In the aftermath of awards season, Jack Smith talks about the frequently overlooked genre of foreign film, and why they’re so great.
It is all too easy to forget the world of foreign cinema at times, especially when there is all the excitement around the Oscars. However, as the American motion picture industry is patting itself on the back, handing out its statuettes, I am usually left wondering whether the films will be remembered for years to come.
My ever-growing list of classic films to see is largely populated by foreign movies, perhaps because the figure of the auteur has been more prevalent in other cultures, or maybe I just enjoy the way they express themselves differently to what we are used to. Nevertheless, I have only scratched the surface when it comes to world cinema.
It is particularly strange to write an article on ‘foreign film’ since it is such an expansive term. However, nowadays it seems to be defined as an opposite to American cinema and tends to be unfairly overlooked. I don’t know whether this is down to a phobia of subtitles or simply a lack of exposure. But if you enjoy movies, it is absolutely necessary that you search for something different.
In the interest of not being incredibly reductive, or just regressing into a long list of names, I will focus on the cinema of one country. Although I love the films of plenty of European directors, from Bergman to Godard, Rohmer to Almodóvar, my fascination lies in Italian cinema. I first got into it through Antonioni and subsequently explored classic Italian filmmakers such as Rosselini, De Sica and later ones like Pasolini and Bertolucci. Yet it was a revelation when I discovered Federico Fellini, and I have been enamoured with his work ever since.
Fellini began his film career working as a writer on much of Rosselini’s work on the war, on films like Roma, Cittá Aperta and Paisá. However, he went on to write and direct his own pieces. His early films continued in the vein of neorealism, at the same time departing from some of its conventions, leading to classics La Strada and Le Notti di Cabiria.
But it was the Palme d’Or-winning La Dolce Vita and the ground-breaking surreal 8 ½ from the early 60s that cemented his reputation as the ‘Maestro’. He went on to make many more fantastic films before his death and he remains one of the most original and influential film-makers of all time.
The treasures of foreign film are there to be plundered; all that’s needed is a quick google search or a trip to the library. Whether you’re one for light comedies or intellectual epics, there is a whole world to be discovered.
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