Yes, it’s that time of year again. The movie awards season is finally coming to an end. On March 27 2022, the very best of the film industry drive back home with a bunch of Oscars under their arm. While most people will tune in for the movies or the dresses, the Academy Awards is also a great event for language-lovers, an opportunity to find out what the best foreign films are according to Oscar, and more importantly, what you can learn from them.
In this article, we will delve deep into the five nominees for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars and tell you how you can turn them into language-learning resources.
Drive My Car – Japanese (HBO Max)
When South Korean film director Bong Joon Ho picked up his award for Best Foreign Film at the 2020 Oscars, he spoke for many of us when he said, “When people are finally able to overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, they will be introduced to so many more amazing movies”. Looking at how strong the Foreign Language category is this year, it’s hard to disagree with him.
You may not think that a Japanese 3-hour-long epic tale of love and grief based on a celebrated short story by Haruki Murakami is a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon, but you would be wrong.
Ryūsuke Hamaguchi’s ‘Drive My Car’ follows a theater director’s grief process as he comes to terms with the death of his wife while working on a multilingual adaptation of a play by Chekhov in Hiroshima. Since its release, the movie has earned spectacular reviews from critics, who called it “engrossing”, “throat-catchingly beautiful”, and “cathartic”. Find it in cinemas or streaming platforms and find out why.
Tip for practicing Japanese with this film:
- Japanese movies have some of the best, wisest quotes in world cinema. Every time you hear a short phrase that you like, go back a few seconds, play it again (this time with Japanese subtitles), and repeat it. Do this a few times while thinking about the meaning of what you are saying.
For example, you can try this quote:
“My hardships might even be greater than yours but I don’t give in to despair.”
Watashi no kurushimi wa anata no kurushimi yori mo ōkī kamo shiremasenga, watashi wa zetsubō ni kusshimasen.
Flee – Danish (Amazon Prime, Hulu, Apple TV+)
The Best Foreign Films Category at the Oscars would not be complete without a Danish gem. After ‘Queen of Hearts’ (2020) and ‘Another Round’ (2021), the Danish film community has decided to surprise the Academy by submitting a documentary feature pieced together from archival footage and unique animation
In Flee, director Jonas Poher Rasmussen follows the life of a man named Amin Nawabi, who fled Afghanistan to take refuge in Copenhagen, creating a memoir in the form of a film so intense and visually striking that it will leave you breathless.
Tip for practicing Danish with this film:
- Choose a scene from the film and watch with English subtitles first, then with Danish subtitles. Look for words from both languages which seem to have derived from the same linguistic roots.
“We have no idea what’s going to happen. to us. Nobody tells us anything. The journalists come and film us. We hope something will happen, but no. They go home to make TV programmes… But nothing really happens. It’s just us and the guards.”
Vi aner ikke, hvad der skal ske. til os. Ingen fortæller os noget. Journalisterne kommer og filmer os. Vi håber, der sker noget, men nej. De tager hjem for at lave tv-programmer… Men der sker ikke rigtig noget. Det er kun os og vagterne.
Are there any common words that are completely different in both languages?
- Keep a vocabulary bank with all the words you learn from the foreign films you watch at home.
The Hand of God – Italian (Netflix)
If the name Paolo Sorrentino sounds familiar to you, you’ve probably seen his previous masterpiece, La grande bellezza, ‘The Great Beauty’, which won the Best Foreign Film Category at the 2014 Oscars. This year, he has returned with a movie that critics describe as a “quiet masterpiece”: È stata la mano di Dio.
This simple yet heartwarming film, described by Sorrentino as his most personal work to date, is a coming-of-age tale set in 80’s Naples which follows the story of a teenage boy who is forced to grow up too soon when his family is stricken by tragedy.
Tip for learning Italian with this film:
- While you watch The Hand of God, notice the way Italians pronounce their plosive sounds; i.e., /p/, /t/, /k/.
“Amore non correre!”
“Non ti preoccupa’ mà”
While these sounds are heavily aspirated in English (which means an audible puff of air is involved in its production), they are unaspirated in Italian.
Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom – Dzongkha Bhutan (Amazon Prime Video, Vudu Movie & TV Store, Apple TV)
Lunana, the first-ever film from Bhutan to garner a nomination at the Oscars, was actually submitted last year, but the Academy decided to disqualify it because Bhutan hadn’t submitted any entries in more than 20 years. This time around, however, they reconsidered their initial decision and invited the Bhutan film community to submit it again.
The film, which is one of those slice-of-life dramas we rarely see anymore in American theaters, follows the story of a man whose dream is to move to Australia to become a singer.
However, in order to achieve this, he must first take a job teaching in a glacial Himalayan town called Lunana where we will find no electricity and no textbooks, but where he will begin an amazing spiritual journey.
Tip for practicing Dzongkha with this film.
- Since Dzongkha is a little-known language, the best thing you can do is set achievable goals. Every time you hear an everyday word or phrase such as kuzoo zangpo (hello), kadrin chhe la (thank you), or even inn and men (yes and no), go back, play the scene again with Dzongkha subtitles, and write the words down. This way, you’ll have a small glossary of common “Bhutanese” vocabulary.
The Worst Person in the World – Norwegian (Watch in theaters)
Joachim Trier’s Verdens verste menneske is not only one of the best foreign films at the Oscars this year — it’s simply one of the best character-driven dramas we’ve seen in theatres in a long time in any language.
Julie is turning thirty and her life is an existential mess. She has already wasted her best years by choosing the wrong career, and her boyfriend Aksel, a successful graphic novelist older than her, pressures her to settle down. One night, she crashes a bachelorette party, meets the young and charming Eivind, and they spend the rest of the night wandering around the city and talking about their deepest dreams and fears. It doesn’t take long for her to break up with Aksel and embark on a new relationship in the hope that her life will gain a new perspective. However, she will have to realize that happiness is not something that she can find in other people.
The film, which received a nomination for Best Original Screenplay as well as being the frontrunner for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars, is a thrilling, much-needed revitalization of the romantic comedy, with a melancholy, pensive feel to it.
Tip for learning Norwegian with this film
- This movie is positively filled with delicious quotes about emotions and relationships. Every time you hear a quote you like, play the scene again with Norwegian subtitles and write it down in a notebook or — better still — pin them on a wall or piece of furniture you will see every day.
These are my favorite quotes:
Jeg var alltid bekymret for at noe skulle gå galt, men de tingene som gikk galt var aldri det jeg bekymret meg for.
“I always worried something would go wrong, but the things that went wrong were never what I worried about.”
Dette er kjernen i forholdet vårt. Alt vi føler, må vi sette ord på. Noen ganger vil jeg bare føle ting.
“This is the crux of our relationship. Everything we feel, we have to put into words. Sometimes, I just want to feel things.”
So, which of the Best Foreign Films at this year’s Oscars will you be rooting for?
If, after checking out the great titles in this list you feel inspired to delve deeper into any of the languages we’ve been talking about, don’t hesitate to send us a quick message. At Listen & Learn, we work with native teachers who specialize in coming up with the best tailor-made courses for students of all levels.
All you have to do is say what language you’re interested in, and we’ll immediately pair you up with a professional tutor for a free trial lesson. What are you waiting for? Let’s get started!