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!

Aftershock (2010)

FlickJist: Which of your two children will you choose to save, if you can only save one? How would you  feel if you are not chosen—but survived?

Title: Aftershock

Release Date: July 22, 2010

Country: China

Directed by: Feng Xiaogang

Starring: Daoming Chen, Chen Li & Yi Lu

Other films by director(s):  If You Are The One (2008), A World Without Thieves (2004)

Aftershock is what movies are all about: to be able to express complex human emotions with the poetic license to us music, dialogue and visual storytelling.

It’s odd, because although the film is in Mandarin (Chinese dialect), the cinematic quality made me feel as though I was watching a western film. Used sparingly and only when required, digital effects can enhance (rather than destroy) the human experience (like too much 3D.) Either my education in digital media is paying off or I just watch too many movies, but it was bugging me to know that something feels different in this movie, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Naturally, I turned to Google and I found that Aftershock was produced by IMAX— making it the company’s first (and China’s first) internationally-produced digital media remastered (DMR) film!

As a student in film, I’ve experience how hard it is to re-create everyday simplicity—and end up being dramatic, unrealistic or scripted. This film however, was a happy marriage of feeling theatrical, all the while keeping a sense of authenticity. Usually I get lost in time period films if it’s suddenly brought into the future, because it feels unwarranted and displeasing. However, the 2 hours and 14 seconds of Aftershock didn’t feel like 2 hours, because the characters are well-developed; making it almost necessary to move on into present time.

The last scene of the movie is set in the memorial for the 242,769 who lost their lives from the 1976 Great Tangshan Earthquake (USGS.gov.) It makes me wonder, if this could happen to one family, imagine what the possible stories of the hundred thousands of people who also survived the earthquake?

Like I always say: great movies should always make you think. I’ll be thinking for days.