Venturing into non-English TV shows and movies

a selection of movie and tv posters
olivia moore

Sophia Finucane

21st February 2021


Parasite director, Bong Joon-ho, while accepting his Golden Globe, commented that “Once you overcome the 1-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” Hopefully, this had an impact on audiences’ willingness to venture into non-English language film and television during the lockdown period, while various streaming platforms such as Mubi and the Criterion Channel gained popularity with the closure of cinemas. According to the European Commission Media, 56% of film viewers said they streamed films from free websites while 68% said they downloaded free files to store on personal drives, so it is clear that streaming and online media viewing are key to viewership in 2021. The last theatre showings before the world changed did include features such as Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, a film in majority Mandarin Chinese, which gained popularity, but arguably there has still not been enough exploration of non-English language media in this era when it is more accessible than ever.


Now, with all this extra time, is surely the ideal opportunity to avail of the Criterion Collection (provided one has a VPN), to explore classic mainstays of ‘foreign film’ -whatever that means in a global world- like the works of Andrei Tarkovsky. While it may be perceived as mind-bending and baffling by some, Tarkovsky’s infamous Stalker’s existentialism is quite apt for the nature of these strange times, and its arguably quite hopeful ending provides a sense of solidarity and human resilience. Perhaps a lesson from the introspective nature of the Soviet filmmaker is that we all have a somewhat common psyche, which is surely essential to note at this time. If the genre is not your cup of tea, however, you can achieve more of a cinematic hug, still with a profound message on life, in the films of Yasujirō Ozu. Around in the 1950s, following a very dark period for Japan as a result of the devastating atom bombs dropped on two of its cities, Ozu meditated, in beautiful colours and compositions, on family, growing up, and the changing nature of the zeitgeist. With themes this universal, perhaps cultural differences are not as overt as some may think, and subtitles are not such a barrier overall. (It is important to note that dubbing is always an option for the visually-impaired, also.)


However, of course the price of the VPN and Criterion Channel itself is needed for that. As students, why not turn to Mubi, which is free for many studying arts and humanities with the use of university login details, and arguably has an even better availability of smaller and more international directors than Criterion. All of Federico Fellini’s films are on there currently, in excellent quality, which is such a gift to any young film fan. That is merely the beginning though, as the website has a large catalogue that changes once a month to reveal more hidden gem documentaries, shorts and feature films, by directors young and old from all over the world. Film can be both education and entertainment, and why not open the scope for that by exploring streaming services like this that push international classics and lesser-known works to their home pages?


“The need for subtitles most certainly does not get in the way when the writing is so good, and it is such a shame for audiences to miss out on such quality for that reason.”


In fairness though, some of us simply want to binge-watch shows, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Anyone who was a teen around 2016 may remember the sudden popularity of the Norwegian Skins-style show, Skam, amongst young audiences in the UK and Ireland. People were finding any links they could get their hands on to watch the show, proving that the “1-inch-tall barrier” is not truly standing in the way of audiences being entertained. The nature of Skam, as a piece that young people in the 2010’s could truly identify with, and it’s huge popularity, said something about how sometimes opening audiences up to international programmes provides what our own TV is lacking, which can be crucial for tales of racial equality and LGBTQ+ acceptance. Going off of this point, one to watch right now on Netflix is the Turkish miniseries Ethos, which follows multiple men, but majority women, on their journeys through daily life in a country that is changing religiously, culturally and economically all the time. Dealing with topics such as cerebral palsy, the nuclear family structure, mental health and the relationship between cannabis and Islam, among many, many others, the programme is both incredibly eye-opening and somehow universally identifiable. The need for subtitles most certainly does not get in the way when the writing is so good, and it is such a shame for audiences to miss out on such quality for that reason.


Despite Parasite’s ground-breaking Oscar win, we are still not consuming enough non-English language media, and there is absolutely both an educational and entertaining benefit to it. Hopefully, articles like this will soon not have to be written, as the concept of ‘film/television’ verses ‘foreign film/television’ will hopefully be broken-down, aided by some of the streaming platforms mentioned here. Also, with any hope, life will be back to normal after vaccinations, and we can return to cinemas like the IFI in Dublin which often show an array of non-English-language work. The Light House Cinema is also home to some of Ireland’s most prestigious annual international film festivals, including the AUDI Dublin International Film festival, The Gaze Film Festival and the Japanese Film Festival. For now, though, in a time when media is one of the only accessible and safe forms of entertainment, why should we shut ourselves off from 90% of it?



Featured photos by Google and IMDB


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