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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Don’t be a stranger to foreign films

Just read the subtitles

“We don’t make films for continents or countries — filmmakers create films for their personal dreams and obsessions,” said “Parasite” director Bong Joon-ho in an interview with The New York Times.

Bong Joon-ho’s achievement of having the ninth foreign film nominated in the Best Picture category is a big accomplishment for South Korea and international cinema as a whole. Film audiences are becoming more and more globalized, as demonstrated by the South Korean movie’s success in the United States. If “Parasite” wins the Academy Award for Best Picture this year, it will be the first foreign film to do so.

That said, it is surprising that an international movie hasn’t won before. Although the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film category gives recognition to these works, many of these films deserve to be pitted against Hollywood productions.

Part of the appeal of international cinema is that it gives viewers an insight into the social systems of other countries. It can be easy to forget that movies are made outside of Hollywood and that the problems Americans face are not always globally homogeneous. 

In “Parasite,” however, we are momentarily transported to the realities of class dynamics and income inequality in South Korea. We watch the Kim family try anything to escape their poverty, whereas simultaneously, the Park family can seemingly afford to lose anything. Both families leech off each other inadvertently, but only one can survive the repercussions.

Even with South Korea’s improving economy in recent years, income disparity and the widening wealth gap still remain an issue. This film presents this societal flaws, which some outsiders might not be aware of.

Parasite not only speaks to the challenges relevant in South Korea, it also reveals the global ubiquity of issues like poverty and class inequality. The reason that this film was so widely successful was because it observed the clash between the “upstairs” and “downstairs.” None of this is foreign to us.

Besides “Parasite,” there are countless foreign films that cinematically communicate with us better than English-language movies. Giuseppe Tornatore’s “Cinema Paradiso” won the Academy Award back in 1990 and has since left its mark on cinematic history as a love letter to film and to life. The sentiments expressed in this movie can be felt universally, regardless of whether you understand Italian or not.

In 2019, Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma” took home three awards, including Best Foreign Language Film and Best Director. The film, which centered around an indigenous woman in Mexico City, engaged in topics like class, culture and race in a delicate and moving manner. Although it lost the best picture to “Green Book,” it won the hearts of many.

This past Winter Break, I spent a good deal of my time watching old Russian movies with my mom. Although my family is from Armenia, their childhoods consisted of a lot of Soviet Union-produced cinema. One of these movies included Vladimir Menshov’s “Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears,” which won an Oscar in 1981. The title, which is a Russian saying about resilience, best encapsulates the film’s depiction of the realities of living independently. The protagonist, Katerina, endures restless nights, a disloyal boyfriend, single motherhood and, essentially, being alone.

After the credits rolled, my mom turned to me and said something that roughly translates to, “It’s a movie about life, you know?”

Despite not understanding Russian and lacking firsthand knowledge about the hardships portrayed in the film, I knew what she meant. It is not just a Russian movie in the same way “Parasite” is not just a South Korean movie and “Roma” is not just a Mexican film. It is simply a film about life, and no language barrier can complicate that.

Ultimately, people should watch more foreign films. Movie theater chains, such as Cinemark or Regal, should expand their showings so that these films are more accessible to audiences. Most of us turn subtitles on anyways while watching Netflix, so don’t let that be the only thing stopping you from seeing other perspectives.

Written by: Julietta Bisharyan — jsbisharyan@ucdavis.edu

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie


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