Watching a foreign language film is a fantastic way to improve your language skills and immerse yourself in a different cultural perspective. But with so many films to choose from, where do you start?
In the second of two blogs, our language teachers recommend a great movie for learners of their languages to watch. So grab your popcorn, sit back, and enjoy the film!
Arabic: The Present (al-hadiyya)
On his wedding anniversary, Yusef and his daughter, Yasmine, set out in the West Bank to buy his wife a gift. Between the soldiers, segregated roads and checkpoints, how easy would it be to go shopping?
The film premiered at the Festival du Court Metrage de Clermont-Ferrand 2020 (Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival) and won the Audience Award for Best Film. It went on to have its North American premiere at Cleveland International Film Festival, where it won the Jury Award for Best Live Action Short. In 2021, the film also won the BAFTA Award for Best Short Film.
How to watch the film: Available on Netflix.
Brazilian Portuguese: The Way He Looks (Hoje não quero voltar sozinho)
This beautiful and feel-good movie tells the story of Leonardo, a blind teenager searching for independence. His everyday life, the relationship with his best friend, Giovana, and the way he sees the world changes completely with the arrival of Gabriel.
This movie is great for learners of Portuguese regardless of the level they are. It's well-paced and not too full of slang. Try watching this movie in Portuguese with English subtitles to learn new vocabulary and improve your intonation and listening skills.
How to watch the film: DVD available from the University of Bath Library, Level 2, or online on Amazon Prime.
Japanese: The Great Passage (舟を編む, Fune o Amu)
‘The Great Passage’ is a 2013 Japanese drama film directed by Yūya Ishii. It is based on the best-selling novel by Shion Miura.
Majime is employed in the sales department of a publishing company and has proved to be unsuccessful in his role and a very awkward co-worker. He is then talent-spotted to be a dictionary editor and thus the journey to create a new and unique dictionary begins with Majime working with a team.
Through watching this film, you will understand the Japanese title of this film 舟を編む (translation: ‘to weave’ a boat) and also the Japanese title of the fictional dictionary 大海渡 (translation: to voyage on the ocean).
The premise of this film is that words exist because people want to express their feelings. Thanks to the internet, humans are able to find the answers to so much, but this film makes us reflect on the importance of language.
If you are a dictionary editor, how do you explain the concept of ‘being in love’?
How to watch the film: Buy from Amazon Japanese Prime.
German: Welcome to Germany (Willkommen bei den Hartmanns)
‘Willkommen bei den Hartmanns’ is set in Munich in 2016. Germany has welcomed over one million migrants, escaping economic hardship and war. Against this backdrop, writer and director Simon Verhoeven created this critically acclaimed, very funny, politically-charged satire and box office hit.
Chaos and disruption ensue when a young Nigerian refugee joins the Hartmann family. As director Verhoeven noted, although the film is first and foremost a comedy, he hoped it might reduce tension surrounding the refugee crisis in Germany. And that perhaps, like the Hartmann family, the country as a whole will resolve its problems and find peace.
How to watch the film: Rent or watch on Prime Video.
Chinese: American Dreams in China《中国合伙人》
‘American Dreams in China’ is a 2013 comedy drama directed by Peter Chan. The fictional story is loosely based on the founding and history of New Oriental English, one of the biggest English language training institutions in China.
Three young men meet at a prestigious university in Beijing in the 1980s against the background of the craze of Chinese studying abroad. All have American dreams but are treated by fate differently and they end up running a language school together, encountering various ups and downs over a period of 30 years.
The school stands out because of its unique teaching style, and it helps a lot of youngsters to realise their dreams of studying abroad. The narrow understanding of success in the film has been criticised by some. Friendship and love is another important theme of the film.
Set in Cornwall, this film sees struggling fisherman Martin Ward (played by Edward Rowe) come into conflict with the Leigh family, out-of-towners who have bought his family home in a picturesque Cornish fishing village.
The tensions in the film are offset by wry comic moments, and the social observation in the film is very sharp.
The style in which the film is made make it unique in many ways. Director Mark Jenkin filmed on a silent camera and dubbed the actors’ voices in post, giving the film a strange other-worldly and timeless feel. He also hand processed the film, which took considerable time, and this gives the film a grainy and scratchy texture that makes it feel ageless.
There is a very British feel to this film, but the themes are universal: rich and poor; community versus market forces; tradition versus modernity. Keep an eye on this brilliant and innovative director!
How to watch the film: Imdb.com
Spanish: The Secret in Their Eyes (El secreto de sus ojos)
‘The Secret in Their Eyes’ (El secreto de sus ojos) is a 2009 Argentinian crime drama by Juan José Campanella. This film is about the pursuit by a retired policeman of a brutal rape and murder case that he investigated in the past.
Benjamín decides to write a novel about this unresolved case and visits his former superior, Irene, to discuss a draft of his book. What follows is an obsessive search for the truth, not only for the case, but for his unresolved emotions for Irene.
How to watch the film: DVD from the University of Bath Library, Level 2, or online on IMDb. Watch the original 2009 film, not the 2015 remake.
French: La Belle Époque
‘La Belle Époque’ is a 2019 romantic comedy-drama directed by Nicolas Bedos. The cast is impressive and includes Fanny Ardant, who is well known from Mika’s video ‘Elle me dit'.
After spending many years together, Victor and Marianne have grown apart and their marriage is in crisis. When Victor is offered the opportunity to ‘travel back in time’ and relive his first encounter with Marianne, he hires a sophisticated re-enactment company to help him do that.
Quirky and witty, ‘La Belle Époque’ is truly unique, but you can’t help thinking of ‘The Truman Show’ with the aesthetic qualities of ‘Amélie’.
How to watch the film: Online on Amazon Prime Video, Curzon, BFI Player.
There are lots of ways to watch films in the language you’re learning, and you can often choose the type of subtitles you prefer. Many streaming platforms offer this. If you add closed captions in the foreign language, this will help you make connections between what you hear and what you see!
Film festivals or independent cinemas are also a great way to catch international films, for example the Bath Film Festival and The Little Theatre Cinema in Bath.