Studying a foreign language can sometimes make you feel like you’re fighting an uphill battle. Sifting through endless lists of vocabulary, reading lengthy paragraphs out loud, and, if you’re learning German, trying to pronounce a succession of words that all read like “onomatopoeia-expialidocious.” An integral part of learning a new language is to immerse yourself in hearing the language. For instance, listening to how someone annunciates their words helps you understand the difference between please step aside and move!
If you’re not so keen on listening to either Podcasts or news broadcasts in a foreign language, there is a solution: watching foreign films. Films with dialogue recorded in your language of study are a great resource for hearing how that language is spoken. Warning: DO NOT flaunt the fact that you’re only watching foreign films or listening to foreign broadcasts. This quote, taken from the website Stuff White People Like I think pretty much sums up how “obnoxious” that kind of elitist posturing can be:
In order to reach this level of fluency and obnoxiousness, white people believe they must put themselves into a local immersion. This means a promise to watch only Spanish language TV, listen only to Spanish language radio, read Marquez in his native tongue, and watch foreign films with the subtitles turned off. There are some instances of white people doing this for almost a week!
Recently, I had the opportunity to revisit a German film titled Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others) with my German language class. Das Leben der Anderen was released to critical acclaim in 2007, winning the Academy Award that year for Best Foreign Language Film and snagging quite a few Deutscher Filmpreis Adwards. Personally, this is one of the best movies I have ever seen. If you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favor; rent the DVD, make some tea, read up on the GDR and the Stasi, and press PLAY. Here is the official trailer for the film to whet your appetite.
As I thought about the state of German films, I began to wonder what type of movies Germans are seeing when they go to the cinema. It came as a slight surprise to me that a majority of the films listed for a handful of cinemas in Berlin were Hollywood blockbuster films. I guess no matter what country you travel to, you can be sure that Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich will be there blowing things to pieces.
There is an organization named German Films Marketing + GmbH that promotes German films for worldwide viewing and distribution. German Films, as it is known on its website, together with the Goethe-Institut, bring German films to the rest of the world. The Goethe-Institut is an institution whose goal is to promote the learning of German around the world and to facilitate communication between Germany and other nations. They have institutions in many countries such as Canada, Mexico, Taiwan, Serbia, Spain, Italy, and the list goes on. German Films recently selected the film that would compete for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 83rd Academy Awards on Feb. 27, 2011. The independently appointed expert jury selected a film titled Die Fremde (When We Leave). Trailer and short explanation below.
The jury on its decision: “WHEN WE LEAVE is an extraordinarily well written, atmospherically precise and moving film with outstanding acting performances. The film deals in a highly dramatic and subtle way with the struggle of a young German-Turkish mother for her self-determination in two value systems.”
On a local note of interest, the Ragtag Cinema in Columbia, Missouri hosts an annual screening of foreign films for two months out of the year called the Passport Series. I recently went to the screening of the Maren Ade directed German film Alle Anderen (Everyone Else). Alle Anderen follows Gitti and Chris as they vacation in the Sardinia region of Italy. Birgit Minichmayr, the Austrian actress who plays Gitti in Alle Anderen, won the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the 59th Berlin International Film Festival 2009. Since I don’t want to give away too much, I’ll just say this: if you enjoy movies about the ups and downs of being in a relationship with someone, think Closer or Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, you should queue up Alle Anderen in your Netflix. Check out the trailer below (I couldn’t find a trailer with English subtitles.)
And finally, maybe because I am, in fact, a “white person”, the goal of my foreign film watching experience is to be able to watch a German film without needing subtitles. Until then, I’ll take my foreign films crisp, well-produced, and with a side of English.