We’ve all been there. Channel hopping late at night, you stumble across a foreign language film. You’re intrigued, probably a little drunk, and not sure whether these types of films are for you. Don’t be nervous, as once you’ve taken the plunge, there’s a whole new realm of filmic experience out there for you.
To ease you into your new found cinema passion, here are a few examples of what you can expect should you decide to enter into the world of subtitles. To those already initiated, please add your own pet favourite clichés below!
1. There will be a LOT of nudity.
Yes, it’s the obvious. Who hasn’t put on an art house flick and secretly hoped for a bit of sex? There’s a reason why these films are normally hidden away late at night. Kept apart from the Puritan attitude and influence of Hollywood, nudity on screen has flourished in other countries. In a gratuitous manner, too. (Just don’t ever admit to thinking that. It’s always artistically justified). And gentlemen, please be warned, it’s not just women at it. There may be a few swinging items in the way.
We were going to add one or two trailers to illustrate this point, but we couldn’t find a single one for which the letters NSFW hadn’t been invented…
2. Characters will only speak in statements.
Statements that look both insightful and deeply philosophical when read onscreen via subtitles actually sound a bit silly when spoken aloud. So don’t go around copying them to impress your friends. You’ll just sound like a dick. In conjunction with this are characters tendencies to constantly engage in conversation…with themselves.
Example: Try saying this one in the pub, courtesy of French New Wave sci-fi Alphaville, “Time is the substance of which I am made. Time is a river which carries me along. But I am time. It’s a tiger, tearing me apart; but I am the tiger.” That last bit is awesome.
3. Even if the plot is completely unintelligible, someone will claim you just didn’t get it.
This is the true test of the world cinema aficionado. You’ve been to see something completely baffling to you, but then in the post-film discussion after, your enlightened world cinema pals will be animatedly discussing its references and subtexts. I’ve been there. I’ve even joined in the pretence.
Here’s the truth: nine times out of ten, the film that confused you was genuinely confusing and/or pretentious nonsense. Don’t be afraid to say so. Sure, there will be the odd masterpiece that demands rigorous academic analysis, but most of the time the director had long since disappeared to a place where the sun don’t shine…
Example: The 1998 Yugoslav comedy Black Cat, White Cat. It’s an award-winning film with glowing reviews all over the place. It also makes no sense whatsoever. Featuring such cinematic treats as a midget marrying a giant, grenade juggling and a man cleaning manure off himself with a goose, it also switches frequently between Romani, Bulgarian and Serbian. It really has to be seen to be believed
Take a look at the plot synopsis on Wikipedia, if you don’t believe me. And to those who argue it’s a feel-good absurdist comedy, that’s a lazy excuse. It didn’t work for Bruce Willis in Hudson Hawk.
Bonus points must also be awarded for one character’s constant refrain of a line from Casablanca, which leads me nicely into my next point…
4. One of the characters will have an obsession with Hollywood cinema.
It used to be a self-reflexive exercise for French New Wave cinephiles embracing and celebrating their love of a golden age. Now it just seems awkward and embarrassing. I don’t care if your character has a quirky love for It’s A Wonderful Life. That doesn’t count as characterisation!
Example: For starting the whole thing, take a look at Breathless/À Bout De Souffle, and lead character Michel’s penchant for Humphrey Bogart. In fact, that film probably has a lot of things to answer for in this list.
5. A previously well-regarded world cinema director will make an awful debut English language feature.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Alien: Resurrection. He’s never been back since.
6. Japanese films will probably feature either cats, lesbian schoolgirls, lecherous businessmen, crazy messed-up horror scenes, or a delightful combination of all of the above.
Add to this is the fact that the vast majority of genuinely terrifying films come from North-East Asia and you begin to question what they’re putting in the water over there.
Example: You honestly can’t do better than House/Hausu. It’s had a recent Internet-driven revival, and should be pretty easy to track down. Just don’t come crying to me.
Okay, so this entry is probably due to my high consumption of Hong Kong cinema, but, damn, they love wearing sunglasses at all hours of the day. And, damn, they look cool. I tried it once. My girlfriend just told me to take them off as a) I was indoors, and b) it was raining outside, and also night-time. Idiot.
Example: Chow Yun Fat in A Better Tomorrow. Although the fact he’s also lighting his cigarette with a $100 bill probably helps.Bonus example: Even the filmmakers themselves are at it, as Hong Kong art house director Wong Kar Wai proves. The man just can’t be interviewed without donning a pair.
8. If it’s a French film, Gérard Depardieu will appear in it.
Seriously, this is a man who makes Samuel L. Jackson look workshy. Appearing onscreen nearly 200 times throughout his career, Depardieu shows no signs of slowing down. Take a look at his IMDB page, and you’ll see he already has 11 projects lined up for 2010. Yes, that’s right – 11 bloody projects.
Example: In a career playing everyone from Christopher Columbus to himself, it’s his blink and you’ll miss it role as a café owner in Paris J’taime that gets my nod. I can think of no other reason for him to be in it other than that it was an international film about Paris, and his appearance is down to some sort of French law.
9. There will be a cover of a hit English language song, usually in the film’s native language.
You’re watching a film rooted in another culture. You’re seeing sights alien to you. Then you hear a familiar refrain, which at first seems comforting but then disturbingly out-of-place in the context. But you still go to sing along under your breath, except it’s in Cantonese. What?! It’s a high-pitched Chinese girl singing your favourite song! Double what?! It’s actually weirdly better.
Example: Faye Wong’s cover of The Cranberries Dreams in Chungking Express.
10. Success will inevitably be followed by a shit Hollywood remake starring Nicolas Cage.
Brought to my attention by a good friend, this last one is perhaps the most important. Nothing, and I mean nothing, illustrates the final degrading pillage of your previously beloved underground world cinema film favourite than a bewigged Nicolas Cage overacting his way through the remake. Then you sob to yourself at night, “Why didn’t Scorsese remake this?”
Example: Bangkok Dangerous, starring the one and only Cage.