Play ‘Cinema’ by CIX.
A well-known fact about me: I love to watch foreign TV and film. Bong Joon Ho, the director and writer of many critically-acclaimed films including Parasite (2019), said it best as he accepted the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2020: “Once you overcome the 1-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” I hopped over that “1-inch-tall barrier” some time back in high school and have been enjoying dramas and films in various languages since. Thus, when my host family offered to take me with them to the cinema, I replied with an immediate “oui!” Only, I wouldn’t have the crutch of English or French subtitles at the cinema in Nantes— I would have to put my French listening skills to the test.
My host family doesn’t own a TV but they love watching films. Instead of scrolling endlessly through Netflix on a flat screen as my American family often does, my host parents set up a projector against their bedroom wall and spin some DVDs. That, or they drive to the nearby cinema to see pictures on the big screen.
The first time I went to the cinema with my host family, we watched the latest Agatha Christie adaptation, Murder on the Nile, dubbed in French. My host sister and I laughed when the audio didn’t quite match the moving mouths and several times I had to whisper for clarification about why one character was yelling or how another had found a gun. Though many details evaded my comprehension, I understood more than enough to correctly predict the culprits! After only a month of living in France, that felt like a sizeable accomplishment.
After Murder on the Nile, my host mom promised to take me to see a real French film the next time, and she kept her word. A few weeks later, we went to watch a French comedy called Maison de retraite, or Retirement Home. It was a cliché comedy about a man down on his luck who is forced to work at a retirement home in order to avoid jail time. Though he begins the film averse to older generations, he eventually befriends many of the residents and gets his life back on track under their positive influence by the ending credits. My host family wasn’t particularly impressed with the movie but we all agreed that not every film needs to whisk you away to another world. Sometimes all you need is a few light-hearted laughs.
One weekend in April, a bunch of theaters in Nantes ran a promotion where all films would cost only €5, so my host family and I made plans to see a dark mystery titled Maigret, starring famous French actor Gérard Depardieu. I felt as though my listening comprehension had improved as I absorbed the film’s gloomy dialogue (dark and serious conversations tend to be slower, which doesn’t hurt!). But language learning is always an up and down and while one film might make you feel one step closer to fluency, another will remind you how much more there is to learn.
Continuing the take advantage of the cheap movie tickets, my friends and I decided to watch a Knives Out lookalike called Murder Party. It turns out the film was not at all a French spin-off of Knives Out, though it involved a rich family and, of course, murder. It was instead a wildly absurd and comedic mystery with some exciting plot twists, and the funniest part was that we were so confused by its French. Characters spoke very quickly and used lots of vocabulary we didn’t know, making the film’s already chaotic plot even more tumultuous. Rather than be disappointed, though, we just laughed. When learning a language, sometimes you need a good reality check! But it’s not something that should be discouraging. I think if we had had French subtitles to f0llow along with while we listened, we would have understood a lot more. But watching films in the language you are trying to learn without subtitles is still a valuable exercise, one that everyone should practice more. Language Learners: If you ever pass by the cinema while traveling in another country, I recommend trying a film without subtitles. So what if you don’t understand everything? With enough practice, one day you will.
So now I plan to rewatch Murder Party at home— yes, with subtitles this time. Then, maybe I’ll watch it again without them and see how it goes. Practice makes rapid French palpable! If Murder Party ever appears on Netflix, I recommend it. You’ll be in for some laughter for sure.