Watching foreign films

Scene 1: ‘Who’s that guy?  He’s so cool.  And what’s the name of the director again?’  The cool guy was Toshiro Mifune, a star made by Akira Kurosawa, the director whose name B wanted to know. The film was The Bad Sleep Well, and we were watching a sequence analysed by Tony Zhou on his fabulous Every Frame a Painting channel.  If you watch the clip, as we did, you’ll see Mifune set up a hapless work colleague with a suitcase of stolen cash, and sit back while their boss rumbles the colleague and sacks him.  Mifune does little more than glance from one to the other and then (‘I know I shouldn’t say it’s cool, but it just is’, said B) lights a cigarette.

Scene 2: with a different group, the London Nautical boys, 10 of them, with their teacher Chris Waugh, at BFI every Thursday after school.  We were watching the opening of Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Three Times, talking about spaces.  Ien had a number of different kinds of space that we hadn’t thought about: familiar and unfamiliar; the spaces of time cut out in ellipses; the space of the face.  We watched lead actress Shu Qi register the relationship between her and her two competing billiard players just by the smile on her face.  We noted the two takes that comprised the whole three minute sequence.

Scene 3: on Friday afternoon, clearing up with Sam Lawlor, the film tutor who is looking after the City Heights film group, he said ‘they really wanted to watch the Small Change clip again.’  This is 10 12 year olds asking to watch a sequence from Truffaut, in which a small child climbs out of a high rise window in search of his cat.

In each case, evidence that young people, none of them over 14, and none of whom would particularly call themselves cinephiles, showing real curiosity and engagement in what we call ‘specialised’ (and what others just call ‘foreign’) cinema – from 70, 40, and 10 years ago.

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