film poster
Poster for film, "Ma Vie en l'air," directed by Rémi Bezançon

Tips on how to view a foreign film

By Lesli Hicks
Special Projects Writer, M.A. '07

(Sept. 12, 2007)--If you ever watched a subtitled foreign film and felt like you missed the point, you're not the only one who got lost in the translation. Because there isn't an English word for every expression in the world, the interpretations can be tricky. And even English-language films can be challenging if you throw in Queen Elizabeth's highbrow pronunciation of the various world dialects.

But, Steven Kellman, UTSA professor of English, classics and philosophy, advises everyone not to give up. There are several ways to enhance the foreign-film viewing experience. Above all, he urges: "See them! We tend to get the best of the films from other nations."

Here are Kellman's tips for viewing a foreign film:

  • Relax and experience the film -- a new foreign film can be much more enlightening than a mediocre U.S. one.
  • No passport or jet lag is required -- seeing foreign films here is a lot cheaper than flying to another country.
  • Subtitles are only one clue to a film's deeper meaning -- observe the set design, city and natural landscapes, colors, moods, conflict, plot, characters, pace and editing.
  • Listen to the music, voices and other sounds. Even if you don't know the language, the sound of the voices can be interesting and very revealing, and images can combine with music for a transporting experience.
  • Listen to the silence in the film; language can be spoken and unspoken. Some of the best films use silence for greater emotional impact.
  • Foreign films allow views into other cultures; we can observe how we are alike and different, and how others see the world and tell their stories.
  • Foreign films are available for rent at various retailers in town.

The free San Antonio European Film Festival, running Monday, Sept. 17 through Thursday, Sept. 20 at the Palladium theaters at The Rim shopping center, is an ideal opportunity to try out his viewing tips. Co-sponsored by UTSA, the event is in its fourth year and will feature 18 recent foreign films with guest speakers, award-winning directors and film critics. The films are subtitled in English and most have not been shown commercially in the area.

"The San Antonio European Film Festival has become an annual highlight in the calendars of foreign film enthusiasts," said Christopher Wickham, associate dean of the UTSA College of Liberal and Fine Arts. "This year's festival goes beyond previous years. It is at the new Palladium theaters and will use two large auditoriums and includes two European film directors, Michael Verhoeven and Ilona Ziok, and films from six countries. San Antonio is really lucky to have an international event of this quality -- and it's free!"

Read details about the San Antonio European Film Festival on UTSA Today.

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