Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Total Immersion

When I first moved here I knew no Spanish whatsoever.  Mentira, I knew how to count to ten, say holacerveza, and ask the way to the bathroom by saying baño and pointing.  The rest was just fun little adventures along the way.  Talking to taxi drivers, the cashier in the grocery checkout line, the man who runs the copy machine room at school; basically, if people would talk to me, I would talk with them.

I enjoy going to movies, especially here where they are cheaper than in the US and have assigned seats.  The good dramatic fare doesn't always make it here and when it does one must be quick to catch it before it is off the marquee forever.  Most of the time what arrives here is slap-stick frat-boy comedies, cliché chick flick rom-coms, or cartoons.  I can't judge - I go and see them anyway, thus etching my "movie snob" title deeper in stone.

I crossed a milestone this year, however: I've seen two movies in Spanish, therefore without sub-titles of any kind, and understood most of what was going on.  Except for cartoons and other kid-friendly films, the rest are all subtitled in Spanish.  In previous years I've seen other foreign language films and gotten through them by reading the Spanish. (Reading comes easier to me for some reason than listening, perhaps due to a lack of dialect.) "La Vie en Rose" and "Entre les Murs" were slightly easier with my once decent French skills, while "Die Welle" in German was a bit of a head trip, but my brain survived.

Last month I went and saw the Colombian remake of the Robin Williams comedy "RV: Runaway Vacation" called "El Paseo" about a semi-dysfunctional family from Bogotá taking a roadtrip to Cartagena and their misadventures along the way.  In this particular film I had a hard time understanding the mother but, aside from a few slang terms, following the story was fairly easy and enjoyable.  I was also pleased when I laughed at jokes with the rest of the audience.  Score one for the gringo!

Last night I went to showing of a recent award-winning film at several international film festivals in Rome, Spain, and Chicago, called "Los Colores de la Montaña".  This drama takes place in a rural mountain community in the paisa region, so it is rugged, agricultural, and has breath-taking vistas wherever you turn.  It was also the scene of much paramilitary action, which is what the story is based around - how the influx of paramilitary presence affects the residents of this quiet community, the children, their school, their friends, and their parents.  It was a sad and ultimately tragic story, but one that is all too true and, thus, important to tell.  Coincidentally, I had a difficult time understanding the mother in this film too!  Fortunately, she is not the main character; that task falls on Manuel, the nine year old boy trying to figure out what is going on with his once peaceful village.  (The English-subtitled trailer is embedded  below this post.)

If you can find either of these, obviously with subtitles, I would recommend seeing them.  If anything, you can get a better sense of the stunning countryside I get the pleasure of seeing every time I travel.  Two other Colombian films worth checking out are "El Vuelco del Cangrejo", set in the poor Afro-Colombian Pacific region, and "Los Viajes del Viento", a beautiful story set in many places along the Caribbean coast.

Colombian cinema is an up-and-coming force to be reckoned with.  I'm just glad I'll be able to understand it!

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