What I've Learned About Americans (from foreign films)

Sunday, March 13, 2011 10:39 PM By Simon

My ears tend to prick up in that way people's ears can totally go except when they can't which is always, when I hear of a foreign film that involves an American character. It's not only because I am nearly guaranteed at least bits of English, where I'll feel like, say, Russian speakers feel when watching any pre-21st century Hollywood action movie. That is to say, beaming at the in-jokes you totally get with your native language. The sudden adjustment you must make, having spent a good portion of the movie reading subtitles. Of course, I could easily get this same feeling from a British character, or an Australian character, or hell, even that brief dialogue between the Chinese lady and the French lead in La Moustache, but there's something about a familiar accent, an accent I'll hear all day (except for that one British substitute at school), but among a sea of French, Korean, German, Italian, whatever language, it's kind of a comfort. A relief, if you will.

Right. I'm done now. Except I'm not. I forgot.

Ah, yes. An international favorite. The boorish, greedy, stupid-ass American businessman or tourist who just won't stop harshing the lead's mellow. Bon Cop, Bad Cop had the Texan guy who wanted to buy a hockey team, then went off on some random tangent about steaks. Cause we're like that. Love us some meat.

Or in Contempt, where Palance is a blunt jerkoff of an American producer, scolding Fritz Lang (yeah, that one) for his artsy take on an adaption of the Odyssey that he commissioned him for, buying Michel Piccoli to rewrite the script, probably to include more boobs, meanwhile blatantly flirting with Piccoli's wife, Bridget Bardot. All of this flinged at his co-producer/interpreter, Giorgia Moll, an Italian who must additionally translate French into English, French into Italian, German into Italian, Italian into German, German into French, German into English, etc, etc, poor dear. One is left to assume Godard did all this to avoid studio dubbing.

Right. I was going somewhere with this. In Memories, segment 'Stink Bomb' (最臭兵器 Saishū-heiki), we get the US military involved in a case where a young lab technician gets infected with a stink bomb that kills everyone around him. Again, they are shown, through the US Secretary of Defense, as bullying, cocky assholes. Never mind that they very obviously just got a Japanese guy to read off English dialogue phonetically.

There's another Godard film, Breathless (duh), where Jean Seberg, an American in Paris, shacks up with a French outlaw. He, at one point, comments: "You Americans are dumb. You admire Lafayette and Maurice Chevalier. They're the dumbest of all Frenchmen."

Bong Joon-ho, who I like to think of as my Spiritual South Korean Bestie Until Park-Chan-wook Gets Off His Ass With This Whole iPhone-Movie Nonsense, certainly has no high opinion of American military. In The Host alone, we've got a sixties-era doctor who insists his Korean, despite his better judgement, pour all the toxic whatever down the drain because the glasses aren't properly washed, a modern-day soldier who runs around, screaming "I've gotta help! I've gotta help!", and another military higher-up who's quite proud of a certain cover-up he and the folks down in Washington got boiling, if only to be discovered by one characters inexplicable knowledge of at least a bit of English, but I'm rambling again, aren't I?, so sorry...

What is my point? I have no point. Sorry to have wasted your time with this huge anti-climax. Of course, if you want to name some of your favorite moments of foreign-film Americans, then go right ahead. I, after all, can't stop you. Except for my wizard powers. But I don't like to use them unless Tom Cruise is on screen. Carry on.


Franz Patrick said...

The picture above reminded me of this video:


Americans, a vague term in itself, do get bad a rap (like being blind to other cultures) but it has some basis of truth.

March 13, 2011 at 11:46 PM
SugaryCynic said...

*sigh* we do kind of suck sometimes. What I found was really blatant though was Love Actually of all movies, cuz of Billy Bob Thornton playing this absolute twat, a bully, a massive tool...and it was the president of the U.S.


March 14, 2011 at 7:23 AM
Courtney Small said...

In fairness, Bon Cop, Bad Cop takes more jabs at one specific American, the current NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, than it does America as a whole. Bettman and Canadian hockey fans do not gel at all. *shaking fist at Bettman*

March 14, 2011 at 4:55 PM
Unknown said...

Well some people still kinda like American characters. I guess what happens is that the entire world gets so fed up with all the blockbusters, Charlie Sheens and George W. Bushes, that they need to get their revenge in some way.
I've always found it funny that French people seem to dislike Americans so much, when the entire auteur movement was based on the work of seminal Hollywood cinema. I guess it all comes down to the power that comes with size (yes, size matters).
Since the US is so big and spreads its pop culture all over the world, they are meant to suffer more criticism.
Who knows the kind of jokes we'd be making if it was Bollywood that ruled the world.

March 14, 2011 at 5:26 PM
Anonymous said...

This discussion reminded me of a Filipino movie that I'll probably never find again. On a sea of Filipinos, there's four memorable American characters. Upstanding black female citizen and 3 GI's, the rape happy one, the boring one and the nice one who respects foreign sovereignty. I don't know what that all means. The movie's depiction of Americans are more diverse.

Jose: which is also funny because US and France used to be besties, then US started hanging out with the UK, which made probably France butt hurt. That and nuclear and oil are driving US and France slowly apart.

March 14, 2011 at 10:25 PM
Darren said...

Hey, at least you guys aren't the drunken, laughing-on-the-outside-crying-on-the-inside, "aye"-saying, punch-ya-as-soon-as-look-at-ya, funny-accented gombins that the Irish typically seem to be on screen. And you guys like us.

March 15, 2011 at 1:59 AM
Derek Armstrong said...

To your point but not exactly, my least favorite movie of all time -- and I have discovered this recently through a scientific process that I will not detail here -- is a movie I saw just last August called Twentynine Palms. It's not a foreign film in the sense that you are discussing here, where it takes place in a foreign country and there's a token American -- it's set in the California desert. But it's directed by a French director (Bruno Dumont) and stars an American (David Wissack) and a Russian woman who speaks French (Yekaterina Golubeva). You'd think the reason I hate it is that Dumont's impression of Americans is so negative, but I'm not that type of guy -- the anti-American sentiment is just the icing on the cake of a truly awful, horrible and dramatically inert film in which America is filled with hillbilly rapists and one particular douchenozzle (Wissack's character) who is unremittingly monstrous to his girlfriend, for no apparent reason. Its aesthetic is the worst Vincent Gallo movie you've ever seen, which should turn off everyone else who hasn't already been turned off by this description.

March 15, 2011 at 1:35 PM
Simon said...

Franz: That video made me feel...icky.

Sugary: That is quite disturbing.

CS: Wasn't the dwarf guy American too? I forget.

Jose: Well, I imagine they'd involve random dance sequences and Khan references. As for the French, the American auteur movement was a long time ago, and we haven't exactly been living up to the legacy lately. For all we know, we're the world's biggest sellouts.

Okinawa: What movie was this? And your description of US-France history is the best ever. Ever.

Darren: We'll stop when you guys stop having such boss accents.

Vance: I think I've heard of this one...I'd consider it a foreign film because at least half of it is in another language, though it's not subtitled (at least, the bits that I've seen weren't). And, yes, it appeared to be one of those fuck-and-be-awful movies that doesn't remember it's own point by the midpoint mark.

March 19, 2011 at 1:17 PM
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