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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Expand your worldview by watching foreign films

International cinema can allow you to experience other cultures through media


By MAYA KORNYEYEVA — mkornyeyeva@ucdavis.edu


Foreign cinema is a unique way to experience another culture through a distinctly human lens. You can immerse yourself in the language and customs of another country virtually — no plane ticket required. 

In fact, foreign films involve an active process of deciphering nonverbal communication clues while also reading subtitles; and admittedly, this is no easy feat. Imagine your usual dinner routine, which for me at least involves turning on a show in the background while preparing a meal. You watch your ramen noodles spin in the microwave, listening to the clear and comforting English audio coming from the television. You don’t really need to watch the scenes on the screen to understand what is going on, you can hear and understand everything just fine. 

However, watching a movie in a foreign language is not as casual of a viewing experience. Although it does involve a bit more effort, like reading the subtitles while simultaneously keeping an eye on the screen, watching these films, in my opinion, is crucial to expanding one’s worldview and perception of the world. 

From French filmmaker François Truffaut to Swedish Ingmar Bergman to Federico Fellini in Italy, each country and filmmaker has an original approach to designing a motion picture. Stepping out of the “Hollywood comfort-zone” and diving into the realm of new landscapes, cuisine, music, art and interaction can spark the imagination, and be a truly educational experience. 

This is not to say that Hollywood does not produce spectacular movies — it does — but they are often predictable. The beauty of foreign films is that many dive deep into existential issues that American blockbuster movies tend to gloss over. Foreign cinema offers a fresh and unique perspective on life, and lets the viewer experience the unfamiliar and sometimes rare aspects of being human. For example, “Parasite” by Korean Filmmaker Bong Joon-Ho deals with class issues and capitalism in a way that I’ve never seen in a Hollywood blockbuster.

But the fostering of unique perspectives isn’t the only benefit to watching foreign media. There is now increasing evidence that language learners can improve their comprehension skills, pronunciation and grammar through watching TV. Hearing the language used in an informal and interpersonal context, rather than a strictly educational setting, can improve conversational communication in that language. 

In my experience, I practiced my first language, Russian, by watching Russian and Ukrainian films on a regular basis, with the goal of reconnecting with my Eastern European roots. Through this method, I was not only regularly exposed to the language, but I was also able to learn about the areas where the films were set and the customs of the people native to those regions. Even though the plot line was often not based on real events, the movies still drew inspiration directly from the culture of the surrounding area. 

During my sophomore year of high school, in Spanish 3 Honors, my teacher assigned a similar project; watch one episode of a Spanish telenovela each week and write about what you understood each time. Initially the process was difficult, and I began with Spanish audio and English subtitles. But a few weeks later, I felt comfortable moving to Spanish audio and subtitles and then finally to only audio. 

Additionally, many foreign films contain beautiful cinematic moments. From the distinct animation style in Japan to the moving dialogue captured in many French films, there are so many surreal moments that can change your world view. 

Some unmissable foregin films include the “Mad Max” (1979) quadrilogy from Australian filmmaker George Miller, “Amour” (2012) by French director Michael Haneke and “Seven Samurai” (1954) by legendary Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. “Seven Samurai” in particular has been greatly influential to many modern films around the world, with similar motifs seen in “Avengers: Endgame” and “Dirty Dozen.” 

Whether you are learning a new language, practicing one that you already know, or simply interested in the wide range of cinematic elements world film has to offer, you can only benefit from immersing yourself in the many cultures that exist on our planet. With winter break rapidly approaching, now is a great time to think about renting a movie or streaming a show in another language.


Written by: Maya Kornyeyeva — mkornyeyeva@ucdavis.edu


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