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Phew! The month of foreign language media only has ended. This past week was the most difficult because I found myself tempted by more English media than usual.

During my last hours of the challenge, I snacked on a movie in Hebrew and Arabic called The Attack, and before bed I read some of a children’s novel called Der Verzauberte Garten. For dessert, as I always do before going to sleep, I practiced some language flashcards.

Although the challenge is technically finished as of now, I’ll be happy to continue some of these habits. The German novel isn’t going to read itself, right? As I mentioned before, I’m starting a less intensive challenge in which I watch all the foreign films made available to me by my library. I’m still on A. (I’m not sure yet whether I’ll write about it here.) Of course, there’s also the Korean TV drama I’ve been watching forever.

Many activities left over from the challenge remained the same today. I did a short French lesson in the morning, watched Scrubs, and worked on The Novel. The only difference is I’m doing most of this in English. It feels better on my brain.

On to the post-challenge Q&A!

bannerbaseWas it ever surreal experiencing things in another language? Was it surreal experiencing things in English when the challenge was over?

For both questions, Yes and No.

Subtitles were a big help during the challenge, but sometimes I felt I didn’t need them. Since I’ve been getting to know Korean through television shows, I often forget I need to look at the subtitles at all. Especially for very simple dialogue, such as “Thank you” and “That’s right.” In a well-made drama, get so acquainted with the characters that dialogue seems unimportant. When watching a movie in Korean, however, I strained more to see the dialogue because I didn’t know the plot as well. One time, though, I didn’t need the subtitles when someone said, “감사합니다.” Needless to say, I felt smart.

It was more surreal watching The Attack because I currently know no words in Hebrew or Arabic (or Hindi, for the record). When a character said a simple “Yes,” it confounded me!

Basically, watching anything in another language sounds a lot like the following video. You know what they’re saying probably makes sense in some form, and eventually you forget about the words because you’ve been sucked into the drama that is human existence.

Since the challenge ended, I’ve had moments of awe when I realize, “You mean I can read this without straining to remember vocab?!”

I’d been listening to Scrubs in German all month, so this morning was a little weird. There was a moment in an episode today (auf Englisch) where JD shouted, “That’s my pudding, Omar!” in Turkish for the sake of the joke. I had to stop my DVD and ponder over my breakfast. “He spoke another language, right? I’m not having a language hangover, right?”

Did you ever find yourself thinking in another language?

A few times, yes.

Sometimes, when I was really tired, my brain babbled French sounds.

For a week or so, my thoughts began with German sentences. Some days, I expected to speak this language accidentally to a poor, unsuspecting person. To my dismay, it never happened. I’d like to continue confusing my inner monologue, though, so I’m going to continue taking in more German.

The day after I wrote about Wings of Desire, I had “Als das Kind Kind war…” in my head. Every time I looked at a children’s book, Bruno Ganz decided to follow me everywhere.

Did you get tired of any particular language or form of media?

I got really tired of French movies and serious movies, particularly the serious French movies. I don’t usually watch a lot of films, so maybe I simply burnt out on them. My preference tends to lean toward action and comedy anyway.

What did you learn from this challenge?

English is difficult to ignore. Even if you live in a country where people don’t commonly speak it, it could still pop up. It could be quoted for fun in a TV show, it could be used for advertisements, American movies may be available anywhere, and then there’s the internet. English is rampant on the internet.

Why did you cheat a little?

I’m addicted to Starcraft! *breaks down crying*

Did you learn anything specific about a culture?

Antardwand was perhaps the most eye-opening culturally. It’s about people who are forced into a marriage neither one desires, which, according to internet research on the film, may still happen in some parts of rural India. This was by far the saddest film I saw this whole challenge and I never want to see it again. On the plus side, it shows the visual beauty of India and its people much better than any Bollywood film I’ve ever seen.

Which were the best films of this challenge?

Here’s a list of all the movies I watched (alphabetical order) along with my picky 1-4 star rating (4 being supurb, 3 being good, 2 being meh, and 1 meaning I couldn’t even finish it) and the languages they were in:

**** Adam’s Apples (Adams Æbler) – Danish
*** Alias Betty – French
*** Amador – Spanish
** Amarcord – Italian
**** Amores Perros – Spanish
*** Amour – French
*** Antardwand – Hindi
* Apna Sapna Money Money – Hindi
*** Après Vous – French
*** The Assailant (Besouro) – Brazilian Portuguese
*** The Assault – French
*** The Attack – Hebrew and Arabic
** Augustine – French
*** The Host – Korean
**** Wings of Desire (Der Himmel über Berlin) – German

Apologies to the Fellini fans. I just wasn’t into it.

You’ll notice most of the above are in European languages. (Only 5/15 of these movies weren’t from Europe.) I took every foreign film available at one of my libraries. Films in other languages may have been checked out at the time. It all depended on what was there the day I visited the library as well as where I was in the alphabet. (Right now, I’m on Au. Oy vey.)

These are the TV shows I made some good headway in (alphabetical order and languages, no ratings):

Attack on Titan – Japanese
Big – Korean
Sailor Moon – Japanese
Scrubs – German dub

Now let me tell you something about my absolute favorite movies, Wings of Desire, Après Vous, and Adams Æbler. They have good balance between comedy, drama and general intrigue.

Everyone should see Après Vous for the lobster scene alone. Do it for the lobster! This movie had such wonderful situational and physical comedy that subtitles aren’t even needed.

Wings of Desire, as I wrote before, is part of me. You should take this film every ten years or so. Like medicine.

I neglected to write about Adams Æbler in earlier posts because I was, for the longest time, on the verge of a long rant. I. Loved. This. Movie. It looks like a situational comedy, and it kind of is; a neo-Nazi must serve parole at a parish only to join a priest in denial, a vengeful Middle Eastern, and an alcoholic klepto in shenanigans as violent as they are Biblical. This isn’t your American, feel-good Christian movie. This has lots of swearing, impure events, guns, and violence. It’s also one of the best representations on the difficulties and rewards of Christian love that now all my feels are returning and I need to stop writing about it. If you practice any sort of monotheistic religion, simply believe in God, or don’t believe in God at all, you’ll enjoy this movie. It’s hilarious, shocking, and thought-provoking. Just watch it.

What did you enjoy most in this challenge?

Big, a Korean television drama I was going to watch with or without this challenge, has been the most enjoyable. As of today, I’m only 75% of the way through it because I keep forgetting how intense these shows are. A lot of K-dramas I’ve encountered pack an entire series in a single season.

I highly recommend this show, even to people who aren’t accustomed to K-drama. It’s on Viki.com and Hulu.com. The Gong Yoo’s (male lead) acting has gotten so much better than I last saw him in Coffee Prince, and Lee Min Jung (female lead) is my new darling. Each of these actors are able to show and excellent mix of comedy and drama.

Surprisingly, I enjoyed packing on more German vocabulary. I can’t burn out on this language as easily as French. It’s really, really cool encountering this vocab in real life situations. The same day I added the word “überhaupt” to my flashcards for Der Verzuberte Garten, I found it in an online comment. The same day!

Much of my other vocab was found in Wings of Desire. I don’t know what’s more adorable than a child saying, “Ich glaub, er ist besoffen.” (I think he’s drunk.) “Drunk” was the word I’d learned. Hooray!

What did you dislike most in this challenge?

I’m a little burnt out on movies. Sooooo many movies.

I’m also disappointed at how little material I read in other languages. Next time, I’ll do better.

Also, never combine wine with Doritos. Don’t.

Did your own foreign language skills improve?

I want to believe my French is improving. (It’s not.)

My German listening improved! My speaking confidence, however, is still terrible. Speaking happens better with practice, not so much from watching movies.

What did you read?

Well, I didn’t get to read as much foreign language as I wanted. Most of the time, I was reading my novel. (Editing’s a bitch.) Books made for German learners was a treat because I have the basics down. It was good for my ego.

Otherwise, I splurged on lanuage learning blogs (listed as an exception in the intro post). Sooooooo many blogs. I’m tired of them.

While at work one day, I made a fantastic discovery.

Mr. Wuffles!Mr. Wuffles is a children’s picture book about a bored cat who finds intruders in his house. Most of the dialogue is in an unknown language. If you can read this book without thinking, “WTF? This is so stupid,” then I think you would enjoy doing your own version of this challenge.

What music did you hear?

Oh, right. Music. Music was the least-stressful part of the challenge because I have plenty of it. I’m also more accustomed to hearing a great variety. (Your author has been known to rock out to European Renaissance music in Latin.) After ranting about not finding anything hip in week 2, I came across a compilation of Italian pop/rock and a publication of lullabies from around the world. Those were the best finds.

Here a good representation of what I’ve heard and liked overall. (I had to squeeze Balkan Beat Box in here somehow!)

<iframe width=”420″ height=”315″ src=”//www.youtube.com/embed/zJCBgUSs27w?rel=0″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen>

You wrote that you wanted to see a change in how you perceived the world. Did this come true?

After watching all the drama movies lifted above, everything seems depressing. On the plus side, my own life seems happier in comparison.

One feature of any foreign drama that I noticed was silence. Silence has much more meaning when the best social cues available to you are visual, not spoken. When there were silent moments in my own life, the mundaneness was highlighted and I paused to find meaning. There was no meaning. I was, perhaps, only having a Truman Show moment.

Will you do this challenge again sometime?

Absolutely!

I hope to do this again when I’m no longer living with my family. Their own television habits didn’t stop on account of me, and at times it was frustrating to hear English when I didn’t want to.

I could see doing this for shorter spurts, as well, like one or two weeks. Perhaps when I need to get a head start on editing. I loved the brain scrub this challenge gave me.

Do you recommend this challenge to others?

I do recommend this challenge if you…

  • are learning one or two languages and want to make some improvement
  • can’t decide which language to learn and want to sample everything
  • think your life/country is boring and want to experience something different
  • have been told you need to be more sensitive to other cultures
  • are working on a big project and have trouble clearing your mind
  • like doing strange, themed reading challenges

How difficult was this challenge?

If you have a public library and the internet, it’s incredibly easy to find foreign language material. You simply have to WANT to experience it.

I would also like to give you two links from language learning blogs. In It’s Time To De-Bullshitize What Language Immersion Means, we read about how the concept of immersion isn’t so narrow or controlled as you want to believe. In The Not So Fun Side of Language Learning, we’re reminded of the effort it takes to learn anything, whether it’s fun or not.

What’s next for you?

What has two thumbs and a crap-ton of season premiers to catch up on? Bob Kelso.

My next challenges won’t actually be written about on this blog. Basically, I’ll be preparing for NaNoWriMo, participating in NaNoWriMo, and cleaning up all the shit I wrote during NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo.

Thanks for reading! If you make your own Foreign Language Only Month, tell me all about it!

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Today, another migraine was upon me. Instead of blaming everything I ate last weekend, I’m going to blame French subtitles.

bannerbaseOne fun experience I had planned for this month was to watch an American-made movie dubbed in French. Because I’m intrigued by the idea of a French Jack Sparrow, I chose Pirates of the Caribbean. To heighten the experience, I also chose French subtitles. As it turns out, the dubbing doesn’t completely match the subtitles word-for-word. I’m only a little disappointed; subs and dubs shared the same idea behind the dialogue, and the same nouns were used within both. I’ve seen POTC a few times, but not recently enough to remember most dialogue or the sequence of scenes. Despite my awful vocabulary, I was able to understand what was going on.

I remembered the following random quotes from the original:

Elizabeth: I can’t breathe. (falls off the balcony)

and

Jack: Easy with the goods, love.

and

Will: My blood.

I have no idea whether Jack is funny en français, but the physical comedy is still good. All of the actors in this film who have speaking roles are still quite good. I can’t say so much for the extras. Watching POTC in a foreign language certainly separates the talented from the cheap. I made it one hour in before my brain began to melt. I likely won’t watch this again in French, but the nostalgia trip was fantastic.

Speaking of nostalgia, I finally got to rewatch Wings of Desire (Der Himmel über Berlin)! This movie/film is terribly sentimental to me, and I had no idea how much until I experienced it again after leaving behind high school German class living with its fleeting memories. I’d remembered how the story followed angels who listened to people’s thoughts, and how one angel fell in love. I remembered the circus, the black and white filming, and the wings of the Siegessäule. If the following trailer tickles your fancy the slightest bit, please find it and watch it.

With some movies I’ve seen this month, I’ve watched them in chunks, at night, just before going to bed. It took me four days to see Wings of Desire. With some movies, the mood is gone when I return the following night. Watching this one, however, for even ten minutes gives one a sublime sense of peace. It makes one almost feel pure. The scene at the library is, by far, my favorite. The choral music best describes what I, or perhaps any book-lover, experiences at a library. After having studied dance, the character Marion’s efforts are dear to my heart. The best part of all, besides Damiel’s real-life experience, is seeing Cassiel close his eyes and rest is head on a human’s shoulders.

Something odd happened halfway through watching. I realized I’d begun to write down intriguing quotes, just as the angels were writing about the humans. When Damiel finished, it was the biggest déjà vu moment of my life. I’d written the same quote, somewhere, in my notebook in high school after seeing this movie for the first time.

Ich weiss jetzt,

Was kein Engel weiss.

I remembered exactly the pacing with which he said it. I remembered repeating the phrase in my mind after writing it. I remember physically writing it! It’s an understatement to say Der Himmel über Berlin is a part of me. This isn’t just a movie. It’s a film. A documentary. A visual journal. A single stream of many lives. I could go on!

To help me hone in on this point for you, here is a publication of articles (in .pdf) about Point of View within this film. Don’t be jarred by the scholarly print; it’s a good read.

Is this challenge over yet? I’m spent. On the 16th, I’ll return for the conclusion of this challenge.



You sat behind me today. You sat behind most of us. When the movie ended, the whole theater was talking about you because you wouldn’t stop talking during the movie.

I had no idea what age you were. I didn’t know how many you were. All I knew was that you were women; sometimes people can pick out these things. I’m not judging you because of this. (In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a woman, too. Hi, how ya doin’?) In fact, I’m not even judging you. I’m simply remembering how, one day, I paid money to see an award-winning drama that I adore with at least fifty other people who were doing the same. The experience was transcendent. We soon discovered why it has been sold out. Our ears rang with the masterpiece, but then, if I may quote the film, “You were there—yes, you were there.”

As soon as the opening made itself known to us, you found it a good time to rustle every item on your person. You also found the entire length of the movie to speak openly and giggle amongst yourselves. This made me believe you were teenaged girls who needed to crack jokes because you were uncomfortable with the weight of the story.

Soon into the show, I knew the size of your cylinder of popcorn and enormous soft drink by the echoing sound of their emptiness. Place them somewhere when you’re done with them. You thought it best to make narrations about the obvious. My mother does this at home but has the public decency to not regale an audience in what they can figure out for themselves. One of you even used the old classic, “What’s that actor’s name—the one who’s starring in this film? He won an award for such-and-such….” and later thought it well to ask someone else who that actor’s name is while those very credits were rolling before your eyes. When I finally turned around during the credits, there you were, all three of you middle-aged ladies. Funny; by the noise you were making, I thought there were at least seven of you.

I’m trying to figure you out. Really. Your participation today might have been a combination of your age, your sex, or your sense of care-freeness because you were out with friends. But here’s the thing: kindly shut up. The thing is, you’re sharing this room with everyone else. We, who are also in the room, were fine with you (or anyone else) getting up to go to the bathroom. The less, the merrier. We’re fine with your quieted reactions mingling with the breath of the crowd. It’s good to know that you’re feeling the movie as we are. We’re also fine with you eating your popcorn. The crunch is part of the movie experience we know we must bear even when we don’t partake. We even appreciate your nose-blowing through tears because, in the darkness, we’re doing the same.

What the people around you are NOT fine with is how you blatantly pull our attention away from the magic before us. Your immature comments and constant quizzing of where the characters are need not be spoken so loudly. In fact, they need not be spoken at all.

Think of a movie theater as a theatre theater. This is live. No one can pause or rewind. You’re packed in a crowded place, rubbing elbows with people who don’t care to hear your opinions before they’ve seen enough to form their own. We didn’t pay to sit near you; we paid to have our minds taken away from ourselves by something others spent so much time and money on to produce for us.

If you have to talk during a movie, save your money and save the public. Rent it to see at home where you aren’t rude.



I just saw one of the best films of the year. Let me tell you about it, and forgive me if I change tenses for my sleep has been deprived by this musical recently.

Warning: This review contains spoilers! Go see the movie so we can all have a good time in this review, okay?

Disclaimer: This is a personal review for entertainment purposes. I am not being paid to write this. Discussions are encouraged.

When I first saw trailers for this new adaptation of Les Misérables, several things crossed my mind.

1. “Castle On A Cloud? Castle On A Cloud is in a commercial! ZOMG ZOMG ZOMG ZOMG.” You see, all the movie commercials I saw on television and the internet (not counting the trailer for theaters) began with the main theme of that one song. It’s the calling card for us Les Miser-ites.

2. “Anne Hathaway can sing?” Yes. Yes, she can.

3. “Who on earth could play Thenardier?” Would you believe Steve Buscemi was my answer to myself?

4. “Hugh Jackman? Not that guy again.”

Dear Mr. Jackman, I humbly apologize for doubting you. For a good part of the film, you are unrecognizable to me. And, boy, you have some fine pipes! I take back all the sneering I did during your Wolverine fame. (My Wolverine wears yellow spandex and grunts when he breathes, thank you.) I take back my lack of awe at your singing in Happy Feet. During What Have I Done?, you fly out of the screen and touch the men and women whose hearts are God’s.

Ever since I first heard of Les Mis from the original London cast’s 10th anniversary special (better known as The Dream Cast in Concert), and ever since I first heard the original cast recording, I’ve been spoiled by Colm Wilkinson (Valjean) and Roger Allam (Javert). After spending a whole week reliving these casts and then watching  the new film yesterday, I must say Jackman is my new Valjean. My One True Valjean. (OTV, if you please.) Terribly sorry, Wilkinson, old buddy, for causing you shame among my own imaginary dream cast, but I’m sure you’re in everyone else’s.

As for Ms. Hathaway, let me be clear. Before this film, the character Fantine was nothing more than a good singer in a bad wig. (Thank you, The Dream Cast in Concert.) I had never seen the tragedy surrounding her character but could tell what was happening to her based on the lyrics and lull of her songs. Hathaway tears apart my conceptions about the role and, like Jackman, gives the character the uncanny dimension, causing her to look as though she’s coming out of the screen without any need for 3D effects. If I started crying during the bloody theatrical trailer from Fantine’s sorrow, Madame, your job is more than well done.

As with Hathaway, I had no idea Amanda Seyfried could sing nor who Samantha Barks was. Today, I know: yes she can, and that’s my girl! Being the type of person who only begrudgingly likes the hero and main romantic couple of any story, I can honestly say Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne (Marius) were impressive, Redmayne especially. Seyfried was quite a surprise, and as she sang I could hardly believe this was the same person who played the dumb blond in Mean Girls. Eponine has always been one of my favorite characters, and proof that my favorite always dies. Darling Barks has made herself a movie star.

The chorus isn’t as massive as what I’m used to hearing, and this impression may have been due to where I was sitting in the theater (the house’s back left corner) but they didn’t blend as well either. From this film’s start, we see it is a gritty experience; the emotions to come arrive in literal waves while Valjean is finishing his sentence. Because of this, the poor townspeople don’t need to be portrayed by a 100+ person choir. We can hear each individual, suffering voice.

And the Thenardiers? I wanted to be surprised as to who was playing them, for, as this is still Hollywood, they had to be graced by people who were already famous for movies. When I first spotted Helena Bonham Carter, it didn’t register that this was a role and not the person herself. The unkempt hair, though blonde, seems no more different from how I usually find her on talk shows, and the conniving personality of Madame Thendarier is similar to other characters I have seen her portray in other films.

Monsieur Thenardier was also familiar, but I couldn’t figure him out until the credits. I’m so used to Sacha Baron Cohen’s over the top performances that he isn’t recognizeable here. Thenardier and his wife are quite subtle compared to what I’m used to hearing. (See below.)

Although I have unfortunately never seen the musical on stage nor read the novel by Victor Hugo, I know the story well and have known it for years. It is long and filled with much material for graduate thesis (theses?), and so I won’t bore you with the three-paragraph synopsis I deleted from this post. If you haven’t seen it, see it. It’s one of those films that I’m sure shows you a new layer of complexity with every viewing.

Just yesterday, I was hit with the repeating musical themes. I knew before they were recycled (think Lovely Ladies and Turning) but after being able to sit down for two and a half hours to take it all in, this is much more impressive and agonizing. Take Come To Me. This recycles in On My Own. It’s not a reprise, for they’re sung on different subjects. The death of Fantine gives the theme more tragic undertones than it would have without the help of this repetition. It may foreshadow Eponine’s death (there’s a thesis option for you) and, while she’s living, revives a sorrow in the viewer that might not be fully realized without the theme. Eponine also repeats Fantine’s I Dreamed A Dream within One Day More. Javert repeats the theme from What Have I Done? in his soliloquy before his death. Composer Claude-Michel Schönberg continues to be celebrated for obvious reasons.

While no film is ever identical to its stage counterpart, I don’t mind that a few occurrences are rearranged. According to the original London cast recording, I Dreamed A Dream takes place before Fantine sells herself. I only realize now that this is different from the musical. Looking through some notes on the musical, minor plot points are indeed placed in different parts in the film, likely because the camera has the freedom to cut away to another scene quickly without having to cram all of the plot on one stage. The play, also, is probably much different from the novel.

As much as I had the desire to read the original Les Misérables (in English) before, that desire is strengthened now. I might discover subtleties in the novel that were revived in the new film, such as specific objects, a greater description of the atmosphere, or a larger look inside the characters. In watching this, I can appreciate the book much better–and vice versa.

My one and only disappointment is Russell Crowe. I’m sure he’s lovely in the other films he’s starred in (because, yes, A Beautiful Mind was quite good), but was there no one else to play Javert? Was there no one else?! (coughJonathancoughFreeman) Why, director Tom Hooper, why? If ‘Ponine is my favorite, Javert is my absolute favorite, and from this performance I feel a level of betrayal that only a fangirl can muster. I know I’m not alone in this.

Every single song in this musical is inspiring, but Crowe cannot be counted among the other stars. He’s missing the dynamics I’m used to hearing from Javert, and he just sounds tired throughout the film. He seems to be holding back. Even his physical features fall flat; the chorus in the background of every scene is more interesting than what is going on in Crowe’s Javert’s mind. To me, the character Javert always seemed to be more of a drill sergeant. (Perhaps this is different in the novel. I will find out someday.) I believe one could have put an actual drill sargeant with no singing talent on screen and he would have been better than what I saw in Crowe.

(Below, you can find the magnificent Roger Allam at 2:18.)

The only times Crowe jumps off the screen equal to the other actors are the following times: during the sword fight after Fantine’s death, when he is taken to a personal galley by Valjean and set free, and the moment Valjean passes him while carrying the unconscious Marius. Note that these times are both short and happening just after a crucial and moving moment. Before Javert is led away by Valjean, I was captivated by his suffering under the rebels, but to my credit I’m a sucker for that sort of drama. Is Crowe lettting his character piggyback on these moments or has the film been rearranged in such a way that it only seems this way? Perhaps, when singing, he wasn’t shown in such grotesque angles as Valjean and Fantine are. (I’ll have to see if this is true the next time I go to the theaters.) Maybe the director wanted to show him as a more rigid, unchanging man, but if this is the case then I disagree about its effectiveness; it didn’t work out well for Crowe.

For future reference, this is what a singer looks like (Philip Quast):

If you like history, see this movie. It is so much different from others that take place around this time that I, a costume junky, barely noticed what everyone was wearing. Most period movies I see require one to take in the magnificence of the visual designs—but not this one. The visuals are in the emotions that reach out to you through the screen. The visuals are the faces of the characters jumping towards you, and the history is in their suffering. I learned about what might have happened at the June Rebellion, and it revived my curiosity about French history.

If you like musicals, see this movie. Please note there are no song and dance numbers (unless Master of the House counts). I guarantee, though, that you will have a jolly good time. You will laugh, but you will cry much more, and then you will later laugh at how much you wanted to cry even still. You will also spend at least the next few days re-singing it to yourself until your voice goes hoarse.

If you like anyone who is well-known in Hollywood, see this movie. They will blow you away. There is already much Oscar talk, for Jackman and Hathaway especially, and so, if you want to take in the full effects of the film, see it now!

I wish to write more about this film, but I will save it for another day when I have researched it more.



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