×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Blended lingos boost appeal

Palm Springs International Film Festival 2012

As much as Americans love to watch movies, the vast majority can’t abide subtitles. If they really wanted to read, they’d stay home with a book — or so goes the conventional wisdom to explain why foreign-language cinema has been stuck with less than a 1% share of the U.S. box office.

But just because it’s been that way for as long as anyone can remember doesn’t mean the dynamic won’t change. In fact, recent market conditions suggest audiences could be on the verge of a new acceptance for foreign-language cinema. Call it the “blender effect” — a phenomenon by which a dip in what Hollywood has to offer coincides with a rise in films of mixed language and mixed nationality.

• Downturn in grown-up fare. It’s no secret that American studios have turned their attention toward tentpoles, hoping for big paydays from big-budget spectacle productions over the incremental returns of thriftier mid-range dramas. That strategic shift has taken many so-called indie divisions with it (claiming Paramount Vantage, Miramax and others in the process), forcing the real independent productions to make do with less. So where are adult auds to go for thought-provoking pictures but overseas, where such projects remain the norm?

• Boost in international B.O. As budgets balloon, Hollywood can no longer rely on domestic B.O. to turn a profit, making a film’s global performance an important factor in how films are conceived. One need look no further than such globe-trotting studio offerings as “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol,” “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” and “The Adventures of Tintin” to recognize ways in which plots have been bent to accommodate set pieces set in Russia, the Middle East and other emerging markets. Doing so not only appeases foreign auds, but also makes Americans more comfortable watching internationally based stories. (It’s worth noting that vampire remake “Let Me In” performed poorly after relocating the plot to New Mexico, while Sony’s “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” redo did fine by preserving the novel’s Swedish setting.)

• Accent on authenticity. Since it’s clearly not a case of xenophobia, one can fairly assume that language is the major barrier to foreign pics gaining a broader following in the U.S. After all, American auds are happy to embrace foreign films made in the U.K. (“The King’s Speech”) and elsewhere (“Slumdog Millionaire”), so long as they don’t have to read subtitles. But major Hollywood directors from Quentin Tarantino (“Inglourious Basterds”) to Ridley Scott (“Body of Lies”) are increasingly doing away with the silly convention of asking actors to play foreign roles in badly accented English and instead casting multilingual stars (such as Christoph Waltz) and allowing them to speak in their native tongue. Perhaps the most popular recent example of this approach was Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” where the decision to make the film in Aramaic didn’t stop it from earning more than $370 million domestically.

• New multilingual offerings. If audiences can adjust to reading subtitles for some of the dialogue in such bilingual immigration-themed dramas as “A Better Life” or “Under the Same Moon,” what’s to stop them from embracing foreign films in which big chunks of the dialogue are delivered in English? (Apart from the fact that they can’t necessarily tell what language is being spoken from trailers, which have long tried to mislead by masking the films’ native tongues.) These days, in order to approximate mid-range American fare, many European productions must raise financing from entities across multiple countries, a dynamic that lends itself to stories that blend nationalities (in Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami’s “Certified Copy,” an intriguing relationship percolates between French star Juliette Binoche and British baritone William Shimell, resulting in a modest arthouse hit) and settings (in Olivier Assayas’ 2010 globe-trotting “Carlos,” languages elide as the action moves from country to country).

• Crossover of foreign stars. Binoche is hardly the only foreign star working in English these days. Every time someone like Marion Cotillard or Antonio Banderas appears in an American studio film, they increase the chances that auds will want to see them in a film made back home (such as “Little White Lies” in Cotillard’s case or “The Skin I Live In” for Banderas). Likewise, it doesn’t hurt when an actor of Christian Bale’s stature appears in a film like Zhang Yimou’s “The Flowers of War,” which was selected as China’s foreign-language Oscar submission, despite the fact that all of Bale’s dialogue is English.

These elements combine to create an interesting opportunity for foreign-language cinema. With familiar actors to draw audiences in to see compelling dramatic stories performed partly in English, the results are not so much foreign as modern — reflections of a world in which languages and cultures blend on a daily basis.

Palm Springs International Film Festival 2012
Time for fest to face acad shift? | Fest personalizes experience by hosting retreat | Honorees ready themselves for a busy ’12 | Blended lingos boost appeal

Variety’s Indie Impact Awards: Charlize Theron
Thesp’s roles of attraction | Changing faces

More Film

  • WGA Agency Packaging Fight Placeholder Writer

    Writers Guild Says Over 7,000 Members Have Fired Agents

    Over 7,000 members of the Writers Guild of America have fired their talent agents, the Hollywood union said on Monday. As promised, the guild delivered a first round of termination letters to agents in a show of support for the WGA’s full-on war with the Association of Talent Agents. “Today the Guild delivered a first [...]

  • BRAZILIAN FLAGFRENCH OPEN TENNIS, PARIS, FRANCE

    Brazil’s Ancine Freezes Incentives, Threatening Film-TV Industry Paralysis

    Brazil’s Ancine agency, its foremost public-sector source of film funding, has frozen all of its incentive programs, potentially near paralyzing new production in Latin America’s biggest film-TV industry. The dramatic decision, which has left Brazil’s industry is a state of shock and intense fear for its future, comes as it has taken further hits. In [...]

  • Jennifer Lopez

    Jennifer Lopez Reteams With STXfilms on Romantic-Comedy Co-Starring Owen Wilson

    Jennifer Lopez is reteaming with STXfilms on the upcoming romantic-comedy “Marry Me.” Kat Coiro is directing the film and Owen Wilson is in final negotiations to join the pic, which will likely shoot this fall. The script was written by John Rogers and Tami Sagher, with a rewrite by Harper Dill. Lopez and Wilson both [...]

  • Steve Golin The Revenant Spotlight Producer

    Steve Golin, Prolific Producer and Founder of Anonymous Content, Dies at 64

    Steve Golin, an Oscar-winning producer who was founder and CEO of Anonymous Content, died Sunday in Los Angeles of cancer. He was 64. Golin was a pioneer in blending the business of talent management with production. Anonymous Content, which Golin founded in 1999, worked with a stable of big name artists such as Steven Soderbergh, [...]

  • David Leitch Kelly McCormick

    'Hobbs & Shaw' Director David Leitch, Kelly McCormick Sign First-Look Deal With Universal (EXCLUSIVE)

    Universal Pictures is signing David Leitch, his longtime producing partner, Kelly McCormick and their recently founded 87North Production banner to a first-look production deal. “David and Kelly have established themselves as a distinctive, stylish filmmaking team who can do it all, from contained thrillers to franchise tentpoles,” said Universal’s president Peter Cramer. “We are confident [...]

  • Still from cannes competition film "Parasite"

    Cannes: Bong Joon-ho Says ‘Parasite’ Is Too Local to Win Competition

    Having been partially responsible for the Netflix fall out with the Cannes Film Festival, “Okja” and “Snowpiercer” director Bong Joon-ho returns to Cannes competition this year with conventionally- financed “Parasite.” But the Korean-language film is a tragicomedy that Bong says may be too nuanced for the festival. “Cannes always makes me feel excited, fresh, and [...]

  • Summer Box Office: 'Avengers: Endgame,' 'Lion

    Summer Box Office: Five Weekends to Watch

    Popcorn season is upon us, and it’ll be up to comic-book heroes, a wise-cracking genie, and a lion who would be king to ensure movie theaters are still the hottest place to spend the summer. Last summer, blockbusters like “Avengers: Infinity War,” “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” Ocean’s 8,” and “The Meg” drove moviegoers to their [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content