So it was New Year’s eve and I was spending the night in the Netherlands with a Dutch family. We ate oliebollen – if you don’t know what it is you’re missing the greatest fried sweet after Spanish churros – and plaid sjoebak, which helped me to release all the bad vibes from 2015. Then we had to wait until 12am to open the champaign and, naturally, watching a movie was the best idea. Because technology is brilliant – when it cooperates – we couldn’t quite work out how to put the English subtitles on. Finally I said I didn’t mind watching the film – Nova Zembla – in Dutch – even if I had just started studying the language.
So, did I enjoy it even if I missed 100% of the dialogues? Of course! Let’s not forget that cinema started as a silent art…
1. The plot. You don’t need dialogue to understand the plot. In most films – unless they are like Saraband – the characters movements and the change of setting tells us what’s going on in a clear way. For example, in Nova Zembla there’s a scene in which the characters are being chased by a massive polar bear and, as everyone in the room, I was suffering for them – I am not a psycho!
2. The characters. The human face is a great map of expressions and if the actors know how to do their job properly we get if they are happy, needy, angry… It’s also easy to see who is the good guy – if he’s clean and seems stupidly innocent – and the bad guy – dirty, a messy beard, giving suspicious looks over his shoulder… etc.
3. Landscape and photography. Nova Zembla tells the story of a ship and her crew during the 16th century. The visual aspect of the film was impressive and I really enjoyed being trapped inside the ship’s gutters or wandering in the vast whiteness of the Pole North. Images are breathtaking on their own: when watching The Revenant I could barely understand Tom Hardy’s accent yet the film traumatised me all the same.
4.Chance to feel smart. When you’re starting with a new language you obviously haven’t acquired the necessary skills to understand a full lenght movie. Yet it’s so much fun trying to ‘tame’ your ear to the new sounds. And when you recognise small words you get all excited – it’s very rewarding.
5. Let’s explore. We’re so used to the American and perhaps English way of doing films that I think we forget there is a complete different cinema world out there. It’s so interesting watching what other countries do, how they tell stories, how they incorporate their own culture and history to their plots… Nova Zembla narrates a discovery trip, because Dutch people were intrepid sailors in the 16th century. We can also have an insight of the way of living, the way the percieved religion, love and morality… – for example, the wide neckline of the female protagonist might suggest that the Netherlands were in no way as puritanical at people in 16th’s Spain, for example.
So defenitely, if you love cinema and you’re also learning a new language, I would encourage you to start watching films from that country or culture as soon as possible. Don’t be afraid of getting lost without subtitles, because it can be great fun. Check out the trailer and see by yourself!
Do you watch movies in different languages? Have you been brave enough to watch them without subtitles?