I Love French Films Because they Sound Soothing and Seductive and they Validate My Wine Consumption.
Lately, I’ve been watching quite a few foreign films.
Ugh. I know.
It’s not like I’m trying to become one of those people — one of those people who only watches them so I can make obscure references during intellectual conversations at my literary club. Honest.
I’d seen some of the obvious ones from the past — Amelie (French, and an absolute favorite), Lola Rennt (German, aka. “Run Lola Run”), and Das Boot (German, interesting counterpart to the American “U-571″ and told from the “enemy” point of view). But my experience didn’t venture far beyond those which I was forced to watch in school (the German ones) or by close friends (the French).
In fact, I pretty much thought that Hollywood was the center of the movie universe and that other countries didn’t really bother making films worth watching because why, pray tell, would an actor bother to act anywhere else?
But then I accidentally streamed a French film on Netflix.
See, I have this terrible weakness for horrible romantic comedies — especially when my husband’s deployed because I don’t have to explain my reasoning (umm… because I have ovaries instead of testicles?) for wanting to watch them. The online Netflix streaming is set up so that it analyzes shows and movies you’ve already watched and then makes suggestions of films it “thinks” you might like based off of those. The hilarious fact is that before Justin left it was all sci-fi and crime dramas and geek shows, but I’ve successfully managed to (mostly) transition it to rom-coms and whiny indie flicks. He will be SO pleased. Also, I think I might be completely confounding Netflix’s computer brain algorithm thingies because it’ll suggest movies like “Runaway Bride” (which I didn’t like) alongside shows like “Sons of Anarchy” (which I probably would kind of like), and so just when it thinks it has me all figured out, I’m all, HA, Netflix! I’ve foiled you again!
And you know you’re kind of lonely when you spend your free time trying to confuse inanimate objects.
I was in the mood for a good old-fashioned rom-com, and Netflix suggested this one called Heartbreaker. The title was in English. The description was in English. I didn’t look at the actors’ names, so there were no obvious signs pointing to the fact that this was actually a subtitled French film. In fact, it didn’t even actually occur to me that I was reading subtitles until a good 10 minutes in, and by then I was already hooked.
The most interesting part about watching it was realizing the subtle differences in humor and beauty. The leading actress, to me, seemed a little homely and a lot emaciated with her Madonna-esque gap tooth and bony frame, and I didn’t find the leading actor, with his hairy, bumbling scruff attractive in the slightest.
That is, until I continued watching. I became genuinely interested in their characters, and realized that it worked. These cultural differences were only surficial — the heart and the humor was still there, and now, in retrospect, I know I wouldn’t have cast them any differently. It was lighthearted, funny, and a new twist on the typical “opposites attract” story. It was kind of like the Will Smith movie “Hitch,” only instead of bringing couples together, Alex’s job was to break people up by seducing women and making them realize they deserved more than the douchebags they were currently dating. Not a bad gig, huh?
My mom says she hates watching foreign films because while she’s reading the subtitles, she feels like she’s missing out on some of the visual effects of the movie.
Well of course. But really. It’s just a little reading. My grandmother goes every day — every day — without her sense of smell and therefore, without her sense of taste. But that doesn’t stop her from eating, does it? And that doesn’t stop her from cooking delicious food. Just like deafness, I’d imagine, wouldn’t stop someone who’s hearing impaired from enjoying a good movie.
So. If you haven’t before and want to give a foreign flick a chance, go for it. Start with Amelie and learn the story of the traveling gnome.
If you want something deeper but still funny, try Patrik 1.5, a Dutch film about a gay couple struggling to adopt a child. They think they’re getting a 1 1/2-year-old, but instead end up with a 15-year-old homophobic, troubled teen. It’s funny and touching and heartbreaking and embraces stereotypes while slapping them down and shows that maybe — just maybe — a nontraditional family isn’t as scary as we might think.
If you want a little more epic, watch Bride Flight, another Dutch flick that takes place just after World War II. It’s forbidden love. It’s unrequited romance. It’s impossible choices and frustratingly lovable characters and the most adorable leading actor in the history of ever.
And if you want sad. If you want oh, so incredibly Holocaust sad but without the in-your-face death camp stuff of Schindler’s List, watch Sarah’s Key. But. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
These movies might change you.
They might change your perception of other cultures and how they perceive humor. How they perceive sadness. How they perceive beauty and action and romance.
They might make you realize that we’re not all so different, out there in the world.
And a foreign language, while scary when you’re lost in a train station and can’t find the bathroom, can also sound soothing, interesting, and a little bit seductive when experienced from the safety of your living room sofa.