top of page
  • milliesmithh

Challenging The Barrier Of Subtitles In Foreign Language Film

By Saskia Harper

“Once you overcome the one inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”

These were the words of Parasite director, Bong Joon-ho, when he won the Golden Globe award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2020.

Foreign language films are fighting their way onto western radars, demonstrating that there is a whole world of cinematic beauty beyond the confines of the English language.

There’s a misconception that foreign language films are harder to watch just because you have to read along to understand the dialogue. This is something that many are instantly resistant to with some arguing they don’t go to the cinema or switch on the TV to read.

We’re all living busy, stressful lives – especially at the moment – so it’s understandable if after a long day we want our down time to be as relaxing as possible.

But is it really such a chore to read subtitles? Does it really take that much brain power?

You may not be able to scroll through Instagram whilst watching a foreign language film or TV show (you will miss what’s going on), but this offers a unique opportunity to escape your smartphone without even realising it.

For years film productions abroad have made films in English, in the hope this will make it commercially successful and more likely that western viewers will watch it. Isn’t it time we opened our minds and TV guides to the possibility that a film has an equal likelihood of being deeply moving, hilariously funny and an award-winner in a different language?

When you watch foreign language films, you become more attuned to facial expressions and body language, relying on it to tell you more about the characters’ thoughts and reactions, helping you understand more about them. Rather than hinder your appreciation of the film, arguably you spend more time paying attention to the storyline and subtitles, unable to afford to miss crucial parts because of the lure of social media or other distractions.

Watching foreign language films not only opens you up to a whole new exciting world of cinema, but transports you to a different life, if only for a brief while.

Great stories, plot twists and characters are found in films of all genres, budgets and languages. They remind us of our similarities and provide comfort during difficult times.

With travel currently out of the question, foreign language films are the perfect way to immerse yourself in a different culture, learn about life, enjoy new perspectives and remind ourselves that there’s a world out there beyond our bedroom windows.

If you’re just getting started in the world of international film, here are some suggestions of where to get started:


Language: Korean and English

Where to watch: A24

Already hailed as one of the best films of 2021 (and it’s only February), Minari revolves around the Yi family, who move to rural Arkansas with the aim of starting a farm to grow Korean produce, the American Dream firmly in their grasp. When Grandma moves in to help with the childcare of David and his older sister Anne, things don’t exactly turn out as expected.

Starring Steven Yeun, Han Ye-ri, Youn Yuh-jung and Alan Kim, Minari is a beautiful story about family and realising what is really important in life.


Language: Korean

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

Released in 2020, Parasite revolves around the Kims: a working-class family living in Seoul, struggling to make ends meet. When the son embraces the opportunity to work for the wealthy Park family, soon the whole Kim family finds a way to work for the Parks, sabotaging the existing members of staff and recommending each other for jobs.

With lots of twists and turns along the way, Parasite is a social commentary on class that will stay with you long after the credits have rolled.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Language: French

Where to watch: MUBI

Set in 18th century France, the film focuses on Marianne, a painter who has been commissioned by a countess to paint the wedding portrait of her daughter, Héloïse. But as their friendship blossoms and the women get to know each other, and a forbidden love affair ensues.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (or Portrait de la jeune fille en feu in French) was nominated for Independent Spirit Awards, Critics’ Choice Awards and Golden Globe Awards for Best Foreign Language Film. It was chosen by the National Board of Review as one of the top five foreign language films of 2019. It also became the first film directed by a woman to win the Queer Palm award at the Cannes Film Festival.


Language: Spanish and Mixtec

Where to watch: Netflix

This semi-autobiographical film (based on the childhood of director, Alfonso Cuarón) follows the life of Cleodegaria, who works for Antonio and Sofía, taking care of their children in 1970s Mexico City. When Antonio runs away with his mistress, Sofía decides to take the children on holiday and invites Cleo with them, for a much needed break.

An extremely moving film, ROMA received 10 nominations at the 2019 Oscars, including Best Picture. It was the first film distributed primarily by a streaming service to be nominated for the accolade.

Featured image courtesy of Jakob Owens from Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image. 

#Cinema #Film #languages #international #subtitles

8 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page