How do we escape from our lives and find something different from our everyday existence? Many, like me, desire to broaden our horizons and our view of the world, but don’t have the time (or the money) to travel. That’s why we turn to film.
Some find a thrill out of action movies, others drop head over heels over a good romantic comedy, while others are “psycho” for horror. As for me, being the xenophile I am, I’m utterly obsessed with foreign films, whether they’re set in a foreign country or in a foreign language. Many of us though are unfamiliar with international films, or just loathe the idea of watching a movie with closed captions. But before you know it, you’ll find yourself enjoying watching foreign films as you escape elsewhere and get lost through cinema.
Gain an insight into another culture
No doubt, the best way to immerse yourself in another culture is to actually travel to that country and explore it for yourself. But immersing yourself in a film situated in that culture is a close second. In Mark Raso’s film “Copenhagen,” for example, one could witness Denmark’s world-famous cycling culture. Or through a Japanese film, you may delve into Japan’s alluring culture, one with a fondness for nature and simplicity. Specifically, you may also gain insight into a country’s film culture as well. You may come to find that another country depicts war in a slightly different way than American films, or romance or horror in the like.
Learn more about history
Because learning is always a good idea, right? And through film, you may even gain a deeper understanding of important historical events you wouldn’t get just reading a few pages from a school textbook. For those interested in learning about World War II there is a wide selection of international films to choose from. In my opinion, “Flowers of War” does a fairly good job of providing a glimpse into the atrocities committed by the Japanese Imperial Army in the Rape of Nanking. You may even discover certain aspects of the world or events that took place you didn’t know of before.
Brush up on a foreign language
Yes, technically you could just watch a foreign film in English dub. But let’s be honest, dub only really fits in with the character 0.00002 percent of the time and, in my experience, is usually painful to hear. Also, what’s the point if you aren’t watching a film set in a foreign country set in its native tongue? Sure it’ll save you the burden of having to read subtitles, but you’ll be missing out on a key component of its culture.
If you’re watching a Soviet propaganda film for example, will you really get the full experience watching it in English? For anyone interested in picking up a foreign language, watching foreign films is often the best way to test your skills if you don’t have anyone else to interact with, and it’s a great way to get a grasp of the language at a conversational level. If you want to learn Japanese for example, try Japan’s innumerous selection of anime. If you want to learn Korean, there are loads of Korean dramas in store for you.
Intrigued? Good! In that case, here are a few recommendations to get you started as you travel the world through film:
“Flowers of War” (Jin ling shi san chai)
As mentioned above, Zhang Yimou’s film “Flowers of War” is a Hong Kong/Chinese historical war drama set in the city of Nanking in 1937 during the Second-Sino Japanese War. Based on a novella by Geling Yan, “13 Flowers of Nanjing,” an American mortician named John Miller finds sanctuary in a church with a group of Chinese schoolgirls and prostitutes in the midst of the chaos occurring in the brutal Nanking Massacre. To protect the girls from the Japanese soldiers and help them escape, Miller disguises himself as a priest.
Fair warning, the film is pretty gruesome, but it paints a vivid picture of the nightmare that was the Rape of Nanking.
“Land of Mine” (Under Sandet)
“Land of Mine” is a Danish-German historical war drama directed by Martin Zandvliet. Set in Denmark post World War II, the film tells the story of a group of young German prisoners of war who were forced to dig and diffuse 45,000 landmines planted by German soldiers along the coast of Denmark.
The film is inspired by real events– estimates indicate over 2,000 German soldiers, many of them just young boys, were forced to clear mines, about half of them losing their limbs to explosions or killed. This film is definitely one of my favorites, not just because of the unexpected camaraderie that forms between the prisoners and Danish warden, but also because it paints the Germans in a different light, rather than the typically evil Nazis usually portrayed in British and American World War II films.
“Good day, Ramon” (Buen Día, Ramón)
Okay, enough of the war movies. Now it’s time for a heartwarming and uplifting tale of a friendship betwixt two cultures. Jorge Ramirez Suarez’s film, “Buen Día, Ramón”, tells the story of a young Mexican man in search of opportunity his small Mexican hometown doesn’t offer. Ambitious and eager to see the world, he looks forward to traveling and staying with his friend’s aunt in Germany. But when things don’t go according to plan, he winds up in the streets struggling to survive without any grasp of the German language and lacking the attire for the cold climate. Luckily an elderly German woman welcomes him into her home, and despite the language barrier, the two form a close bond. Definitely a feel-good film for the whole family!
France undoubtedly has one of the most romantic cultures in the world, as reflected by their film industry. “Amelie” is easily a classic, detailing the whimsical life of a shy and charming waitress named Amelie. Through Amelie’s eyes, we get a glimpse into contemporary Parisian life, as she observes and changes the lives of those around her, living in a world of her own creation. And along the way, she finds love, and embarks on creating a series of schemes to lead her love to her.