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.


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.


6 Reasons To Watch Foreign Films

Wool 100% (2006)

As I posted in Why I Love Foreign Films: Magic Without Needing Graphics, I have particular reasons as to why I prefer foreign films over standard Hollywood box-office hits.

These are a few reasons why I think everyone should watch at least a few foreign films for leisure:

  1. Learn a different way of life- Although not all foreign films are realistic, most of the foundations are based on cultural or social norms and mores. Watching an obsessive amount of foreign films has made me adapt to loving the japanese dietary lifestyle. I’m not saying I’m an expert at using chop sticks ’cause I watch foreign films that involve chop sticks, but I am saying that since I’m exposed to it on a regular basis, that I am more likely to try new things. It could also be that Asian  films always have food or “eating”, as it is a vital part of our (speaking as an Asian-American) culture.
  2. See the world- sick of the everyday norm? watch a foreign film like The Story of The Weeping Camel  and you’ll see the vast contrast between your life, in comparison to a family of Mongolian nomads who round up camels and elks for a living. Watching foreign films ignited my desire to travel the world, but until the day I can afford it, I’ll live vicariously through movies.
  3. Learn a different language-  Okay. So you may not be able to speak French just by watching French films, but if you can’t tell one Asian culture from another and you think they all “look” or “sound” alike, by hearing different tones, dialects, and being acquainted with the expressions and mannerisms in multiple films, you may start to pick up slight differences.
  4. Tell better stories-  I have no doubt that watching an immense amount of films has made me a better story teller. Watching and learning how the deliverance of a story affects the outcome of how the story is perceived, makes a HUGE difference when trying to get a point across. I use my body, my face, my whole being when I tell a story, sometimes all I have to do is make a gesture and it’s hilarious. A foreign film like Rumba  that is 77 minutes long has very little dialogue, but I guarantee that if you watched it on mute you’d still laugh your butt off.
  5. Become cerebral- for those of you who don’t know what  the phrase “being cerebral” mean, watching a few foreign films may help make you feel smart. Not pretentious-smart where you pretend to understand what’s happening, but the exact opposite. Don’t ignore why you don’t understand a scene, think about why it’s happening. Why would we need to know that a lady that lives in a farm has a collection of baby shoes when she doesn’t have a child?! You tell me! Is it essential to character development or are they just being random?  Great movies (foreign or not) should always make you think! Challenge yourself and watch films that aren’t  dummy-proof. You’ll be surprised by how much the brain can understand, without taking the easy way out.
  6. Be aware of world issues- a lot of foreign films touch on subjects that people may not want to see, but have to know. Of course, they are no substitutes for the daily news, but the news cannot possibly inspire you to care as much as you would, if you were to watch a full story. Movies add a sense of wonder and value, to the human life that can be expressed through music and visual storytelling; something the news can’t touch  in under 1 minute. Humanizing people by adding character, background and personality makes the issue they are going through a lot more interesting.  I’m aware that as a woman living in America, I am blessed with the freedom of choice and the ability to pursue happiness (while others may not.) But I never felt so much gusto and determination to make my freedom count, till I saw The Stoning of Soraya.

Whether based on fact or totally imagined, movies (foreign or not) can be an entertaining way to see the world in a different light. Who knows…maybe your life’s purpose is only a movie away (just don’t forget to put the subtitles on ^-^)


Why I Love Foreign Films: Magic Without Needing Graphics

CLICK pic to see our Twitter feed for up-to-date tweets on which and when I'm watching movies

I geek out when I talk about the indescribable reasons why I think foreign films have a certain mojo that is lacking in box-office Hollywood films.

I often wondered why I find non-English speaking films (that require subtitles almost 90% of the time) MORE enticing? Could it only be because French sounds sexier than English? Perhaps foreign films are written better? Maybe executed better? More creative perhaps?

Magical world of Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

I mean…It’s easy to see why young adults would love to believe that we can somehow escape the mundane reality with Pan’s Labyrinth by drawing a door  with a chalk to visit another world.  It’s clearly understandable why I’m willing to believe for an instance that a horse who drives a car, can play the piano in  claymation A Town Called Panic: It takes some serious skills and dedication to create such cinamatographical goodness!!!

The Price of Milk (2000)

However,  that doesn’t explain why I would rather watch a woman who collects baby shoes (in a suitcase) living in a farm, trade a quilt for a kine of cows– while fighting for the one she loves; in The Price of Milk, as oppose to watching “No Strings Attached” (with the  overrated Ashton Kutcher)  which I didn’t see but is probably about a boy and a girl who were once strictly platonic and decided to have a sexual relationship (and nothing more), then ended up falling in love; a story that targets demographics like myself!? (take a breath)

Well I think I just figured it out. My friends think I’m psychic because when  we go to the movies I can predict what’s going to happen, almost always to a T: “…after the kiss there  will be a wide shot from behind the car, as it drives off into the sunset.”  But it’s more than just because I learned film for 4 years in college.  I don’t want to know what’s coming next, but I can’t help it, having seen it a million times!!!

I cannot say that all foreign films are written and executed well. I cannot testify that they are all as  creative as The Science of Sleep— or sound sexy like French. But I can say that I gravitate toward films that are unpredictable– with unusual but undeniably engaging plots; as opposed to the typical, predictable– photocopied-to-death box office cash cows in Hollywood. 

Good 'ol Gremlins (1984)

Don’t get me wrong, I love cheesy ’80s- ’90s flicks like “Honey, I shrank the kids”, or “Gremlins”, as much as the next ’90s baby. I equally appreciate easy-goin’ films like “You’ve Got Mail”, “Spaceballs”,  and respect  films like “Benjamin Button”, “Pursuit of Happiness”, “Finding Nemo”, “The Hurt Locker”,  “Pulp Fiction” or “Avatar”, just to name a small few.  I hold in high regards  Tim Burton, James Cameron, Quintin Tarantino, and good ‘ol Steven Spielberg among other creative geniuses that have written and or directed notable American films.

But more often than not, the need for bigger and badder, lets-re-release-a-classic-in-3D, gets in the way of the art that is film.  

A "baby" tree stump that eats people Little Otik (2000)

The foreign films I love are unapologetic, humbling, thought provoking, no-need-to-explain-just- accept-what-you’re-about-to-witness,  that give a sense of perpetual wonder. Films that feel like it comes from the heart,  and not from the pocket.

Soon, I will make a list (I freakin’ love lists) of my favorite foreign films and perhaps some American Independent films as I gather all that I’ve seen in the past 9 years.


P.S. I respect everyone’s right to like what I don’t, and to love what I loathe, but I’m not going to apologize if I’ve offended anyone. THIS is MY house.


The Ghost of Movies Past


A bit dramatic I know, but it’s true. Yesterday I started making a list of foreign films I’ve already seen–from the year 2000 to present.

I just got back from the local library and added another +20. So far, I’ve listed 83…but will be bouncing from one library to another, before checking at last in Netflix with the help of Danielle Parker (’cause I’m too poor for Netflix at the moment.)

I couldn’t help myself (of course) so I rented 3 more films to watch lol, and will probably rent more from the next library. I am a woman obsessed!!!

THIS is going to take a while ^.^

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