A few weeks ago, we entertained a favorite couple of ours for “dinner and a show,” which is our euphemism for supper and a movie. Early in the evening, we all agreed that we’d like to watch a western, a genre that has gone wanting lately. There have been a few exceptions over the last ten years or so, like Unforgiven, 3:10 to Yuma, and Open Range, but good westerns are few and far between. We eventually settled upon Silverado, a 1986 release featuring Kevin Klein, Brian Dennehy, Scott Glenn, Danny Glover, Linda Hunt, and, in his first major part, Kevin Costner, who was all of thirty when the film was shot. We’d all seen the film before, but not recently, and were amazed at how sophomoric it now appeared when compared to more current westerns, which are much more believable.
One of the problems with the film was the preposterous nature of the characters, which included the diminutive Hunt as a saloon keeper (who served her customers while walking along a platform located behind the bar), and Costner as a wild-eyed, young cowpoke, jailed and awaiting his execution by hanging. His devil-may-care, “golly, shucks, ma’am,” persona, in the face of impending doom, made his portrayal more of a caricature than that of a believable character.
And then there was the uncanny gunmanship displayed by virtually everyone in the cast possessing a handgun. Each was imbued with a degree of marksmanship that rivaled that of Annie Oakley, or Wild Bill Hickok—implausible at best, and downright unbelievable at its worst. I’ve had the privilege of firing a number of pistols and revolvers, and let me tell you it’s difficult enough hitting a gallon water jug at thirty feet, let alone another man’s weapon at thirty or more yards, as was often the case in this film.
Lastly, how does one’s clothing remain spotlessly clean in an environment laden with dirt and grime? Yet that is what we are led to believe is the norm in this less-than-perfect depiction of the Old West. I know Hollywood is the land of make believe and escapism, but honestly, are we considered so gullible that we are expected to totally suspend reality in order to be entertained? I would hope not. Then again . . .
I guess that’s why I find myself watching more and more foreign films, even though it requires me to read subtitles in order to truly understand what I am seeing on my TV screen. The best, it seems to me, come from the UK, Australia, Sweden, France, and Spain. I’ve even seen some great films that originated in Norway as well. Most foreign films have very small budgets, but they feature strong character development and imaginative, yet believable, plots. There are very few special effects, and almost no one gets shot or maimed unless the storyline absolutely demands it. The other thing I’ve noticed is that audiences around the world differ from those in the USA, inasmuch as they are willing to accept actors whose physiognomies are less than perfect. There are few sculptured noses, and even fewer spotless complexions. We get to see all the flaws and imperfections, as though they are—guess what?—normal, everyday people.
Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with the occasional multi-car pile up, or a mind-boggling, successful leap from a 300-foot high dam (see The Fugitive with Harrison Ford). But wouldn’t it be nice to actually see a film with action that is somewhat plausible, and characters with which we can easily identify? I think so.
Here are a few of my favorite foreign films that I think you might enjoy, providing you are alert enough to read the subtitles without falling asleep. Each is listed with its country of origin.
The Sea Inside (Spain—original title, Mar adentro) )
In Order of Disappearance (Norway—original title, Kraftidioten)
Amores Perros (Mexico/USA)
The Vanishing (Netherlands—original title, Spoorloos)
To be fair, I find some foreign films to be a complete bust. I know many out there will skewer me for this, but I cannot stand most of those directed by Italian legend Federico Fellini. Try as I might, I just don’t like them. On the other hand, I loved Cinema Paradiso, directed by Giuseppe Tornatore, another Italian.
Are you a lover of foreign films? If so, tell me your favorite, and why. I can always use a good recommendation. Oh, and don’t forget the popcorn.