I'm just going to come out and say it. I don't like reading my movies, which is why I've never liked subtitled foreign films. They're too much work, and always leave me feeling grossly inadequate, like I should grow a goatee and start reading more Nietzsche. I'm also lazy and don't mind admitting I like my entertainment puréed and spoon-fed to me. Give me car chases and a "feel good" ending over The Seventh Seal any day.
I know this doesn't make me very interesting at cocktail parties, and certainly nobody's rushing to invite me to their next art show. But, what can I say, I like what I like. And aren’t our personal preferences exactly what make us so unique, like the perfect snowflake that poets talk about?
Shouldn’t we strive to be ourselves?
In my own defense—and yours—I’ll say absolutely. We need to fight for our individuality at all costs. However, there is another reality to consider.
Oftentimes, we stay with what we know as much out of habit and laziness as personal preference. And the more we hold onto that independent self who “likes what he likes,” the less likely we’ll discover that adventurous soul who boldly “chases what he doesn’t know.”
In a rush to hold onto our personal taste, we lose the fluidity that helps us escape the one room we’re locked in. And, yes my friends, even the movies we watch can lead us into new states of awareness. In fact, everything we do says something about who we are and where we’re headed.
After all, this isn’t about movies at all. It’s about the variety we embrace, and our willingness to open up and try new experiences.
It’s time to walk into foreign worlds and seek out new perspectives.
No need to book an airline ticket just yet.
We can start with a foreign film instead.
Rooms 281-284: Watch A Foreign Film
Let me begin by saying that foreign is a relative term. For our purposes we’ll define a foreign film as anything outside of our own native language. And for those of you who already love a thought provoking foreign movie, you’re not off the hook.
Choose what is most foreign to you.
You could just as easily watch Billy Madison or Knocked Up as you could Das Boot or The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. In fact, anything with Adam Sandler or Seth Rogen might work. It doesn’t have to be a subtitled art-house flick.
Personally, I had to go with the subtitles, otherwise I would have started off with something easier, like a British or Canadian film. I did a quick internet search for the best foreign films of all time. That’s how culturally backward I am. Of course, there were plenty of movies to choose from, although none of them were that inviting.
I mean how do you get excited about Pan’s Laybrinth or Kolya? They don’t exactly make you want to break out the popcorn. But I suppose that was the whole idea of the experiment. It was time for me to stop judging a book by its cover. Or a movie. Or a room for that matter.
It was time to open up to all experiences.
No, I didn’t start with Das Boot or even Seven Samurai. Instead, I went to Bollywood. I know it’s just a mere letter away from my comfort zone, but to my credit, there were subtitles.
I chose a Hindi classic called Dil to Pagal Hai, which translates to The Heart is Crazy. It’s your classic Bollywood romantic drama. It got four and a half stars on Netflix and, as far as I’m concerned, deserved every one of them. Yes, it was safe, predictable and lasted two days, but I liked it.
First off, everyone was wearing lots of orange (see Room 9), along with bold, vibrant colors that made me want to throw out my Johnny Cash wardrobe. Secondly, and with apologies to my wife, I am now in love with the leading lady, Madhuri Dixit, who in her day was one of Hindi cinema's leading actresses. She is beautiful, or at least she was in 1997, where she will forever be frozen in my mind.
It seems like hardly anyone has anything nice to say about Bollywood films. Too long. Unrealistic. Mindless. But, not me. In fact, I’ve since watched two more Bollywood flicks. I didn’t even mind the reading anymore. And this is coming from a guy who watches most movies with an iPad in his hand.
But, don’t worry. I didn’t stop there. I also watched City of God (Brazil), Amelie (France) and even Pan’s Labyrinth (Spain). I have Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (China) lined up next.
Like so much good that comes into our life, the payoff wasn’t immediate, or even recognizable at first. I had to work for it, struggle a bit, and wonder if it was worth my time. I even made fun of it. Lots of fun.
But, suddenly the flood gates opened. Before I knew it, I was nodding, smiling, and even enjoying myself. What once seemed so foreign had become a part of me.
This is the beauty and the power of following a different path, even a trail as seemingly insignificant as watching a different kind of movie. It’s a lesson for us all. Passageways into new experiences can be found in the most unlikely of places. We just need to look for them.
It’s not just different languages I was exploring, but different clothing, ideals, values, and ways of thinking. I was opening my mind to new experiences.
And now look at me.
Yes, I still love stupid, adolescent movies, but I’m also no longer afraid of oddly-titled ones either, which explains why next week, The Story of the Weeping Camel will be coming to a living room near me. It’s the story of a family of Mongolian nomads who round up camels and elks for a living. I can pretty much guarantee I’ll have the house to myself for that one. Iron Man it’s not.
But, that’s okay.
It’s the all new and improved Bill Apablasa—deep, cerebral, and with a tiny soul patch on my chin. I’m ready to kick down a few doors.
Who’s with me?
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Oh, and if you have any good foreign film suggestions, I'd love to hear them.