Monday, June 1, 2020

What Sub titles offer you.

I am over two score and ten in years, meaning my eyesight and attention span are not as good as they once were.  Subtitles are a challenge to your physical and mental capacities and besides the challenge, they do offer other benefits.

One of the best reasons to watch subtitled movies is that they can be entertaining.  It is a competitive world and to get your attention takes a lot of creative effort.  Hollywood recognizes talent wherever it is available and bought much of it globally.  Writers, directors, actors, cinematographers, composers, set designers, etc. etc.  Perhaps the bottom line might be sex appeal which is found on all habitable continents.

Genius and intelligence are spaced globally.  Much film innovation come from foreign countries and is adopted by Hollywood. Often foreign countries develop unique plots that Hollywood gobbles up.

The world is a big place.  You are urged to spread your retirement investments around to protect your limited resources.  The world in fact has intruded often very subtlety into your mind.  Almost everything you know came from somewhere else with much of it so long ago you are totally unconscious of it.  One Facebook post recalled was about some right wing parents upset that their children would be learning Arabic numbers not realizing that is what most of the world relies on.  Others love Mexican or Chinese food despite their antipathy to their foreign origins.

Mark Twain once said "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness."  Travel with personal contact is better, but it takes both time and money whereas you can travel the world much quicker and cheaper on film.

When you watch a subtitled film you will first notice differences.  Some of the differences may eventually (or even sooner) strike you as worthy of thought, although some will seem weird or even disgusting.  A second thing you will notice if you spend enough time is the similarities.  We think we are unique (and we are) and in fact are at the centre of the world (and we are in a sense), but in fact everyone faces the same problems--to survive, to maintain self worth and to find love.  There are obstacles everywhere, one of which is ignorance.

One of the early film pioneers, Herman G Weinberg got involved with foreign films brought to the United States by re arranging German symphony music for string quartets.  When  talking pictures became more common, many foreign films became inaccessible.  In a bit of a learning process Herman subtitled over 300 movies.  With a subtitled German film the non Germans were upset that they were not understanding a joke as the German speakers were all laughing.

Talking pictures minimized need for subtitles, except foreign films would be identified as foreign and the main way to overcome language differences was with dubbing which was very expensive and time consuming.  One advantage of dubbing is it requires less effort from the viewer, but you will experience a slight cognitive dissonance. The voice may not match the body you see.   Each language has a cadence that affects how we move our lips and put words together, so it doesn't sound quite right.

After World War II European nations became concerned about American culture overwhelming their own so they encouraged the film industry to tell their story.  So there has always been a bit of a culture war with English being dominant.  But we all are enriched and more understanding when we are aware of different cultural perspectives.

Below are some subtitled movies that opened my mind a little.  Enjoyable and satisfying

"A Separation" (2011) won best foreign film Oscar.with Roger Ebert declaring it was the best picture, period.  Asghar Farhadi, the director/writer recounted his reception when flown back home after receiving his Oscar.  The Iranian government attempted to restrict the crowd, but the population gathered in huge numbers along the route.

The central problem was understandable as the parents were split over their concerns for their daughter needing a better education (out of country) and of the husband's father with dementia.  Tension is boosted with some well executed twists.  The lead actor, Payman Maadi later appeared in an American film as an intelligent Arab terrorist prisoner.  Asghar is in demand and has been involved with films in European countries. and won another Oscar.

Censorship is a concern in countries like Iran and another film maker who has defied censorship efforts is Jafar Panihi has done films while under house arrest.

"Leviathan" (2014) showed a different part of Russia than we are used to.  It  was set in  the Arctic and involved a familiar theme, political corruption, but at the municipal level.  American composer Philip Glass wrote the background score.  The director/ writer, Andrey Zvyagintsev has done a number of provocative films involving social issues.  This film was nominated for Oscar best foreign film.

Read more on Russian films including their contribution to film editing

"After the Wedding" (2006) from Denmark and one of my top favorite films of all time.  It was nominated Oscar best foreign film.  An interesting twist makes this film memorable, but also deals with global social issues.  The director/writer, Susanne Bier has been involved with American films.  The lead actor, Mads Mikkelsen has gone onto films in other European countries and  America as well as lead for popular American television series.

Read more about Mads Mikkelsen:

Germany has a long film history with many actors, writers, directors migrating to the United States and Britain.  Of course in the 20th century they instigated World II and the Holocaust which have been major themes in films.  What does Germany have to say about their past crimes?  They have many films explaining  (not praising) their involvement in both the war and Holocaust.  They have actually gotten involved with supporting the Israeli film industry.

Director/writer/producer Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck has done a number of historical films including winning Oscar best foreign film with "The Lives of Others" (2006) on the East Germany subjugation.  More recently "Never Look Away" (2018) covering the Nazi era and the liberation of East Germany from the viewpoint of an artist.  It depicts the racist attitude of some people in power positions and afterwards artistic commemoration of the horrors.

One of the actors, Sebastian Koch has appealed in English speaking tv series like "Homeland" (2015-16) and "The Name of the Rose" (2019) and films like "Bridge of Spies" (2015).

"Glove" (2011),  shows a love of baseball shared with North Americans.  Koreans have been making inroads into Major League Baseball.  Asians also have adopted it and love it.  They also have prima donna players including professionals.   Based on a true story there is a twist on typical sports movies and is very well done. 

Korea is a global hotspot, an upcoming economic power and a successful cultural invader.  Recently "Parasite" (2019) won 4 Oscars including best picture.  For more on Korean films:    I have found many Korean films and even tv mini series worth blogging about.

Paraguay is a small land-locked country in South America and not a big splash anywhere.  Any films are likely to have small budgets and dependent on foreign experience.  "7 Boxes" (2012) is a very simple movie, but manages to use suspense and humour effectively.  A Spanish speaking country, also manages to convey awareness that Guarani is spoken by citizens.

Chile is a bigger Spanish speaking country with more film resources.  "A Fantastic Woman" (2017),  took on a controversial theme, namely that trans genders are humans deserving of dignity.  Originally director/writer Sebastian Lelio talked with transgender, Daniela Vega as a consultant, but decided she should play the lead, a role which turned out to be a very good choice.  This film went on to win an Oscar.  Sebastian directed Natalie Portman to an Oscar nomination in "Jackie'"(2016).  Another very interesting film from Chile was "No" (2012) about a constitutional referendum against dictator Pinochet. 

Spanish is the third most popular spoken language in the world and encompasses dozens of countries with their own unique stories.  Check out:

Americans might be familiar with the Richard Gere remake, "Shall We Dance" 2004) of the original Japanese film of 1996.   It used the same script by the Japanese writer Masayuki Suo.  Part of the strength was about the supposed shyness of Japanese people and how husbands sometimes hide their passions from their wives.  Shyness is not unique to Japan.  Competitive Ballroom dancing is the vehicle to tell the story.

Check out more on Japanese cinema including their contribution to filming copied globally

"Mothers of Mine " (2005) was a Finnish movie with a Swedish partner.  The theme really was the attachment of children to their mother.  A little bit of history unknown to many.  Finland was attacked by Russia during World War II and received German defenders.  Children were sent to neutral Sweden breaking up many families that were in most cases brought back together.  War distorts human relationships and none is more basic than that between mother and child.
I included this in a blog about sad movies.

Sexual consent has been an issue in North America for awhile, but still not quite settled.  India has a long history of male chauvinism, but this film would ring bells with North Americans.  It is one of the best I have seen on this subject anywhere.  The ending is very dramatic and appropriate.  Check

Most people feel a revulsion around severely handicapped people, but someone has to deal with them.  This film is about a man who had abandoned his child and later dragged back when his wife in her turn abandoned the child and their daughter was rejected by his family.  She was spastic and drooled, but the viewer will see her as human.  The movie also brings in a transgender who is able to put the family together.  This film in Tamil was the top rated film from India and not a Bollywood blockbuster.  This was my favorite movie of this year.

China is a major rising economy, but its films are perceived to be propaganda.  Actually the two main Chinese languages, Cantonese and Mandarin (as well as some others) are spread around many different countries with many different political systems.  China has produced a lot of unique martial art films that many westerners enjoy.  Also they have a number of creative film makers that sometimes are able to get around the censor.  On top of that they do deal with relationships in and out of political contexts that are worth studying.  "In Love We Trust" (2008) deals with the formerly one child rule.  This movie uses an unusual set of circumstances to illustrate some marital tensions.  It was my favorite movie a few years back.  To understand the tension check out:

It is true that Chinese censors can distort reality and you will have to be careful to avoid being sucked in.  Still it is important to understand what the Chinese people are watching and forming their opinions from.  They have an influence even on American films.  The film "Gravity" (2013) won 7 Oscar awards plus two nominations, but in the studio's desire to make money in the lucrative Chinese market they misled the public.  The dilemma in the movie was supposedly originated by Russians causing an explosion in outer space, but in reality China is the only nation to deliberately cause such an explosion.  The movie also had the Chinese eventually rescuing the American stranded astronaut played by Sandra Bullock.  In reality it is only the Russians that are set up to accomplish that.

Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore offer different perspectives that are often of high quality.  Ang Lee, well respected in America has done interesting movies in Taiwan.  United States and other countries have their own Chinese films not easily accessible to casual film goers.
Learn more at:

I am not claiming every foreign movie is superior to every English language movie.  NO, not by a long shot.  Many nations, especially those relatively poor cannot attract the necessary investment  and along with that have difficulty to develop their own experienced film crews.  Often those interested in a country with few opportunities will go to a foreign country for both training and experience.  With Hollywood and Europe grabbing promising prospects, poor countries lose talent before they can develop it.  Fortunately often the talented film people will go back home and foreign talent can be bought under the right circumstances..

Another problem in every country is that it often more profitable to cater to the "peanut gallery" meaning those seeking violence and/or, sex in its simplest forms.

Everyone wants to portray themselves as commendable and normally castigate their enemies and critics.  Look at your own culture and  seek alternative perspectives.  The truth is probably somewhere in between.  Don't worry that you will be bored with foreign films.  Be selective and check out the many possibilities as you already do for the more familiar movies.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for all these recommendations, John. I have noted them all down for the next time I'm thinking of watching a movie. Have you seen the Iranian film "Children of Heaven"? It's one of my favourites.