Lost In (and Out) of Translation
May 19, 2007
After being too busy to update my Netflix queue, I found myself the recipient of multiple depressing foreign/art movies–a genre I like, but one that usually gets bumped progressively lower down the list in favor of teen sex comedies or now cancelled Fox comedy series. One of the movies that arrived was Michael Haneke’s La Pianiste (The Piano Teacher) based on the book Die Klavierspielerin by (not so wonderful, wonderful) nobel laureate Elfriede Jelinek. Considering the tendency toward the extreme betrayed by its creators (see: cache; don’t read: Women as Lovers), the movie is excellently understated. But one of the film’s most interesting elements is its language. Though the book is in German, and the movie takes place in Vienna, the movie’s spoken language is French. Of course, we do this all the time in American movies; for Hollywood, English is practically the official language of France. Still, considering that both Haneke and Jelinek are German speakers, the movie’s language is something to consider, and its use of German, usually confined to classical music and signs, is wonderful and always something to note.
Because of the language, the movie develops an outsider’s perspective of the city, which greatly aids The Piano Teacher. There’s something uniquely magical about the way locations are portrayed when filmed by foreigners. The location becomes more of an imagined idea of place than an actual place. Tokyo is probably not used as a trope for loneliness in Japanese cinema the way it is in American movies (although, considering Mr. Murakami’s novels, I’m sure Japanese directors also use this idea). And I imagine that even Paris isn’t always the site of romance in French movies, though it’s hard to think of an American movie where Paris doesn’t represent or evoke that ideal.
What I really want to see are more movies in foreign languages filmed in America. I want to see French movies that take place in New York, and Lars Von Trier movies that take place in Chicago. I think Wong Kar Wai would make an excellent movie in Little Rock. It’s time for America to be imagined as we’ve imagined others. If nothing else, we’ll get to see a different type of visual style used on familiar locales.