|Lydia (Rosario Flores) in Pedro Almodóvar's Talk To Her (2002)|
It is too often that English speaking nations and their respective cinema is taken in with open arms while the works of other nations sit off to the side (particularly in America).
Some of the biggest elements that keep English speaking audiences from dabbling in foreign films (excluding subtitles) is the cultural separation and the "lack of accessibility".
A film like the 2008 drama Valkyrie (which had great potential) tried to be a foreign film without making the language transition... As a result, we end up with a bunch of up-tight English-speaking Nazis that we, the audience, oddly hold sympathy for, but for all the wrong reasons as we are not challenged by what we are seeing because the film is in English. Tom Cruise is a great actor, but so is the German actor Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds (2009) who conveys a believable (yet comical) portrayal of what it is actually like to be a Nazi by speaking in German (and French, English, and Italian). In which by not casting German-speaking actors, Valkyrie loses all believability as "Nazi" is a word nearly synonymous with the German language in the year 1945 (and sometimes even today). Valkyrie has no cultural connection because you cannot feel and experience the trials and inner-battles of being a German defying the Third Reich in a plot to kill Hitler simply because of a language change.
Language is an element of culture, just as myths and legends come with the land. In America, the western is a genre that only exists because of the history of the nation. The Japanese samurai film is the cowboy equal, and is just as deeply imbedded into their culture as the heroes of the Alamo are a staple of American storytelling. While the Japanese may not have initially watched The Searchers (1956), they certainly saw Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (1954). As odd as it is to imagine classic John Wayne films as foreign to other nations, that is the reality of foreign cinema on an international level.
On a more modern level, the Coen Brothers are a prime example of cultural misinterpretation. The Hollywood Foreign Press votes on the Golden Globes, and as a result the Coen Brothers very rarely get nominated because their films are so American. The Foreign Press doesn't understand the art of the western (especially the modern western). True Grit (justly, in my opinion) recieved no nominations by the Golden Globes in 2010 (but the Academy nominated it in 10 different categories), and No Country For Old Men (2007) lost to the British adapted drama Atonement at the Globes where in contrast it won best picture at the Academy Awards.
The conflicting perception of international cinema goes both ways, but in which by keeping up with the films being released from other nations, much can be learned and further entertainment can be experienced. Different countries do different things, and as a result, movies from other countries will often contain settings and events that can only happen in that particular region. In Pedro Almodóvar's 2002 Oscar winning film Talk To Her, one of the main characters is a female matador. The film is beautifully filmed and contains an incredible bull fight with a sporting event vibe that bears a gritty meditative atmosphere that could only be achieved by a director who has seen his fair share of actual bullfights.
Watching films from other countries such as Talk To Her is a perfect solution for movie viewers who are tired of seeing the same old stories being released out of America. International cinema can make disenchanted movie-buffs believe in movies and fantasy again (it made me believe in the power and joy of film again for sure). Often times, it is difficult to find a foreign film playing in American cities, but thankfully there is a surplus of art theaters speckled across the nation, and with the rise of Netflix, international cinema has never been more accessible than it is today.
Film, no matter where it is being made and what language is being spoken, should always be a window to a time or place and if it's not saying something new.... well, who cares? Film is a form of expression (just as all art is), and if a film has nothing new to say or show, then hopefully it won't be made. Movie viewers need to strive to seek out foreign cinema, and hopefully in the process more of these films will be given American release dates.
If you feel disenchanted by the movies in theaters today... start watching foreign films and you will be more than satisfied. There is a lot out there just waiting to be seen.
[Originally published on 5 September 2011]