World Cinema: Why I Love It!
Earth is a huge place. Don’t let recent developments, like phone-lines, affordable plane flights or the internet fool you – It is a gigantic planet filled with billions upon billions of people, with these people scattered across countries thousands and thousands of miles apart, and every person being vastly different to the next.
World cinema opens up this entire planet. By limiting yourself to watching films just produced in the English language, you are missing out on the voices and experiences from the other five billion or so people sharing our home. Such voices challenge our thinking, change our perspective, enlighten us, scare us, and open our eyes to the rest of humanity.
I may be over-romanticising here, because not every foreign film is good, but the feeling when one film changes your world-view forever is absolutely astounding. By learning about other cultures and races, you begin to reflect on the merit of your own. Your perspective changes and you begin to see the bigger picture of the world. We are vastly different, yet intricately united in our common humanity. World cinema lets us explore this humanity, wherever we’re from.
First World Cinema Experience
Run Lola Run (1998). That was the first foreign film I had ever seen. Although it’s not my favourite of all time, there couldn’t have been a better film to open my eyes up to world cinema. I was about 12 years old when my eldest sister practically forced me to watch this. It was shockingly good. The concept of a film having three different endings and actually having the guts to portray those endings was mind-blowing. Plus, the main character of Lola was absolutely entrancing. Here was, sprinting down the streets of Germany, a force as powerful as the revolutionary ideas the film was hurling at me. By the time the film had finished, I was stunned. A whole new world had opened up to me.
The Hollywood Alternative To World Cinema
My main problem with modern Hollywood cinema is the lack of sincerity. Most films are well made, polished and created with various displays of impressive intelligence. But it’s all too cynical. Filmmakers and producers are too concerned with manipulating audience response instead of delivering films of integrity. Many of my friends have scorned me for heavily disliking the summer heavyweights like Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, Captain America and, more recently, Warrior, stating that clever audience manipulation displays a great degree of talent from the filmmakers. That’s true. However, that talent is used in a manner that exploits people en masse, and only results in more films of superficial nature reaching the screens. In turn, this prevents truly thought-provoking films and other works that actively challenge and engage with our beliefs and ideas from reaching the big screen.
Hollywood doesn’t want to oppose your way of life. It wants to comfort you. It wants to tell you that everything is okay. By allowing themselves to be smothered with amniotic themes and messages, audiences have become accustomed to unchallenging films that are not stimulating in the slightest. In order for our collective conscience to grow and evolve, we need to be challenged. We need films to attack our beliefs and open our eyes to harsh new truths. Hollywood, by and large, does not do this. It strangles true creativity, and world cinema is now the pool from which such artistic merit is emerging.
What’s Missing For World Cinema?
I do not truly believe people when they say they are put off by the subtitles in foreign films. I think it’s a handy excuse, but not something with any solid grounding. This is because film is a visual medium. Dialogue comes secondary. For example, look at Amélie. I do not remember every word of dialogue she speaks, but I remember her cheeky smile. I do not remember what Li’l Zé said in City Of God, but I remember his maniacal relish as he orders the death of a child in the slums. I don’t know what the hell that pink and skinny monster was called in Pan’s Labyrinth, but I remember when it put eye-balls in its hands. These examples help to illustrate that audiences react more viscerally to powerful imagery than powerful dialogue. The spoken word is extremely potent, but you can’t picture it in the same way an image can be forever implanted in your brain. So, for me, the more visually profound a film is then the more likely it is to receive world-wide recognition.
I think people are very eager to embrace foreign films.
I think people are very eager to embrace foreign films. When you look at the films just mentioned, you don’t have to think too much to realise that mainstream audiences love hearing stories from around the world. I believe the problem of accessibility to such films lies in my point that I previously made about Hollywood. As a result of that self perpetuating formula, where a certain type of film guarantees a certain income, any chance foreign films have of being seen rapidly diminishes.
It’s a sad situation, but there is hope. The rise of the independent cinema is a sure-fire sign that audiences are eager for something different. The internet, as well as supplying petabytes of porn, serves as a huge information platform from which the enticed viewer can dive in to the foreign film market. Type ‘world cinema’ into Google and millions of web-pages appear. The access to information on foreign cinema has, ironically, never been greater. We just need to convince the English-tied studios and distributors to play them more.
Favourite World Cinema Genre
My favourite genre is, admittedly, the American western. However, nothing is more glorious than seeing the wildly imaginative takes on this area. Tears Of The Black Tiger, released in 2000, and made in Thailand, is arguably my favourite western of the decade – even if it is a parody. Elements of the western resound in extreme Japanese films like Battle Royale, Azumi and Versus. Then you have Sukiyaki Western Django – Takashi Miike’s tribute to A Fistful Of Dollars and Yojimbo. The films of John Woo and Johnnie To also provide fantastic re-imaginings of anti-heroes previously found in the Wild West.
I find that the prominence of the American western rose and fell because of certain social issues too extensive to fully explore in this article, with these factors mainly relating to the themes of identity and morality. It is, through and through, an American genre. By taking certain elements of the western and incorporating them into their own films, foreign filmmakers are finding their own identity and their own voice. They are taking something pre-existing and putting their unique stamp on it. They are breathing new life into a genre that was wheezing its last breath, and this vitality is what is missing from the current crop of neo-westerns making their way on to screens in the UK and USA.
Favourite World Cinema Director
My favourite foreign director of all time is Luis Buñuel. He’s dead, though. So in terms of living foreignfilm makers, I’m going to opt for Takashi Miike. I haven’t seen anywhere near all of this man’s work, but I love what I’ve discovered so far. He brings energy to the screen that I previously forgot existed. Whether it’s the absolutely insane Ichi The Killer, the kick-ass samurai action of 13 Assassins, or the quiet menace of Audition, I find myself loving every film Miike applies himself to. There’s something joyous in his approach to cinema. Everything is wonderfully playful, and I believe that’s the key attraction for me. With every film, there is the sense he is discovering a new world to explore or a new genre to master. He’s having fun with films, and this delightful approach is what keeps me hooked every time.
Top-5 World Cinema Films
This film should not work. The acting is corny, the dialogue is blunt, and the action far too over the top… but it’s perfect. Around the start of the millennium, Japan had a problem of alienation with its teenagers. Battle Royale takes the fears of the older generation and plays it out so everyone can see how ridiculous it is to be scared of a nation’s youth. Young people are the future, not the apocalypse.
The Big City: Mahanagar (India, 1964)
Directed by the over-looked genius Satyajit Ray, it tells the story of a housewife who takes up a part time job in order to help with her husband’s modest income. Remember, this is India in the 1960s. Her actions rock traditionalism to the core and throw her family into crisis. At the end of it all, rigid societal pressure gives way to the true love between husband and wife.
Any Luis Buñuel film could slot in here, but I decided to show off his personal favourite. Nazarin follows a Priest who is cast out from the church. He decides to live a perfectly humble life according to Catholic principles. As he attempts to live like Jesus, he is only shown scorn and distrust. It’s an emotionally powerful film that examines a man’s beliefs and morals all the way down to the core.
La Grande Illusion (France, 1937)
Set in the POW camps of World War I, it follows one group of prisoners as they escape from one camp only to be bounced into another. This film almost made me cry. It’s a heartbreakingly humanist film depicting how the rules of war tear friends apart and how an entire way of life must self-sacrifice in order for hope to grow in new generations. The Great Escape basically copied the first half of this film for its own purposes. That’s not a crime, but it is indeed a shame that such a beautiful film like this has been relatively ignored.
Akira Kurosawa is often remembered among Western audiences for making Rashômon, Seven Samurai and Yojimbo – each film having a profound impact on cinema as a whole. For me, however, Ikiru remains his most powerful film. It revolves around Kanji Watanabe, a city council bureaucrat who has spent his entire life filling out useless paper work that achieves nothing. One day, he learns he has terminal stomach cancer. This prompts him to live the life he never had; a life full of fun, joy and vigour. He also resolves to use his council position to create a lasting good for a poor community. Heartbreaking, heart-warming, profound, beautiful, shattering, re-affirming; this film embodies everything I love about world cinema. Words can’t do justice to the swelling of emotion I feel every time I see the old Watanabe sitting on a swing in a snow-covered playground, tears of joy running down his face, singing his favourite song before everything fades to black…
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