Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 5
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Foreign Films Offer Language-Learning Opportunity

Illustration by Luke Hampton.

Learning a new language can sometimes be a drag. Endless hours of studying verb tenses, memorizing vocabulary and reading boring textbooks can take the fun out of language learning.

The best solution to this problem? Visit a country that speaks the language you’re learning and take in the local culture. But that’s expensive. The next best thing? Movies. Watching films in the language you’re learning is both entertaining and educational, a rare combination. The films listed below are some of the best that each language has to offer. The best part is that every film mentioned in this article is available in the second floor DVD section of Penrose Library, so you have no excuse not to check them out!


Japan has a rich film history, and there are hundreds of great films to choose from. Samurai films are a good place to start. They’re very similar to American Western films, and they often have lots of humor and cool swordplay. Samurai films by director Akira Kurosawa are especially good, including “Yojimbo,” “Sanjuro,” “Seven Samurai” and “Ran.” “The Face of Another” is a great modern Frankenstein tale (but weirder), and “Sonatine” is a recent example of a good Yakuza film. For something more low key, Yasujiro Ozu’s family dramas are restrained masterpieces. “Tokyo Story” and “Late Spring” are good starting points. The gargantuan drama, “The Human Condition,” tells the tragic story of a motivated young worker in Japan who has increasingly bad things happen to him during World War II. At nearly 10 hours long, it’s good for a watch on a rainy day.

Germany has consistently produced great films. Werner Herzog is one of the greatest directors to come out of Germany. His films are impressively intense, especially his collaborations with the insane actor Klaus Kinski, such as “Aguirre, the Wrath of God,” “Nosferatu the Vampyre” and “Fitzcarraldo.” “Fitzcarraldo” is fascinating because Herzog decided to tell the story of a man who pulls a steamship over a mountain by actually pulling a steamship over a mountain. Anything by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, the prolific director who made over 40 films in his 15-year career, is worth watching. “Wings of Desire” is a modern classic that tells a humanistic story about angels in Berlin right before the fall of the Berlin Wall. It also has a killer soundtrack featuring Nick Cave. There are a lot of great German silent films as well, including “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” “Metropolis,” “Sunrise,” “The Oyster Princess” and “Nosferatu.”

Spanish is a widely-spoken language, so there are a lot of great Spanish-language films from a lot of different times and places. Some of the best recent Spanish films include “Y Tu Mamá También,” “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “No.” Also, as a general rule, pretty much every movie by Pedro Almodovar is great, including his recent film “The Skin I Live In,” which is a disturbing thriller about a mad scientist (played by Antonio Banderas) performing some devious surgical experiments. Some great Spanish-language films from the past are “El Norte,” “Cria Cuervos” and, a personal favorite, “The Spirit of the Beehive,” which mixes fairy tales and harsh reality through the eyes of a child. It was a big inspiration for “Pan’s Labyrinth.”

France has produced some of the most unique films the world has ever seen, especially in the 1950s and 1960s. During this time, the rebels of the French new wave broke all the rules and reinvented the language of film. “The 400 Blows,” “Band of Outsiders,” “La Jetée” and “Hiroshima Mon Amour” are all impressive, convention-shattering films that feel fresh even today. For something more classic, Jean Cocteau can’t be beaten, and his surreal “Orpic Trilogy” and “La Belle et la Bête” (the best “Beauty and the Beast” adaptation) should not be missed. There are some fantastic modern French-language films as well, like “The Three Colors Trilogy,” a trio of incredible films that examine the meaning of the colors of the French flag through three separate but connected stories. Additionally, “Incendies” is a heartbreaking French-Canadian drama about two siblings searching for their father against the backdrop of civil war in the Middle East. This film has a great soundtrack featuring Radiohead and a devastating finalé.

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