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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

"Class, today we are going to watch a film.”

Yea, a movie! These days, instead of feeling like a lazy slob for watching a movie, I feel like I am improving myself. I can justify watching the biggest piece of shit ever filmed as long as it’s in Spanish. Movies are a good tool for learning Spanish, especially without the crutch of subtitles. This is a passive, yet very effective way to improve listening ability in the language. I even watch quite a few American movies dubbed into Spanish, but I prefer to watch movies made in Spanish, especially those made in Spain. I still feel that reading is the best method for improving vocabulary because in two hours of reading you come across a hundred times more words and different grammar constructions than you do by watching a movie, but movies have their place in the learning tree.

I am only just beginning to discern the country by country difference in Spanish accents. Spain probably has the easiest accent to recognize because of the lisping of the “z,” and the “ci” and “ce” combinations which are pronounced as “s” in Latin American Spanish. If there is a combination of an “x” or “s” along with the lisping sound, you must pronounce both. This means that a word like “piscina,” while pronounced “pee sea na” in Latin American, is pronounced “peace thi na” in Spain. I am sorting this all out little by little, and movies are a big help.

Besides the linguistic boost I get from watching Spanish movies, they also help to build my cultural literacy in my new country. It sort of works both ways. Watching a movie helps me understand the culture, while living here I learn things to help me better understand the movies I watch. Learning more about Spanish culture certainly allows me to better appreciate the tiny details I see in their movies.

I like the authenticity imposed on Spanish movies by their small budgets. Instead of some elaborate Hollywood set, most movies here are shot on location. The result is that the movies look a lot more like real Spanish life than American movies mirror life in America. I recently watched a really good movie called Tapas that depicts life in Spain down to every detail. For example, in the beginning of the movie an old woman is walking down the street on a hot day and notices a dog locked in a car. She takes a piece of pipe out of the garbage and smashes the window to free the overheated pooch. It’s a tiny detail but she grabbed the pipe out of a skip, or a large metal dumpster, which you see on almost every block in Spanish cities. They use these to carry away the debris when an apartment is being remodeled—and they are always having to remodel in this country that doesn’t ever tear down old buildings.

Even the people in Tapas look like normal people you would see on the street. I think that the problem with Hollywood films is that the people making them are so entirely removed from what most people consider to be America that they actually think that they are being a faithful witness to our world. I remember reading about the movie Father of the Bride (a piece of shit I wouldn’t watch under pain of torture). In the movie, the family was supposed to be middle class yet they lived in a million dollar home. To some ultra-rich movie mogul, that is middle class.

Here are just a few of the movies that I have seen thus far that I would recommend:

La Niña de tus Ojos
Lucía y el sexo
Todo Sobre mi Madre
Y Tu Mamá También
El Laberinto del Fauno
Mar Adentro

I’ll add to this list as I watch more movies. I am just now really trying to increase my collection of movies in Spanish.

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