I watched these non-English speaking films and here’s what I learnt

I wanted to stretch myself. I was getting bored of the same old bilge on Netflix. The big film stars and even bigger budgets. I wanted to be challenged. I wanted to learn. So, I picked three different languages, three different cultures and three different stories. And I wasn’t disappointed.

Chungking Express

One of the main things that I love about film, is colour. Films like Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight showcase this expertly. The way in which the scenes look and flow helps to tell the story as much as the acting of Mahershala Ali, Ashton Sanders and Andre Holland, among others.

Therefore, Wong Kar Wai’s Chungking Express was fitting. Helped by the cinematography of Christian Doyle, he’s able to tell two simple, non-related fun stories about two police officers dealing with heartbreak. Set in the Chungking Mansions and Lan Kwai Fong of Hong Kong we see the fast-paced nature of the city juxtaposed with self-absorbed characters, seemingly detached from the world around them.

But it’s the process of the film that is most interesting and the way in which it was delivered. Kar Wai said that he approached it like a “student film”, as he was becoming bogged down by another film of his, Ashes of Time. So, he decided to bang out an idea in a two-month break. He grabbed three stories that he hadn’t yet fully developed and started.

No permits. No rehearsals. No complete script initially. He got his assistant director to take notes on the routines of the mansions, he set some of the film in Doyle’s apartment and he used his directorial instincts in a process that took just six weeks.

Known for wanting his actors to be natural since he “hate[s] acting”, he relied heavily, on the technique of step-printing, the prowess of Faye Wong and the feeling that elements like the music give you.

Step printing, helps scenes to look simultaneously fast and slow, allowing the character to feel detached from the outside world. Most notably, in the scene when cop 663 (Tony Leung) feels sorry for himself as he waits for Faye in a bar. And this technique also helps to make scenes more dramatic, like in the opening scene when cop 223 (Takeshi Kaneshiro) runs past the blonde wigged Bridgette Lin.  

The film does a great job of transporting the viewer into the mind of the character, especially someone like Faye Wong (a popular singer song writer at the time) as she danced around to The Mamas & The Papas California Dreamin’.

It’s is perfect for romantic comedy fans. It’s about chances, hope and takes the idea of stalking your crush to a new level. But if you’re Faye Wong, you can get away with it.

Bacurau

It seems it’s the season for human hunting. I don’t mean the corona virus or the police. But, a couple of recent films centred around hunting the poor for sport.

Bacurau is one of them, along with the The Hunt and the TV series, The Most Dangerous Game. But this is not a new concept, with The Most Dangerous Game also being a 1924 short story and 1932 film. Moreover, there have been public executions throughout history, killing of indigenous people and upper-class Spartans in Ancient Greece even hunted farmers.

In this case, Bacurau is a fictional Brasilian town, which is invaded by Americans and one German set on killing the natives. Filled with unsettling scenes of violence, the Magnificent Seven-esque film is set in the future, which according to Daniel Wright of Lancaster University, could soon become a reality.

He suggests that by 2200, human hunting could become acceptable as a form of tourism, after predominantly being an underground activity prior. This is because he says that “humans will gradually become accustomed to death”. This is something that we see in the film as one of the characters, Pacote (Thomas Aquino) is known in the town for his violence, which the residents watch on screen in the town centre. This reminded me of how in 2020, we have become desensitised to death and violence. Take the example of George Floyd. Of course, it sparked anger but videos that show death can be broadcast on the Internet and shown on the news, helping to normalise such occurrences.

The film shows the lack of control that we have as common people. Drones survey the area, there are disputes over water and most significantly that the town is taken off of online maps. Orwellian indeed. We also learn that the mayor is working with the foreigners, illustrating the power that the government has to dictate people’s lives.  

Still, in the future, there is corruption, violence and inequality. But if we band together, we can protect what’s ours.

Maria, eres llena de gracia

What do you associate with Colombia? Drugs and women? Well, this film has both of those things but not in the stereotypical way that you might expect. Maria, eres llena de gracia is a film about ambition, the American dream and the grim reality of drug smuggling.

The film, which title plays on the Catholic Hail Mary, focuses on the life of seventeen-year-old Maria (Catalina Sandino Moreno). Life is tough. She’s pregnant, has a good for nothing boyfriend and quits her laborious job at a flower plantation, meaning that she can’t support the rest of her family.

Directed by Joshua Malston, it shows how women like her can be exploited into being drug mules. But Maria is by no means a victim. The risks that she takes are often questionable but are made in the hope of improving her situation. The lure of America, the pressure at home and undoubtedly the money, is enough to get her to swallow drug pellets. However, she keeps a nonchalant yet defiant demeanour, except from in a couple of dire situations.

This lifestyle is not glamourised and highlights problems of exploitation. Vulnerable women are often targeted to be drug mules and on December 6th 2018, this practice even extended to swallowing money pellets as 27 people were arrested at Bogotá’s international airport, in an exchange from Mexico.

In many ways the solidarity of the women despite the power of the men, reminded me of Pedro Almodovar’s Volver. Maria is like Raimunda, in terms of her enterprising nature and this is what carries her through the film. “It’s what’s inside that counts”, in more ways than one.


Give me some more recommendations in the comments.

Xaymaca Awoyungbo

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