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Foreign Film Friday: My First Foreign Film


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When I was asked to write for Foreign Film Friday, I had to admit I’d never watched a foreign film in my life. There are few excuses for this, given my 24/7 access to Netflix, which gives me access to hundreds of ‘international’ films at the click of the button. It’s not as if I even have to get dressed, let alone track down an arthouse cinema.

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But I’ve always steered clear. I’m not really a huge movie buff: if I go to the cinema a couple of times a year, that’s a lot for me, and I rarely buy a DVD. The main reason is that I find watching anything for more than about an hour quite a challenge, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned whilst idly scrolling through films from Europe and beyond, it’s that they really like a lengthy flick on the continent. And given that I usually like to do something else whilst watching a film, like tidying, filing, or getting ready to go out, subtitled films really pose a problem to this strategy.

Still – nothing ventured nothing gained. I decided to bite the bullet, grab the bull by the horns, and seize the day. And to share this whole experience with you all.

First up was choosing a film. As I say, Netflix has hundreds of foreign films to choose from, from lots of different countries, so I was spoilt for choice. My first pick was Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013), as I’d actually heard of that one, but at almost three hours long, I decided that probably wasn’t a great introduction to the world of world cinema. European cinema certainly seems to fall into two categories based upon a scroll through the menu: sex and Nazis. Having dismissed one of the former, I eventually plumped for the latter, cueing up Downfall (2004) because, again, I’d heard of it and I’ve seen the many many parodies on YouTube.

Firstly, it wasn’t as difficult to follow as I feared. Indeed, it felt very like a British or Hollywood film (albeit something Oscar-worthy rather than a summer blockbuster), only with everything spoken in German. My limited working knowledge of the language – two years’ worth over fifteen years ago – meant the subtitles were very necessary, although the rhythms of speech align quite nicely with English. I’m not sure how I’d find a film in a language I had no knowledge of, such as Spanish or Italian, and whether I’d find it too complicated.

The linear storyline also helped. I’ve always had a perception of foreign films as involving confusing cuts, jarring scenes and frankly being a bit bonkers. This was entirely straightforward, perhaps because to treat the last days of Hitler in anything other than a serious manner might be a leap too far for any director. The fact it is based on a real-life story, one which most of us know reasonably well, also made it relatively easy to follow.

As expected, my concentration was an issue, and I have to admit to taking several breaks whilst watching it, mainly to do things like check the cinema schedule for Mamma Mia 2 (...). With an English-language film, I’d be able to do those things with the film running in the background, so maybe foreign films either need to be on a TV rather than a laptop, or I need locking in a room with only that to concentrate on. Either way, my concerns about this aspect of a foreign film were proven true.

The pace, too, troubled me, but that's not due to it being a foreign film - it's more a matter of taste. Long camera takes and poignant montages are found in lots of films, and I always find them a bit of a waste of time. I also skip descriptive passages in novels, it’s an ongoing problem. Here, I was anxious for the story to move on and not keep seeing various side characters blown up or shot for being traitors. Frankly, we’re all here for one thing when a film focuses on Hitler’s last days, so let’s get on with it if we can.

I slogged my way through to the end, but I would probably have done that with any film, especially one dealing with such harrowing subject matter. I wouldn’t say this was an absolute no-go of a film – if nothing else, it gave me serious coat and hair envy because 1940s fashion was A-plus. I would give another foreign film a try, so it has proven to me that I am capable of reading subtitles and watching the action at the same time. I’m just not sure I’d actively seek one out, over and above any other film.

Got any recommendations for this Foreign Film Amateur? Let me know!

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