Category Archives: foreign films

Don’t Read This on a Plane: Meandering European Road Movie

Don’t Read This on a Plane , directed by Stuart McBratney, an independent comedy-drama from 2020, an example of an emerging genre of movie (very popular on Netflix lately) of foreign films geared towards Americans. Although it takes place in Europe and stars French actress Sophie Desmarais, it is 90% in English. This is believable as Jovana is a writer doing a book tour across Europe, where English is the international language. Oddly enough, the segment that takes place in France did not have subtitles, at least not in the version on Amazon I watched.

This is a rather slight but enjoyable movie about an author whose book publisher goes bankrupt right before her book tour begins. Jovana is broke, married to an American (another convenient way to keep everything in English) who is working on a ship and cannot understand her pleas for help due to poor phone reception.

Jovana is forced to rough it by hitchhiking and sleeping on couches. She uses an app called MOAF (mattress on floor) that arranges free or low cost stays in people’s homes. This app may be fictional, but there was an actual site and app called Couchsurfing that really served this function (I’ve actually used it years ago, but the last I heard it is either defunct or hacked by scammers).

Jovana manages her extremely low budget travel as she moves through countries such as Italy, Portugal, Greece, Romania, and The Netherlands. Is all this realistic? Probably the least likely aspect of it all is the free publicity she gets when readers are actually thrown off planes when reading her book.

The title of the movie is also the title of her book. It’s a book of erotic stories recounting Jovana’s sexual encounters with women which may or may not be true. During book readings, audience members ask her if the stories are true and she responds with coy evasions.

The plot is very thin and meandering, which is often the case with road movies. Jovana meets various characters in different cities. She has an ongoing phone-based flirtation with a woman who is organizing her appearance in Romania. She has frustrating attempts to contact her husband.

If you like action and heavily plotted stories, you’ll find Don’t Read This on a Plane boring if not meaningless. I have a high tolerance for this kind of film, so I mostly enjoyed it. Sophie Desmarais is a likable and attractive lead who helps to carry the thin plot. Another upsides of the film is that it is shot on location, as the director describes in an interview with Filmink. Locations can add a great deal to the atmosphere. Low budget indie films are often claustrophobic due to limited settings and are often not even shot in the places where they are supposedly set.

The film also explores, in its lighthearted fashion, the relationship between fiction and reality and whether a writer is obligated to tell the truth (or if it even matters whether they do or not).

Don’t Read This on a Plane is currently streaming on Amazon Prime. You may also be able to find it for free on YouTube and elsewhere.


The Challenge of Foreign Language Films for American Audiences

Foreign Language Films Are Dead; Long Live Foreign Language Films

Foreign language films have never been popular with American audiences. It’s only a small portion of even art house or indie audiences who more than occasionally watch a film in a language other than English.

Americans are notorious for being “American audiences—even sophisticated ones—appear to be insular, provincial and possibly xenophobic,” as the article in ReelPolitik mentions. It’s well known that, compared with the citizens of most other countries, Americans are much less likely to speak any other languages. However, it also seems they don’t like to read subtitles either.

Indie audiences certainly go through phases when French, Italian, Chinese and Spanish films are trendy, at least up to a point. However, it’s only a handful of directors who can command any kind of audience for these films. Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut and a few other French directors have always held certain American audiences captive, especially in the 70s and 80s.

All sophisticated movie fans will have seen a few of Fellini’s masterpieces. More recently, we’ve seen the rise of Spanish language films, most notably by Pedro Almodovar and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (the Mexican director who created Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel).

The last few decades have also brought about the rise in Chinese cinema, with directors such as Zhang Yimou and Kar Wai Wong leading the way.

Yet, the fact remains that the vast majority of American moviegoers seldom, if ever, watch foreign films. And even theaters that show art house films only show non-English language movies every so often. Why is this the case?

It really goes back to the fact that Americans, for the most part, only speak English. And while reading subtitles allows viewers to understand the dialog, let’s face it -it takes a certain amount of effort, and the kind that we’re not used to putting forth when watching a movie. Arguably, the effort it takes to read the subtitles detracts from our ability to take in the medium of cinema as it’s meant to be seen -as visual images combined with dialog. It turns the experience into more of a left-brained experience, more like reading -which, of course it is.

This isn’t meant as a criticism of films with subtitles. In my opinion, it’s well worth the effort if the film is good. It’s simply an explanation of why foreign language films will never be hugely successful in the U.S.

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