Don't let the world of foreign language TV and film pass you by
There tends to be an assumption across the English-speaking world that we produce the best TV and film. We may grudgingly concede that Europe and Asia have some of the best cuisine and art, but when it comes to visual media like cinema and television then we think we have it licked.
Let's face it: we often just can't be bothered with "foreign stuff" when we have such an abundance of media available for easy consumption in our native language. Why go out of the way to find that little sushi place when McDonalds is on every high street?
In the UK we have the BBC, which we are rightly proud of, and access to a wide range of commercial channels. Yet ask yourself how many non-English TV shows are broadcast on British TV. Not many. We have a wealth of US imports available on our TV stations,some high quality, some not, but almost nothing from Europe and the wider world. Is it really the case they have nothing to offer us of value at all?
Luckily in recent years the BBC has slightly bucked the trend. In 2006 it screened the excellent French police drama series 'Engrenages', broadcasting it under the name of 'Spiral' on BBC4 (the original French title literally translates as 'gears' but 'spiral' equally conveys the labyrinthine nature of its plot). It also showed the brilliant Danish social crime drama Forbrydelsen ('The Killing') that took one crime and looked at the repercussions this shocking event had for everyone involved with the victim.
More recently BBC2 has been showing another excellent police drama, this time from Sweden, called 'Wallander' (though only after showing a British remake starring Kenneth Brannagh before hand). Both these series are as good as the best UK dramas and also have the added bonus of giving us a glimpse into a different culture. As Salman Rushdie once noted, "Fictions are lies that tell the truth" and it is through fiction we often perceive a greater truth. 'Spiral' was an eye-opener on the French judicial process and 'Wallander' has made me realise that Britain and Sweden face the same social concerns.
Sky Arts have also had some great foreign drama shows, such as the Israeli series 'Prisoners of War' (which inspired US drama Homeland); Italian Mafia/gangster drama 'Romanzo Criminale' and 'Gomorrah' and more recently 'The Legacy'.
Of course it's not just TV; there is also a rich world of foreign language cinema waiting to be viewed. It seems that any successful 'foreign' drama gets a Hollywood remake, and yet these are invariably inferior to the original. Why view a facsimile when the original is more vibrant? In recent years some of the best films made have come from outside Hollywood.
Directors such as Alejandro González Iñárritu, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Michael Haneke, Guillermo del Toro and Chan-wook Park have all, in their own ways, made films that match or exceed the best English language films of the same period. So don't just presume sub-titles mean a film is sub-standard, give them a chance and open your eyes to the bigger world that's out there waiting to be discovered.