I watch foreign films on flights because they come pre-subtitled.

June 21, 2013 – 11:44 pm

I’ve meant for a while to write about Amour, a painfully beautiful film I watched en route to Lusaka; the scenes are lit like Old Dutch Masters paintings, the acting brilliant, the takes extended. The translucent vulnerability of an old woman’s stroke-crippled body being bathed; the glee of trying out a new electric wheelchair, knocking into the narrow walls of an ugly-wallpapered hallway. The dialogue is simple, halting. It’s a film that unflinchingly shoots life and doesn’t cut away; it lets you breathe inside its world.

Similarly paced was Tokyo Family, which sparkled less as a coherent movie, but Kazuko Yoshiyuiki’s performance stole my heart and carried the film for me; as an aging mother from a tiny island, she wandered lost within a big city with an exquisite grace and dignity, and the actors playing her youngest son and his fiancee perfectly hit that cusp of barely-there adulthood.

The Road Home isn’t from that flight, but it’s one of my favorite movies and fits the theme of “gorgeously slow and gentle foreign film.” There’s more sentimentality in its cinematography (appropriately touching music soars as children traipse through the fields, etc.) but for a Chinese film, that sense of drama is remarkably retrained. And there is quiet honor here, the type of filial love that is duty but also isn’t  — something that runs so deeply in my blood that I struggle to explain it to my Western friends. It’s a long-term thing; you can only glimpse it, silent, in extended takes living beside (or better yet, within) a family that breathes it too.

I think that sense of time and love and home is what I most appreciate about my family reunions, but we come together for so short a time that I’d only known it as a fleeting thing when I was growing up — home sliced into quick takes, spliced beat by beat, cut-scenes across the continents. I am still stunned to find myself on sets that don’t dismantle, within extended takes where it abides and doesn’t stop – Gill’s house, and Lynn’s, and Matt’s, and Heidi’s, for example. My professors were the first to show me the sort of home I could imagine wanting; homes that stay, homes where you stay and still grow. I know I love my studies, reading, research, teaching, writing, hacking, and that’s why I’m in grad school – but I also wonder if a forlorn 17-year-old’s astonishment of oh, there could be a Mel home! is somewhere in my dream of being a professor too.

That last part wasn’t about films, but I will leave it anyway.

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  1. 3 Responses to “I watch foreign films on flights because they come pre-subtitled.”

  2. Side comment: my parents used to be obsessed with The Road Home (or My Father and Mother in Chinese)! I never saw it myself though… I used to think it was too filial (think I was 11 when the film came out) but maybe it’s because it’s hard for people who still live with their parents to understand what it’s like to leave your parents and migrate to a better life. I think it really was a good representation of that era, which most western movies don’t capture.

    Think I’m going to start using you for movie recommendations. (adds to summer movie list)

    By yifan on Jun 24, 2013

  3. Try -Bread and Tulips- (or -Pane e Tulipani-).

    By Katie on Jul 4, 2013

  4. Also -Antonia’s Line-.

    By Katie on Jul 4, 2013

What do you think?