In the mood for foreign films?

It’s a comment you may have heard expressed before by many native English speakers: despite possessing an interest in foreign films and a willingness to embrace their ‘quirkiness’, it sometimes feels as though you have to be “in the mood” to watch them. After watching a French film the other night and hearing my housemate make this exact comment, my thoughts consequently drifted to how world cinema seems to have rapidly gained popularity over the last ten years in the U.K.

It now seems increasingly more acceptable for mainstream cinemas to put on showings of subtitled films along with the usual Hollywood blockbusters, which have dominated box office takings for so long. According to The Guardian, while in the 1990s only nine subtitled films grossed more than £1 million, the figure jumped up to 49 films in the decade that followed. This is a surprising increase, given the short space of time that has passed and the limited resources that independent production companies continue to be faced with.

One thing that can go unnoticed by the non-native viewer is the quality of translation involved in subtitling the film. This can clearly affect the whole cinematic experience; too literal and much of the references will fail to be understood by wider audiences; too far removed from the original and much of the film’s subtleties will be lost. Like the translation field as a whole, subtitling is a kind of balancing act between these two extremes, with the added pressure of having to consider screen space and synching up the text with the spoken word.

Of course there is always the option of choosing dubbed films; however, in this humble blogger’s opinion, part of the joy of watching a subtitled film is hearing the lilt of a foreign tongue and not losing such a vital component of an actor’s performance by masking his/her voice.

So what is it about foreign films that now attracts so many people; people who were previously unaccustomed to putting in the ‘effort’ of reading subtitles for two hours or more? It’s not that every foreign film has a depressive vibe, or that it necessarily has better production value or highly developed plot than its American counterparts, but could it be that cinema-goers are more actively pursuing these frequently hard-hitting, gritty dramas as opposed to the characteristically shallow dross regularly churned out of Hollywood studios? Or are these newbies to foreign film merely interested in experiencing other directorial viewpoints, which allow an insight into other cultures and languages?