Ingmar Bergman, Ang Lee, Hany Abu-Assad and the challenges of working in languages other than your own

Posted on October 17, 2019


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The last film by the Palestinian filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad — Head of the Jury, International Competition at Jio MAMI 21st Film Festival with Star — was The Mountain Between Us, where a surgeon and a journalist battle it out in the wilderness after a plane crash. Despite the high-profile cast (Idris Elba, Kate Winslet) and a much-feted filmmaker (his earlier features, Paradise Now and Omar, received Oscar nominations for Best Foreign Language Film), this survival drama was received with a modest shrug. Could it be the same issue that plagued, say, Asghar Farhadi, who made the rapturously received A Separation and The Salesman (Farhadi is one of a handful of filmmakers who’s won two Academy Awards for Best Foreign Film) before underwhelming the world with Everybody Knows, starring Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz? This was Farhadi’s first film shot outside his native country, Iran, and in Spanish, to boot. Similarly, Abu-Assad’s earlier films were about Palestinians. The Mountain Between Us was his first English-language feature.

Is rootedness — in terms of milieu and language — a necessity for filmmakers to make memorable cinema? Bong Joon-Ho would vehemently say no. The South Korean auteur’s first English feature, Snowpiercer, was a stylish, fascinatingly bizarre and utterly original dystopian thriller that earned some of the best reviews of the year. Newsday called it “a summer movie with a social conscience”, which is the highest kind of compliment in this templated, Marvel/DC-oriented, tentpole-movie era. After his acclaimed Europa trilogy, Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier turned to English in Breaking The Waves, which won the Grand Prix at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival and showcased his Dogme 95 manifesto — the filmmaking philosophy which demands practically no artifice; it could loosely be described as the love child of the documentary and neorealist cinema — to stunned art-house patrons around the world.

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