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Why is watching foreign films online so popular - Is it a fad or is it for real?

Updated on December 27, 2012

Why do people watch foreign films? Why is everyone queuing up online to watch Spanish, French, Taiwanese, Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Australian, Canadian, French, German and other foreign films? Is this just a fad, a fashionable thing to do in the world of art and movies or is it something real? Why are rare, quirky and classic foreign films being shown in film festivals and online streaming platforms? Is watching foreign films just a fad or is it for real? Let's find out by laying bare some of the reasons why foreign films are so popular and sometimes become cult classics.

Audrey Tautou, once a relatively unknown French Actress, is now mentioned left, right and centre. Foreign films, their directors, actors and actresses are now becoming popular and finding a larger international audience. Why? Let's find out.
Audrey Tautou, once a relatively unknown French Actress, is now mentioned left, right and centre. Foreign films, their directors, actors and actresses are now becoming popular and finding a larger international audience. Why? Let's find out.

1) Foreign films expose you to a reality different that yours

We all loved watching Mr. and Mrs. Smith, The Blind Side, Avatar, Rush Hour, Seven Pounds, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and the likes – and they were brilliant without a doubt. But they didn't show you a cultural reality that you didn’t know until now, did they?

On the other hand, if you watch films like Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love, Yôjirô Takita's Departures, Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali, Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Amelie, Resnais' Hiroshima Mon Amour, Majid Majidi's Baran, Ingmar Bergman's Cries and Whispers amongst many other, you're bound to know what lives, feelings, moments, realities, people and trauma in a different cultural context is all about. Again, this is not to say that Hollywood churns out trash. It's great to know what the world looks like form the other side of the glass.

2) Watching foreign films online is plain fancy and exotic

This reason because of which foreign films have become so popular is very cheesy, but undeniable. Out of everyone watching foreign films, how many people do we think are actually there for the splendid movie watching experience and looking at the minute details like film making techniques and some such? Very few, we'd think. The rest are either there for the curiosity factor or simply because watching foreign films is often labeled as an exotic and fancy movie watching experience. "Oh, we attended a special screening of Kurosawa's Roshomon" or "I saw Wong Kar Wai's Chunking Express the other day. It was interesting" or "You've got to soak yourself in Kieślowski's The Three Colors Trilogy" – How exotic does that sound?

3) Foreign films have become more accessible

It is true that watching foreign films has never been easier, whether it is though online streaming, YouTube, by buying DVDs off Amazon, attending film clubs or film screenings of film festivals. Just a decade or two back, getting a copy of a film like Ron Fricke's Baraka or Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Delicatessen would have been next to impossible, but now you can purchase it just with a few clicks on services like Amazon Instant Video.

This is also a result of international media bringing foreign filmmakers to the forefront. For instance, Pedro Almodovar, who used to be considered as a niche Spanish avant garde filmmaker a decade back is now a Hollywood poster boy. Danny Boyle made Slumdog Millionaire by casting Indian talent and won more than a whopping 14 Academy Awards. Kiartostami has become the representative of Iranian cinema in the world and seen attending many public events and film festivals. Get the point? Foreign films and their directors have become more accessible.

4) The rise of documentaries

Documentaries have always attracted and retained a niche audience for their interesting and informative content. In the last decade, docos have gained a new momentum and a whole new sense of impact on the society altogether.

Take for example, Food Inc, Fast Food nation, Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11, The Wasteland, Coco Before Chanel, Born Into Brothels, An Inconvenient Truth, The Cove, The Century of the Self. The rise in popularity of the doco genre has helped the audience get used to seeing different editing styles, formats, misc-en-scene and use of new filming and storytelling techniques. Shall we say, made the avid movie watcher more open-minded?

5) Foreign films make for amazing conversations

Norms surrounding social etiquette and protocol usually define sophistication as the ability to display a good demeanor and recognize the good things in life such as good wine, good food, good travel spots, good brands, good perfumes, good art and good films.

Recounting having watched a few timeless foreign classics would suit perfectly in such situations. And to follow this high order of false sophistication, many people rummage through several last minute sources. This results in name throwing for the sake of making a certain type of social impression.

If you are someone who indulges in foreign films because of this, here are a few names you can throw for starters - The Motorcycle Diaries, Lives of Others, Downfall, Amores Perros, Y Tu Mama Tambien, Pan's Labyrinth, Life is Beautiful, The Bicycle Thief, LA Dolce Vita, Oldboy and Pedro Almodovar's Volver.

Chungking Express is a foreign film shown to students for its cutting edge film making techniques, even though it was made in 1994
Chungking Express is a foreign film shown to students for its cutting edge film making techniques, even though it was made in 1994

6) Foreign films rank high as a tool for education

Teachers in higher education especially in the areas of the Liberal Arts are having a great time with the availability or the plethora of foreign films on hand. Foreign films are shown to students as they seem to be the perfect platforms and melting pots for education of all kinds – whether you want to talk about characterization, explain different film making techniques, ask students to write an opinion based practical criticism, talk about literary plot devices like Deus Ex Machina or Double Entrende, explain a histo-political narrative or simply show them the after effects of World War II. Foreign films tend to leave the ground open for a freewheeling interpretation session and lots of new insights.

7) Better subtitling has made watching foreign films easy on the mind

If you began watching foreign films in the late eighties of the nineties, it's quite likely that you would be put off by the absolutely terrible quality of subtitling and dubbing. Jackie Chan's older films are a case in point. David Parkinson, the famous film librarian for The Guardian too once pointed out that subtitling blunders are often seen in the action cinema from Hong Kong. He goes on to give an example from Sau Leung Ko's Curry and Pepper

Cop: "I must chase you, as you run away"

Crook: "I must run away from you, as you are after me"

But in the past decade, better subtitling in foreign movies, although with its intrinsic restrictions, has made for a much smoother movie watching experience.

Some of the best selling foreign films of - DVDs, Blu-Ray and Amazon Instant Video


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