Them (2006)

The psychological thriller “Them” (or if called by it’s rightful name “ils”), evokes an O-M-G-I’m-gonna-pee-my-pants-impending-doom- feeling, that can be related to the more theatrical  American filmThe Strangers” (2008), starring Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman.

Luring us with young beautiful actors who quarrel then hanky-panky to make up, all the while prepping our subconscious with ambiance music and dark warm lighting–“The Strangers” is a gory character driven film for the young cabin-in-the-woods type’a horror-film-lover. While on the other hand, “Them” seems to happen smack in the middle of a boring mundane night, with cold shadowy colors; which to me, makes for a more convincing mature need-to-protect-my-family-from-crazy-mofos scare.

I absolutely detest watching movies that make me feel like I’m going to die, because of course, I simple have to know what happens, just in case I’m in a similar situation (smh) lol. I’ve compile a short list of what to do in such a case (which includes finding a weapon, trying NOT to get injured, being quick but quiet, and definitely fighting back.) I don’t know about you, but the New Yorker in me wants to fight to the death–especially if you’re comin’ into MY home, try’na scare me: not without a fight!

Anyways, you can see how these kind of movies make me neurotic (smh), enjoy the film! The ending statement (if it is based on a true claim) is a jaw dropper in any standard.

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7 Tips For Foreign Film Beginners

I LOVE the simplicity and utility of making “lists.” I make a list for just about everything: what I’m about to do, where I’m supposed to go, and of course, what I’m going to watch.

This  starter list, describe which foreign film characteristics may be easier to digest, for people who don’t normally watch foreign films–the do’s and don’ts if you will.

Find films that…..

Cover of "Absurdistan"

1) don’t have too many dialogue; in fact my favorite foreign films are the ones that are visually striking, and can evoke emotions with very little words spoken like Fiona Gordon & Dominique Abel’s “L’Iceberg” (French) or Veit helmer’s “Absurdistan” (Turkish.)

The Story of the Weeping Camel

2) are family friendly; movies like “Happy Times” and “The Story of The Weeping Camel” have the je ne sais quoi that I love about foreign films, but is easily relatable.

Amélie

3) are creative BUT not confusing; I love surrealist filmmakers like Jan Svankmajer  who might harmoniously mix character inner monologue with actions, but can often be confusing and can therefore be misunderstood.-Start with “Amelie” or “Billie Elliot” at first, as it is better to be able to appreciate complex films like “I Am A Cyborg, But It’s Okay” or “Wool 100%” when you can accept it as is.

Promotional poster for the US release of the C...

4) aren’t too long; magnificent films like Zhang Yang‘s “Sunflower”  and “Aftershock” by Feng Xiaongang are phenomenal films that can only do justice to character development, if the film’s plot took it’s time to unfold. An antsy beginner may not have the patience to watch a heavily dramatic film that is more than an hour,  and in turn may despise instead of understanding them.

Gong Li at the Cannes film festival

5) look for familiar faces; many talented foreign actors such as Gong Li, Audrey Tautou and Michael Caine have become internationally known and have crossed over and captivated Americans with their exotic charms. A familiar face may make it easier to follow an otherwise different culture.

6) sound familiar; and I don’t mean similar plots to typical Hollywood box-office hits. I mean, pick a language that is already familiar for you. Language such as Spanish or Italian may be easier to follow–just by tone and common day exposure alone! I’ve gotten used to subtitles, so much so that I turn captions on even when when watching regular American television (smh.) Which leads me to #7…

Rosario Tijeras

7) do not use subtitles as an excuse not to listen; at first, subtitles are crutches that aid us into the world of foreign languages. However, as you start absorbing the movie, you should slowly ween-off of  using subtitles alone, to understand the story. Sometimes, I am so involved in the narrative of story–like in “Rosario Tijeras”, that I forget it’s a foreign language ’cause it’s that engaging.

 

***But Of course, we all enjoy and appreciate films differently. I wish I knew which to watch first before I started; as I disrupted & shunned classic films like “Farewell My Concubine” because it didn’t interest me at first glance. Good luck at your ventures and always!

Little Otik (2000)

Title: Little Otik

Release Date: January 25, 2000

Country: Czech Republic

Directed By: Jan Svankmajer

Starring:  Veronika Zilkova, Jan Hartl & Jaroslava Kretschmerova

Other films by director (s): Jabberwocky (1971), Meat Love (1989)

As with all of my favorite foreign films, I just couldn’t predict any of it coming. One minute the crazy lady is feeding a piece of root varnished into a shape of a child, and a few scenes later the root is eating the mail man! Surprisingly graphic, Little Otik is oddly sensual–but not in a sexy way. The camera movements and shots, the transitions, and most of all the sound accompanying the motions evoke the feeling of uneasiness that I cannot simply describe.

It may be easy to create something original by making a film about an existing folklore that isn’t well known, but organic execution is what separates the masters from the amateurs. Svankmajer could have chosen to use a mechanical doll or even computer graphics to make the stump-baby LOOK realistic. However, by using the method of stop-motion-animation mixed with live action, the little stump-baby-people-eater FELT alive.

If you’re not used to surrealist films, it is harder to  suspend disbelief as surreal films tend to mix everyday events with character inner monologues. If you find yourself saying “wait…what?…I don’t get it?!” DO NOT GIVE UP!!!  Re-think about why a baby-less father would open up a watermelon and finds a baby inside–it’s actually genius storytelling! It would be lazy if instead the father says “uhg…I’m so bumbed my wife and I can’t have children, I’m stressed and I can’t stop thinking about babies”–especially if it was obvious that no one is around to listen.

Sadly, a lot of films take the easy way out and use too much dialogue to explain everything. It’s truly refreshing when actions speak louder than words. And it’s even better (in my opinion) when it takes you a while to realize what’s going on.

Little Otik is a classic in MY book! It’s NOT The Birth of a Nation (1915) or Citizen Kane (1941) kind of classic, but rather it’s-so-totally-cool-that-Jan Svankmajer-mixed-live-action-with-stop-motion kinda classic.

-JRB