Wednesday, November 11, 2009


On Monday I unexpectedly ended up seeing the film Amreeka at The Grant Park theatre. I had heard good things about it, and was not disappointed.

It's about a Palestinian woman, Muna, who wins the green card lottery, and takes her son, Fadi to Illinois to live with her sister, Raghda. In America, she struggles to find work, and both her, her son, and her extended family face racism in the face of the Iraq war. The film takes a generally light hearted approach to some very serious subject matter, and it is something I appreciated. I think Hollywood too often portrays Arab individuals as stereotypes, most often as terrorists or suicide bombers. The film makes fun of this stereotype quite often, as the main characters are often accused of being both--and of course they are neither. They are normal people who just moved to a new country and are trying to adjust to a new life. I think Hollywood stereotypes play a huge role in people's perceptions of individuals and we forget that the roles Arab people are given in film is definitely not the role they fit in society, 99.999% of the time. It's hard for Middle Eastern actors to get work as "normal" characters, instead of extremists.

That being said, I just want to give a heads-up to people. The film is in both Arabic and English (though mostly in Arabic). I knew it was a Canadian film, and I assumed that after the characters came to America, the film would switch to English. I am, of course, okay with subtitled films (I stated in a previous entry that I love listening to other languages and picking out English words), but I know not everyone is. But along with the heads up is a bit of a cool fact: the film was partially shot in Winnipeg! I had heard of this before I saw the film, but had forgotten about it until Kirk whispered to me that the high school used in the film was actually the high school he went to! I'm still at the point where I get excited when I see landmarks I recognize on film, so it was really cool to recognize parts of my city.

One thing I didn't like about the film was the ending. It was very abrupt, and when the screen went black, I felt slightly dissatisfied...almost as if it ended mid-sentence. A better ending would have been about two minutes before the actual ending, because it offered better and less awkward closure. However, that's a very minor quibble. I know how difficult it is to end stories, and often you want to get as much in as possible, so you can't decide where you stop the story.

Here's the trailer:

If you get the opportunity, check it out!


  1. Thanks for the great tip.

    My favorite films of the last year were all foreign films (though not all came out last year):

    1. The Class:

    2. 12:

    3. I've Loved You So Long:

    4. The Counterfeiters:

    5. Summer Hours:

    6. Tell No One:

    And these aren't boring films for art-house eggheads: they're just plain, great entertainment. They're thought provoking too, though that tends to scare people away, like subtitles.

    My take on it is that people who don't like reading subtitles have rarely tried, or would just rather see stuff explode.

    That's fine, I guess, but there's a big, crazy world of movies out there, and even if they don't involve big explosions and robots named Mudflap and Skids, people should check 'em out.

  2. I haven't seen any of those! I've heard of The Class, The Counterfeiters and I've Loved You So Long, and want to see all three quite badly. The other ones sound fantastic as well.

    The people I know who don't like subtitles don't like the idea of reading their movies. Or multi-task while watching movies and don't like having to concentrate on the screen. But for me, after a few minutes into the film, it feels very natural for me. But then again, I'm a fast reader. It seems places like Blockbuster create a stigma about foreign films because whenever I've rented them I've gotten a "you know this is not in English, right?" from the cashier and I always have to assure them that I know, and that I am 100% okay with subtitles.

  3. I hate subtitles because i miss most of the emotions in the faces of the actors and generally whats going on on screen, Ive given subtitles many of tries and just cant enjoy it fully i feel like i missed half the movie.
    Also comes when looking off screen for a moment because of house nosies or what not you miss what was said.

    I think a better ending would of been the last scene in white castle with her on the floor then fade to black. Would of been very powerful ending. To many open ends though in the movie at the point when it did end that made me go what a waste of time i just started getting somewhat into the movie and almost caring about the characters when it ended.

    I also think there was to many characters in the movie that was followed.

    anyways in closing boo to bad endings and boo to subtitles.

  4. I understand that, but I've never really had that problem. I saw my first subtitled movie when I was 12, and since then I've watched them fairly regularly.

    As for the ending, I've started following the advice Duncan gave: "When it ends, stop." Essentially, don't try to force an unnatural ending when you've got a natural ending right there.

  5. what about tone of voice the way things are said. the way things are said that make spoken word emotional is lost in translation on subtitled movies.
    THough the paradox and evil(at least to me) is subtitles allow us to enjoy even if not fully to the indention of the makers of the movie movies from other countries which is awesome.

    A great way to prove my point somewhat on the idea of whole movie experience is to watch a english movie with english subtitles and use your normal subtitle habits while viewing. then watch again normally minus the subtitles.

  6. I still get the emotion in spoken word through the tone of voice being used by the actors, that along with the subtitles has always been enough for me. It may not be "the same" as watching a film you can understand, but it's better than not being able to experience the film, I figure. You may just have to concentrate a little harder, is all. :)

    By the way Kirk, with the subtitled parts of Heroes, do you find it difficult taking things out of those scenes? I know they drive my Mom crazy because she likes to multi task and she has to look up from the screen... do you find yourself wondering what small nuances you are missing out on? :)

    But I actually did watch "A Few Good Men" with subtitles once because our teacher didn't know how to turn them off. I did find myself subconsciously reading the subtitles as well as listening to the words. I made a game of trying to catch when the subtitles were different from what the actors were saying. It didn't really take away from my enjoyment of the movie though.

  7. I love subtitles: reading and watching movies at the same time are a couple of my favorite things!

    And they beat the hell out of dubbing!

  8. With heroes theres little movement by the actors when theres subtitles or camera angles of the upper body are used. I have no problem at all with getting stuff out of heroes.

    Another thing to remember is that not all people read has quickly has you do jen and thats also a huge factor in the enjoyment of subtitle movies.(i dont have a problem keeping up with subtitles but i am a slower reader incomprehension to you jen)
    And i dont mean you wont enjoy the movie has much just things will be missed. I know even watching a non subtitle movie im always picking up different things that i missed the first time around. which reminds me we have to watch Inglourious Basterds again when it comes to dvd so i point out Aldo Raine(brad pitt) coke sniffing which i thought was a huge plot/character point.

    Anyways seeways see you today a 4 im off for work

  9. Kenton: Dubbing is awful. Even with foreign animated movies, I'll generally watch the subtitled version instead of the dubbed version.

    Kirk: You made a good point about Heroes. Guess it also helps that it's generally only a small portion of the episode eh? And I know a lot of people read slower than I do, which would affect their enjoyment of the film. I remember being 12 and watching "Life is Beautiful" in class and everyone else was complaining about how fast the dialogue moved, but even then I had no troubles keeping up. :) And yes, we gotta watch Inglourious Basterds again 'cause I really did miss that--as did many others I asked. And I shall see you at 4 today (though by the time you get this it'll probably be much after 4...)! :)

  10. Another possible post: black and white films.

    I can't count the number of times I've tried to get my friends to watch Citizen Kane, the Magnificent Ambersons, and Sweet Smell of Success, and how long they put it off.

    When they finally get around to watching them, they'll invariably say, "That was really great, for a black and white film." I need new friends. Ha!

  11. Oh man I knew a girl in high school who legitimately thought watching black and white films would make her go blind. It was awful. I'll admit to putting off some of the classics I should be watching but that's more out of time...I know I'll get to them and love them one day. But hey, if a film is still being remembered 50 years after it is made, that's a sign that it's probably quite brilliant.

  12. Great point!

    My ultimate argument for black and white films and subtitles is the Bicycle Thief:

    Made in 1949, I'd say it's one of the best films ever made - if not the best film of all time.

    It's unbelievable how such a simple story - a man's bike gets stolen - could be so eloquent, powerful, harrowing, and moving: right up until the last shot.

    Honestly, it would be worth watching even if black and white films really did make you blind. Ha, ha!

  13. My fav black and white is the original "The day the earth stood still" and "miracle on 34th st" again the original. The older movies were just amazing has the movies still held some of the stage roots. Black and white all the way.

    Here is another one of my favorite oldie
    "birdman of alcatraz" Such a great movie somewhat based on a true story.

  14. I am a sucker for "It's a Wonderful Life" and "To Kill a Mockingbird"--both are very moving and brilliant. I've heard nothing but good things about "the Bicycle Thief", so I'll get to it one day. I also really enjoy more contemporary black and white films, such as "Ed Wood" and "Dead Man". I don't think black and white it used often enough and it can be very effective and striking. Another great one is "Schindler's List", saw it once years ago and it was so tragic that, as much as I'd love to see it again, I'd really have to brace myself for it.

  15. Schindler's List is one of my all time favorite movies hundred times better then the book. And when they did use a little colour is was powerful. I own this one on vhs and download need to buy the dvd soon.

  16. If you buy the DVD I'll definitely watch it again, but you're gonna have to deal with it making me cry. :) I love effective use of colour in movies.