Thursday, 22 March 2012

Blip: Keep your hollywood.

Foreign language films are a love of ours. This isn't because we're pretentiously asserting that they are better just because they have subtitles. It's that we're correctly asserting that they are simply better. Allow me to offer an examination of a standard American film to help explain:

-You average American action film's protagonist will be a pseudo anti-hero. An anti-hero is a protagonistic hero who displays many qualities that are very much at odds with the archetypal hero, like a main character driven by righteous motives to commit deeds that could beviewed as evil (murder, torture, kidnap etc.) The reason I call American action film protagonists pseudo anti-heros is because they exemplify the American ideal of fighting the powers that be, ignoring the well-thought-out rules in place and instead follow their own route however this always is a point because the character in question still invariably does whatever they can to do 'good' (preserving human life and such.)

A simple exampleof that: Die hard. John Mcclane is a cop who doesn;t do things by the book, a reckless loose cannon who gets things done.

-The stereotypical (and often typical) antagonist in an American action film displays a few very similar qualities designed to sway unintelligent American audiences to dislike them. They are foreign or of foreign descent (although they always speak English because your average action film lover can't handle subtitles) and they usually follow the American stereotype of that country to the letter. The evil Germans are efficient and ordered, the evil English people are hung up over the American war of independence and speak like mary poppins,

-These themes continue throughout the genre and are joined by a myriad of further elements that all make these films the same experience branded slightly differently. However, this isn't the main problem.

-The main problem of American films (and films of this type, as a contrast to many other foreign language films) can be split into two areas:

   -Morality: Films like die hard are rammed with forced morality, there is always a distinct good and evil, there is always a barbaric message that 'bad people' deserve to have bad things happen to them. An 'innocent' soldier dies and the tone of the film turns dramatic and emotional, to mourn the now dead character. The protagonist, by means of revenge, kills countless bodyguards, henchman and miscellaneous employees to get to the perpertrator of the crime and that's all justified. He is in fact celebrated for every person he puts through a gruesome and horrific death. The films culminate in a good over evil victory (with evil coming back for one last try only to be killed in a blast of sentimentality) and overall leaves you feeling as unfulfilled as the last.

   -Subtlety: A character in a story should be full to the brim of subtlety, they should evoke our own emotions to agree and conflict with theirs. They should move us to try to understand the position that the film has them in. This theme of subtlety should also be spread across the story, the direction, the morality, the dialogue and the overall theme and motif of the film. A film should always be like a poem, perhaps a little more of less subtle at times but for the most part a soft yet powerfully well-constructed examination of the issue involved. Lethal weapon is not this. Con air is not this. Die hard is most assuredly not this.

Note: Don't get me wrong, I'm not attacking all American films or the American film history, it has produced some wonderful films, some of which displaying the gentle mix of unsure morality and subtle theme exploration. If you don't believe me then here are a few examples: Wrecked, Pulp fiction, Splinter, Carriers, Ripley's game, Crash, Safety of objects, American beauty.

I don't mean to lump together all films that aren't in English either, only that 99% of all foreign langauge films we have watched, display beautiful subtlety, fantastic imagery and have even managed to move us with scenes that are all too familiar in modern American films (the big kiss scene, the final confrontation and the twist ending to name a few.)

To deal with the theoretical 1%: Invitation only is a simple horror film in Madarin, it's over exposed and deals itself in a heavy handed way. Manhunt is a norwegian slasher film that trails about, jumping in pace up to an odd and uninteresting ending. Dead snow is a slightly mad Norwegian nazi zombie film full of misaimed humour and over-the-top gore as a replacement for plot and character development.

And the 99%: Every Park Chan-Wook film we've seen has been a beautifully executed masterpiece that left us feeling emotionally and intellectually drained. His films are a good explanation of seemingly all Korean films, every one we've seen are dead on the mark. Even Korean comedies and romances have been near enough perfect.

As far as other languages are concerned: The lives of others is a detailed look at the intrusive practices of the stasi during the period of the Russian controlled East Germany, chronicling the shifting alliances of a cold, calculating stasi member as he watches the life of an East German writer.

Pan's labyrinth is a merging of fairytale and stark, gritty realism to make an assured and hard-hitting look at Franco's Spain.

To revisit the two main problems I discussed earlier:

-Morality: Films like Brotherhood, Thirst and Visitor Q have no pre-assumed morality but instead place rich characters in a position with motion and then watch them as they act and react according to their own judgement on things. The result is honesty, in every moment of these films.

-Subtlety: If a film if subtle enough that you need to watch it multiple times to scratch the surface of the themes and an additional watch-through to try to understand the developing mindset of each characters.

The point is, the hollywood tradition of films has seeped its way into most modern English language films so I urge you to join us and try out a foreign language film or two. Cast of the oppression of banality held in place by the army of identical, boring and inoffensive films and instead try out how films should be: Works of art.

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