Exploring Foreign Cinema: Finding Comparisons in Unlikely Places
Foreign Correspondent in Italy, Sophia Hill, gives us a thoughtful insight into the beauty of foreign films and film in general.
There is a certain degree of arrogance that comes with the ability to waltz into a cinema abroad, purchase a ticket and watch, better yet understand, a foreign film. Whether it be exploring the adaptations of Woody Allen in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, or revelling in the “polyglottery” of Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me by Your Name; foreign films always offer something fresh. Moving abroad provides the perfect opportunity to bask in such films.
Following the initial success of the global-hit Frozen in 2013, Walt Disney Pictures kept their fans anticipating for six years before releasing the sequel film. It would be a criminal act to not give this film the time and concentration that its creators deserve…and with that said, you can hazard a guess as to how I spent a Thursday evening in December in Venice.
Granted the desire to understand a film in French, Italian or Spanish doesn’t necessarily appeal to everyone, but it does offer an undoubtedly more tranquil approach to language learning
Following the huge success of the $1.3bn first installment, Frozen II had arguably big (snow) boots to fill. Continuing with the theme of sisterly love, the film follows the continued lives and adventures of sisters Anna and Elsa, alongside their trusty companions, Olaf, Kristoff and Sven. However, as the original fans of the franchise have inevitably matured since 2013, the plot and music has done so too. Much to the delight of parents worldwide, the Disney anthem “Let it Go” has undergone a reboot into a more mature, lyrically intricate song, with a lot more high notes. The early Christmas gift from composers, Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson Lopez, should (hopefully) prevent Christmas car journeys world-wide being accompanied by the shrieks of children attempting to mimic the talents of Idina Menzel.
As far as sequels go, they rarely live up to the original. Regrettably, this is the case for Disney films too. However, Frozen II breaks the trend and has arguably triumphed where many have fallen before. Avoiding the simple route of elaborating the background stories of the protagonists, director and screenplay writer, Jenifer Lee has succeeded in creating a film, which retains and enhances the key values of Frozen. With no desire to spoil the intricate and fascinating story line of this Disney creation, I will say no more…
Foreign cinema as a concept has grown immensely over the past decade and is now internationally recognised and celebrated as its own genre. It offers something new, something different – something that branches away from the typical blockbuster clichés that Hollywood spoon feeds its viewers. Don’t get me wrong, I love a Hollywood flick as much as the next person, but this newfound frenzy for foreign films in the UK is refreshing. With already at least three dozen foreign film festivals scattered around the UK, Brits can no longer use the excuse of foreign films being “too hard to find” and are able to explore a completely new side of cinema. Bound to entertain and educate, foreign films are also doing language learning a favour. Granted the desire to understand a film in French, Italian or Spanish doesn’t necessarily appeal to everyone, but it does offer an undoubtedly more tranquil approach to language learning – and is arguably much less painful than hours of grammar exercises!
Whether it is the growing multiculturalism in the UK, or the transition to a foreign taste in cinematography; you cannot deny the rise in popularity of international films. Many immigrants use foreign films as a chance to reconnect with their heritage and teach future generations about their cultural roots. There are numerous Film Festivals across the UK, which provide the opportunity to do just that. As the ever-growing multicultural city that it is, London hosts many of these festivals; including the Kinoteka Polish Film Festival, the London Spanish Film Festival and the Italian Film Festival all in April alone – with Indian cinema in July and the Turkish, French and Russian flicks shown in the autumn.
However, in two films where soundtracks play such a prominent role, I am compelled to compare these two global blockbusters – Call Me By Your Name and Frozen II.
Touching back to Luca Gudagnino’s 2017 film Call Me By Your Name, it is based on André Aciman’s 2007 novel of the same name. This novel follows the passionate romance that unfolds between teenager Elio and a graduate student Oliver in the summer of 1983. Conventionally, a comparison of Gudagnino’s work and that of Jenifer Lee would not be comprehensible. However, in two films where soundtracks play such a prominent role, I am compelled to compare these two global blockbusters – Call Me By Your Name and Frozen II.
Call Me By Your Name is easily recognisable from its classical piano versus New Wave synth-pop soundtrack, yet upon exploration it is clear that Sufjan Stevens’ contribution is the most critically acclaimed. “Visions of Gideon”, “Mystery of Love” and “Futile Devices” are his three songs performed the film, which all accentuate the sense of urgency, desire and melancholy that is present throughout the whole affair. Paying particular attention to the song “Vision of Gideon”, one can understand how it advocated the emotive desire of Elio for his relationship with Oliver to last. “I have loved you for the last time/ Is it a video?” are some of the haunting lyrics that reiterate, to Elio and the audience, that only the memories of the lush summer days of their affair that will remain; those themselves being memories which will eventually fade or warp into non-existence.
The strong emotions and story-telling ability of this song has similarities to the song “Show Yourself” in Frozen II, as arguably both of these songs summarise the underlying meaning and feeling of both films. From its chilling vocals to the deeper meanings behind every verse, the end product of Idina Mendez and Evan Rachel Wood in “Show Yourself” truly gives “Let it Go” a run for its money. As arguably one of the most emotional songs in Disney history, this song describes perfectly Elsa’s journey to self-discovery. The lyrics “Show yourself/ I’m no longer trembling/ Here I am, I’ve come so far” make up the second chorus and are the turning point in the song as we see Elsa’s transformation truly begin. Whilst she accepts her newfound self-worth and power, we cannot help but pleasure in her development and the emotional journey she takes us on.
Both films have intricate sound designs, but in different ways. As a Disney film, Frozen II has definitely taken the next step in its development as a sequel, with both lyrical and melodic advances. In Frozen II, where the soundtrack is intended to act as a further narration of the plot, comparatively, Call Me By Your Name uses its soundtrack in the same way. Accompanying what could be described as a minimalist script, Gudagnino’s work is perfectly complemented by songs such as “Visions of Gideon”, which allowing the lyrics of songs to convey how the audience should feel in each scene, whilst not acting as a line-by-line narration of the story. Overall then, both of these films can be enjoyed around the world not only because of their depth of story-telling, but because of their ability to connect to audiences through song.