Overcoming Subtitles

By Cindy Ma

Image from mprnews


The film Parasite directed by Bong Joon-ho won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2020. As the first foreign language film to ever win an Oscar, Parasite made history. This achievement was extraordinary for an industry known for being white and male-dominated. Despite winning Best Picture, some people’s resentment of a foreign film winning swayed them from watching it, while many others were hesitant to watch the film due to its barriers with subtitles. During his acceptance speech, Joon-ho said, “Once you overcome the 1-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”


The decision to not watch foreign films is often driven by the extra effort it takes in reading subtitles, as noted by Joon-ho. This closes off so many great films from different parts of the world. Film provides exposure to culture and stories through experiences and other people’s point of views in an easy and accessible fashion.


Film also explores themes of self-discovery, family, loss, and happiness; all of which are universally experienced feelings. Being able to see these common themes shown in different languages and different cultures creates a sense of familiarity and connection that can’t be experienced any other way.


To start your discovery of films around the world, here is a list of foreign films with subtitles that I have personally enjoyed:


  1. Portrait of a Lady on Fire directed by Céline Sciamma This is a French LGBTQ+ film set in 1760 that follows a painter, Marianne, and her muse, Héloïse. She is commissioned to do the wedding portrait of Héloïse without her knowing. Marianne studies Héloïse and they become closer before the impending wedding. Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a great wlw film that is as emotional as it is cinematically beautiful.

  2. Right Now, Wrong Then directed by Hong Sangsoo This is a Korean film where a famous film director meets an aspiring artist and they begin to fall for each other. Unexpectedly, he repeats the same day again throughout the movie, but each day with a different series of events. It is a captivating and emotional film.

  3. Yi Yi directed by Edward Yang Yi Yi is set in Taiwan. The film follows the lives of the Jian family from the alternating perspectives of the three main family members. The main theme centers around the emotional struggles of the engineer father and his family. This film’s unique use of perspective captures the fragility of economy.

  4. Amélie directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet This French film follows Amelie, a young waitress, who decides to help people find happiness. Her goal is to spread joy which leads her on a journey where she, herself, finds true love. The way the protagonist is portrayed makes her a widely loved character.

  5. The Lives Of Others directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck This film centers around the life of a German secret police agent who is surveilling peoples' private lives. The officer begins to sympathize and care for those he's watching, and begins to intervene in their lives. This film does an amazing job of making the audience feel sympathy for a not so great protagonist.

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