About English as a lingua franca for film production

By Julio Nakamurakare
Herald Staff
If linguists speak of a global language or a lingua franca, that’s definitely English. With a number of speaker of 1B +, if you make a movie in Mandarin it will, most likely, be shelved and gather dust for years before a connoisseur labels it a masterpiece. If, on the other hand, your movie is shot in English (which comes second after Mandarin with a ratio of 2 to 1 speakers), chances are exposure will get close to a film made in an English-speaking country with native speaker performers.This is one of the unavoidable rules of filmmaking: if peripheral language films must be either dubbed or subtitled (two options that shut each other off depending on the corner of the global village we inhabit), the popularity and box office chances (not to mention major festival awards) start to thin out.

The logical conclusion (though not the only one) is to make a film deviced and spoken in English. Philosopher-linguist Umberto Eco once wrote, in a linguistics book, that if he writes an essay in Italian it takes months for it to reach the academic world at large. The solution was the same as in movies: he decided to write his works in English, thus avoiding the time-consuming task of translating and publishing in a foreign language.

Many filmmakers have made a successful transition from widely spoken or minority languages to English to exponentially enhance their commercial viability. Of late, it’s Latin American directors (more specificially, from Mexico) who have taken the lead, turning out critically acclaimed box office hits. Do the names of Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro González Iñárritu sound familiar? Next on the list will probably be Argentina’s Damián Szifron, whose Relatos salvajes (Wild Tales) became Argentina’s most seen picture in the history of local cinema, and a darling of the festival circuit. Today, Wild Tales will be competing for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Picture, trying to lure Academy voting members from the “more serious” Oscar material offered by Ida (Poland); the satirical Leviathan, a take on the old bureaucratic mores of the largest eastern bloc country (Russia); Tangerines, a war drama set in Georgia; and Timbuktu, a French-produced drama about peaceful villagers living away from the Jihadists but suddenly shaken by violence.

Of all five, Ida, a powerful drama drama about a young girl about to become a Catholic nun who learns, the day before taking her vows, that she is really Jewish, and that her family has died in the Holocaust, seemed to be the critics’ favourite.

But as voting day drew nearer, Szifron’s Wild Tales, the biggest crowd pleaser of the bunch, seems to have taken the lead, even if some detractors have challenged its “feature length” category because, in narrative terms, the film consists of six episodes themed around rage and revenge.

This is arguably the hardest year to predict the Best Picture and Best Foreign Picture choices, given that artistic merits go hand in hand with non-cinematic-specific reasons as social message and commitment.

Speaking of which, the civil rights movement-themed Martin Luther King biopic Selma has been incredibly neglected, with ethnic and social minorities underrepresented, to say the least, at this year’s Oscar lineup.

Tonight, may quality and a turn of good luck tip the balance toward one side or the other.


Comments are closed.