Many languages are studied here at St Andrews. Whilst I am shamefully singularly lingual, (although hopefully not forever, because I have now downloaded the Duolingo app to my phone) I am here to offer some foreign language TV and Film highlights. I have only selected TV and Film in the languages on offer at the university, but of course there so many other great finds out there. For example, check out The Guardian’s “How Turkish TV is taking over the world” for an interesting read and further inspiration. Or click on over to the Walter Presents page on Channel 4, and gaze upon the bountiful amounts of world drama that has been carefully curated for your televisual enjoyment.
Whether you are learning a language, or just looking for something that will make you sound cultured at dinner parties, I hope you enjoy my favourite foreign language pickings.
For Arabic, I’ve picked a few different films to cover just a few of the many dialects.
First up is West Beirut in Lebanese Arabic. Set in 1975 at the outbreak of civil war, the film follows high schooler Tarek and his friend Omar. Together they make Super 8 movies in the now partitioned Beirut. As the film progresses and Tarek grows up, the war-torn landscape he saw as an adventure land reveals itself as a tragedy.
Blessed Benefit is in Jordanian Arabic and is a comedy set in a prison. The film follows Ahmed who finds himself incarcerated after an unfortunate business deal. There he meets Ibrahim who may just be his only chance to prove his innocence. Yet as this unfolds Ahmed begins to think that his life on the inside is better than that on the outside.
Finally, The Mummy, also released as The Night of Counting the Years, is a 1969 Egyptian film in Standard Modern Arabic. Set a year before the start of colonial rule in 1881, The Mummy follows an Upper-Egyptian clan that robs a cache of mummies and sells on the artefacts. As the film continues conflicts amongst the group simmer and drive the plot forward.
The Thick of It but less-shouty and more-scary. That is how I would describe the French political thriller, Spin. It begins with the French president being killed in a suicide-attack. The presidential campaign that follows in the wake of this forms the intrigue of the first season. Spin doctors of each respective candidate do what it takes to propel their horse in the raise to victory. All three seasons are available on All 4 through Walter Presents
An 80s aesthetic? Yes. An 80s soundtrack? Yes. What more could you want? Nothing.
This is where Deutschland 83 comes in to serve your needs. Deutschland 83 was a big hit in 2015 when it was first released but it has since been followed with a second series, Deutschland 86, and there is also a Deutschland 89 in the works. The Deutschland series sees a 24-year old resident of East-Germany, Martin Rauch, sent west across the wall as a spy for the Stasi’s foreign intelligence agency the HVA. The show comes from the husband and wife team of American novelist Anna Winger and German TV producer Joerg Winger. This is a thrilling piece of TV that immerses you into that tense and fractious setting of a divided Germany. This German masterpiece is another boxset you can find on Walter Presents.
Baby is an Italian teen drama. It debuted last year on Netflix and is still available on the platform. The series follows students at an elite private school in Rome. Two friends, Chiara and Ludovica, become involved in a prostitution ring. It is loosely based on a real case named Baby Squillo where a real underage prostitution ring was uncovered in Rome’s wealthy Parioli district in 2014. The show has come under criticism for glamourizing underage prostitution by placing it in the context of luxury and excess. However, as the show goes on it begins to reverse and undermine this image. Season two airs later this month so there will be plenty of Italian language drama to get your teeth stuck into.
Talking of getting your teeth stuck into things… A Girl Walks Home Alone at Nightis a 2014 Persian vampire movie by Iranian-American writer-director Ana Lily Amirpour. Set in a fictional Iranian ghost-town called Bad City, the townspeople are unaware that they are being followed by a lonesome vampire. Amirpour herself, has described the film as the “Iranian love-child of Sergio Leone and David Lynch, with Nosferatu as a babysitter” and I think that may just give you a better feel for the atmospheric piece than anything I could write. The film stars, Arash, a young hard toiling man who has to look after his heroin-addled father, Hossein. All this whilst being harassed by a cruel drug-dealer and pimp named Saeed. The film also stars actress and performance artist Vand. This eerie and lithe piece plays with ideas of East and West in a way that adds new depth to the film.
Dovlatov is a biographical film about the writer Sergei of the same surname. Sergei Dovlatov was one of the most popular Russian writers of the late 20thcentury and also worked as a journalist and this film serves as a thorough character study of the figure. The film centers on a few days in the life of the writer in 1971 Leningrad as his friend, the writer Joseph Brodsky, is about to flee the country. As of yet unrecognized, the Dovlatov of the film is still trying to get published. But as a dissident writer in the rigid Soviet Union, he is having little success. A fan of irony and not a fan of writing about the glories of Socialist Man, Dovlatov is heavily censored and finds himself unable to join the Writers Guild. The film also looks at the troubles unfolding in his personal life. It is an interesting portrait of a man whose success only came towards the end of his short life and the film boasts beautiful tracking shots of the land that was keeping his voice unheard.
And finally, we move on to Spain. Despite the warm climes this thriller is just as chilling as any Scandi-noir. Night and Day is set in Barcelona and follows a forensic pathologist, Sara, who is having a number of affairs behind her husband’s back and resisting his urge to start a family. This darker side is masked by a surface of career success and superficial marital bliss. At work, she is examining bodies who had died in a car crash, when she realizes that one of the men is someone she had slept with. This revelation leads her down a dangerous path into the criminal world surrounding an elusive killer.