World Cinema

I don’t write as much about films these days, as I was recently reminded on another blog. Partly, this is because I watch fewer films than I once did, but it is also because more exposure to blogging has made me realise that many other film-dedicated bloggers do it better. Despite posting occasional reviews in the ‘Just been watching…’ series of posts, I have generally restricted my writing about film and cinema to longer articles, submitted for publication on other sites. As I get older, I also become increasingly intolerant of the countless remakes of films, both good and bad ones, that seems to me to typify the laziness of the mainstream film industry. I also have no time for blockbuster epics, comic-book franchises, and the seemingly endless series of fantasy films that pack the cinemas and rack up new box office records on a monthly basis.

However, that is just me. I am not suggesting that they are bad films, or that those watching and enjoying them are somehow unworthy. It is simply a change of preference, driven by previously unimagined marketing and promotional skills in part admittedly, but it is what it is. Social Media has changed many aspects of modern life, and has also impacted on film and cinema too. Although I may not have welcomed or embraced that change, I completely accept it. And of course, it is nothing new. Over the decades, tastes have changed, and the films I enjoyed in my teens might be regarded as classics now, but were often derided at the time. Compared to the current use of CGI, the special effects used in films of the 1960s and 1970s seem almost quaint now.

My own sanctuary was generally to restrict much of my viewing to foreign films. By foreign, I refer to those films made in a language other than English, and requiring subtitles to understand the plot. I often sat in a cinema in London, able to count the other patrons on the fingers of one hand, as we enjoyed the latest war film from Russia, or revelled in the complexities of a German film from the likes of Fassbinder. My VHS collection once boasted an unusually high percentage of films from countries as obscure as Argentina, and as European mainstream as Spain. I sat through all night showings of films about the Russian Revolution, and made difficult journeys across greater London to catch the latest Chabrol, in some tiny run-down cinema I had never heard of. Membership of the National Film Theatre was a must, for most of my adult life. This introduced me to the work of directors I had never heard of, from countries that I didn’t even know had a film industry.

I was a member of a minority, even then. Subtitles are notoriously unpopular with many film fans, even today. Some people would sooner sit through a scene by scene remake in English, as in ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’, than subject themselves to having to watch the original with subtitles. In some cases, dubbing has been used to replace the original language, in an effort to attract more customers into a cinema to watch a film. A good example of this is the German classic war film ‘Das Boot'(1981).
I went to see this in central London, and was appalled to find it was being shown in a dubbed version. It didn’t sound right, and just didn’t feel right. Fortunately, the BBC picked up the full length version, and showed it in the original language on TV.

Once DVD had replaced VHS as the preferred format, life got a lot easier. Menu options allowed for subtitles to be on or off, and offered different versions of endings, as well as comprehensive extras in many cases. Foreign films started to become more accepted, and even got a new name, World Cinema. TV review shows began talking about films from India, Iran, Chile, Mexico, and China. Suddenly it seemed that everyone realised that talent and innovation existed outside of the English-speaking film industry in America and the UK. Then the ping-pong of remakes began to rear its ugly head. Canny producers took films that had received critical acclaim in Europe or elsewhere, and began to make versions in English, generally with different actors of course. They often took liberties with the scripts and plots, and regularly changed the endings too. ‘Nikita’, and ‘The Vanishing’ are two examples of this, both of which enraged me at the time.

This went both ways, unfortunately. Foreign film-makers found some popular films were making big money in the original English, and decided to have a go at remaking them, or an approximation of them, in their own countries. European directors were lured across the Atlantic to repeat their own success, with a cast speaking English, often in near-identical versions of their own film. Pretty soon, I was finding it increasingly difficult to work out what World Cinema was anymore. Was it a foreign director making a film in English, or an American remake of a European success? Fortunately, it still existed. I just had to look for it. Films from Argentina, Russia, Germany, and many other countries that had been left alone. They were just what they were, never remade, still with subtitles, and as entertaining and unusual as ever.

So here are just a few recommendations. After all, it wouldn’t be a post about films without some, would it? Grit your teeth and bear the subtitles. You will be rewarded with excellence.
A modern thriller from China. Very realistic.

An overwhelming Russian war film. You will never forget it.

A delightful film about a man and his dog. Far better than it sounds.

An Oscar-winning classic from Germany. Film making of the highest order.

A police thriller from Korea. As good as they get.

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28 thoughts on “World Cinema

  1. I enjoy foreign films too and while I understand you might miss something while reading subtitles I think something is lost when a movie is dubbed. I prefer subtitled. The Lives of Others is a stone cold classic and I’ll have to check out the others. The original Girl with the Dragon Tatoo blew my mind a few years ago.

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    1. Thanks, Lloyd. I don’t think that I have ever ‘lost’ part of a film because of subtitles. There are a few rare examples where the titling is incorrect, or has bad grammar, but I can usually watch the film and read them at the same time. The only time that I get frustrated, is when they sometimes use white titles against a light background, and it’s impossible to see the words.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  2. I have to say I like subtitles as they draw you in just that little bit more, I would always pause a subtitled film if I went to the toilet, whilst I’d be more likely to let an English speaking film run. it makes no sense! I know I have enjoyed some of your previous recommendations so I hope to get time to find and watch this new batch.
    I feel sorry for the Polish, films on TV are hardly ever dubbed or subtitled, instead they have a lectern or voice-over over foreign films, and it’s the same guy who does them all! His monotone voice must be etched into the Phyche of a nation.

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    1. Poor Poland! A voice-over? That sounds strange, and I doubt that I would like that. I am pleased to hear that someone else finds subtitles more involving. That has often occurred to me in the past.
      Thanks, Eddy.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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      1. At last I managed to watch one of them, Come and See. What an odd film. The copy I managed to get my hands on was dubbed and I think I may have lost a little of the atmosphere because of it. Subtitles would certainly have helped to make out what was said in some scenes with the loud industrial style music. As a snippet of history is was quite hard hitting, but I could imagine it’s not a film for everyone. Still it left me on me, I even looked skyward the next day as I heard the drone of a plane above, just to check.

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        1. Phew! That took a while, Eddy.
          But dubbed? No!
          It is a surreal experience, and remains as one of my top-ten films of all-time. Maybe one day, you might get to see it in Russian, with subtitles. Even then, you may well feel the same though.
          Thanks for taking time to watch it, that is genuinely appreciated.
          Best wishes, Pete.

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  3. Great post Pete, I love world cinema and looking forward to seeing Blind Shaft and Memories of Murder after your recommendations and concur that the other 3 films are brilliant! As always thoroughly enjoy your film posts. Best wishes, Jane x

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  4. Years ago, in Paris, I watched a dubbed version of Walt Disney’s original “101 Dalmatians,” and found that I couldn’t tell Cruella de Vil—or Pongo and Perdita, for that matter—was not actually speaking French. I guess dubbing can work for cartoons. Otherwise, I’ll stick with subtitles. By the way, I’ve seen “The Vanishing” in its original form, and have the French film “Nikita” on DVD. I’ve watched the original Swedish-language Millennium series (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Girl Who Played with Fire,” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest”), and have also read the books (in French). These are all good films. I wouldn’t dream of watching an American remake or a dubbed version!

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  5. I do agree with you, Pete. I can’t bear to watch dubbed films. Fortunately in Greece only cartoons for kids are dubbed, and as a side effect that’s why most Greeks speak English quite well, compared to Italians or the French, i.e. I’ve seen the Lives of others which was outstanding, and the dog film in Spanish. I shall try the others, thanks

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