‘See At Least One Subtitled Movie A Month’

See at least one movie with subtitles a month. bfbroke06.jpg

This is Kwame Anthony Appiah’s injunction to the audience at a Fordham conference on global citizenship over this past weekend. Appiah, the dazzling University professor at Princeton, believes in conversations across cultures. Such conversations, he hopes, will help us to understand one another, perhaps even inculcate global feelings.

Some might argue that this might lead us to recognize what we all hold in common. But Appiah believes in difference as well. The conversation might lead us to recognize what divides and differentiates us as well.

Appiah is not a cultural relativist: tolerance, he notes, suggests a view as to what is not to be tolerated.

So here is my question for you: Have you learned something from watching a film with subtitles (and, if so, what film)? Did it reveal commonality or difference?

My example, by a foreign filmmaker, but still in English (thus violating the exact terms of Appiah’s injunction, but still, I think, preserving his intent): Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain. Brokeback is the classic Romeo and Juliet story, two star-crossed lovers in a society that forbids their love. Yet, the particular forms of society’s disapproval—and especially its violent nature—are unique. Sameness and difference.

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2 Responses

  1. Syd says:

    Many, many times.

    “Grave of the Fireflies” is a Japanese animated film taking place the last days of World War II when the American blockade was producing famine in Japan. It is the story of two children who are starving and how decent behavior can fade away under desperation to the point where people can deny their responsibility for children.

    “Children of Heaven” is an Iranian film about a brother and a sister. The brother loses his sister’s shoes and they have to share one pair of sneakers until the boy finds an opportunity to win a new pair in a race. (They’re afraid to ask their father because the family is poor.) Definitely a case of commonalty across borders.

    “The Legend of Zu,” “Chinese Ghost Story” and “Princess Raccoon” show an unusual ability of some East Asian directors to make beautiful films that are totally incomprehensible. “Harakiri” and “Samurai Rebellion” are comprehensible eviscerations of the Samurai code showing how concepts of honor and duty can turn hollow when they don’t admit human decency. In Western society, chivalry could result in the same monstrousness.

    “Atanarjat: The Fast Runner” is an Inuit film with a strong taste of shamanism and assumptions alien to our culture. The first twenty minutes or so show a story-telling technique our culture does not have.

  2. Frank says:

    The Brazilian film Central Station says a lot about our obligations to the less fortunate (and might be good for Appiah to watch, given his unconvincing effort to discount the Singer/Unger/Pogge positions on the demands of global distributive justice (toward the end of Cosmopolitanism)).