“Wait, what just happened? Who’s that?” Any time you’ve heard someone say these words while watching a movie, you probably think, oh my gosh. Just watch the movie! Now imagine watching the movie in a foreign language.
While you might think this would cause unbearable annoyance, Assistant Professor of German Stephen Naumann and Professor of Theatre James Brandon argue that viewing such movies leads to something positive. With their annual German and Slavic film series, Naumann and Brandon are exploring important themes in foreign films, such as consumerism.
At 7 p.m. in Lane 123, the German film series will show four more movies over the course of September to December, and the Slavic film series will show three more movies throughout September and October.
The German film series is put on by the German honorary Delta Phi Alpha and overseen by Associate Professor of German Fred Yaniga. With Yaniga’s move to the head of the German department, Naumann now oversees the film series, though Yaniga is still involved. Naumann shares the responsibility of the Slavic film series with Brandon.
These films are “a great way of communicating human experience,” like the other fine arts, Naumann said. He added that the series “gives students the opportunity to learn about film a little more formally.”
Brandon said students should watch the movies to have “new experiences as a college student, intellectually, artistically, socially.” He added that watching a movie from a different vantage point allows one to “learn that there are other perspectives.”
Naumann likewise said that foreign films enlighten the audience by conveying what other countries think about various issues.
Naumann explained the difference between German comedies and the kind of comedy he said most Americans are used to.
“Unlike most American comedies, German comedies always have some underlying question that they’re asking, some deeper theme that they want to sort of poke at.”
One of the films already shown this semester was “100 Dinge,” a comedy which encompassed the idea of consumerism. Delta Phi Alpha’s president Emma Eisenman connected this movie to Hillsdale College in that its “underlying message” encompasses “what’s necessary for a good life.”
Eisenman added that German films in general can illustrate Germany’s mission to redefine itself after World War II, a mission which she observed during her time in Germany.
“Germany is turning itself around. I mean the borders have been opened and immigrants have come in and so many people are integrating into German culture. So, I think it is so important to remember the German history, remember what happened, and don’t forget about that, and it’s not a joke, it’s not something to be taken lightly. The wall fell November 9th, 1989, and since then, Germany has tried. They are trying to bring a new name for themselves. I think that’s reflected in films.”
For students who want a gentler introduction into foreign films, Brandon described the next Slavic film, “The Cuckoo,” as “a good introduction to watching foreign movies.” In “The Cuckoo,” one of this semester’s three remaining Slavic films, Brandon explained that even the characters are unfamiliar with one another’s languages. He added that this movie will dabble in the idea of audience empathy, in that viewers will not know which character they should identify with.
Naumann described the Slavic “dark comedy” “The Big Animal” as one that deals with the issues of “otherness and discrimination.” The black-and-white film centers on a couple whose neighbors ostracize them for having a camel as a pet. Naumann said the film’s theme would initiate “a great conversation.”
Naumann also pointed out a possible discrepancy between American and German or Slavic films.
“In the U.S. particularly, maybe because of what Hollywood is, we tend to view it as a pastime and not so much as an art form,” Naumann said.
He said he believes there may be a greater percentage of foreign films than American films that lead to “rewarding analysis.”
“I think more foreign films, percentage-wise, provide richer opportunities for rewarding analysis. In addition to that, there are fascinating insights into the cultures, languages, histories, and perspectives of the countries where the films are from,” he said.
Naumann said German films also serve to support “an active German program” that is not limited to in-class lectures. While he said he believes watching German films will benefit students studying German, he said any student, regardless of his or her background, can watch them. Subtitles allow for more people to join in the discussions, he added.
Eisenman said past movies in the film series have hit home for her.
“I’ve watched some movies where it was literally supposed to be just a chill night, and I walk out of it with some — wow — that really meant something to me, something pulled at me.”