can be off-putting. What’s the use in reading what might vanish in the time it takes you to decipher what ‘euphonious’ means? Subtitles can be interfering and uncomfortable, drowning what should be a relaxing experience or a viewing pleasure. It comes down to laziness, and that’s understandable; no-one wants to read in an audience.
But world cinema gives you a slice of freedom you don’t otherwise get from Hollywood. Gone are those frankly awful character stereotypes Hollywood bashes us over the head with. Naturally, there are some disastrous foreign films, but most of the time they don’t have to answer to the Big White Sign on the Big Green Hill, so they can afford to take a walk on the wild side financially, and so films become visually artistic.
Hollywood Vs The Rest of the World
We are not spoon-fed storylines, viewers take pleasure in forming an opinion of their own and we’re not told when to cry, laugh or boo. There are also countries that can get away with a hell of a lot more than English-speaking cinema. Japanese film ‘Battle Royale’, for instance, is a tortuous, child-killing, Hunger-Games-for-adults blood bath that would never have made it past English-speaking cinema borders, an incredible film, putting art and visuals before profit.
In which case, refusing to watch a film because you don’t understand the language and aren’t interested in trying to read subtitles is ignorance at its worst and frankly displays a lack of interest in culture, people and story. I was once accosted for selling the Swedish (original) version of ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ to a woman when I worked in HMV, because how on earth was she supposed to understand anything? Why do we sell this garbage? Had she given subtitling software a chance, things may have been different. I certainly do not care for Daniel Craig flapping about something he probably doesn’t understand because he’s not Swedish.
Ignorance is Not Bliss
Some prefer to watch a film only if it has been advertised, most simply cannot be bothered to read subtitles. Each to their own, I suppose but it just becomes a shame when film masterpieces are forgotten because of a language barrier that can easily be broken. And that doesn’t mean re-making it, Hollywood, it means pushing for more foreign films to be advertised and readily available. It stems from a Western culture that wants two of everything, even if the original still works. No, I’m perfectly happy with my old Peugeot, thank you very much.
Why do you think so many people are averse to world cinema? Do you mind reading subtitles?
Carlotta reads books and watches film and then writes about reading books and watching films. She is co-editor of an online literary magazine that she started up with a friend and currently a film journalist for Best For Film. She also writes for Softel Group.