Pain and Growth and Growing Pains in La vita bugiardi degli adulti

Lately I listen almost exclusively to Massive Attack. This is partly because they’re a great band and I love their music, but I’d be lying if it wasn’t also largely out of a burning desire to embody some of the coolness radiated by Giovanna, also known as Giovà or Giannina, the brooding and complex heroine of La vita bugiardi degli adulti (The Lying Lives of Adults), a recent Netflix interpretation of Elena Ferrante’s novel of the same name.

Giordana Marengo as Giovanna in La vita bugiardi degli adulti on Netflix
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The Blue Caftan: A Moving Arabic Film

The Blue Caftan premiered at the 2022 Cannes Festival.

Last month, I saw one of the most moving films. I went into it completely blind—my friends had asked if I wanted to come along to a film festival and I said yes, knowing nothing about what film we’d be watching. Before the show started, commentators talked a bit about Morocco, and the history of the film festival we were at, The Cascade Festival of African Films.

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Six Spanish Shorts to Watch Over Winter Break

Headed into the break but still want to practice your Spanish? Check out these six Spanish short films for quick and easy immersion! Each film is directed and filmed for and by native Spanish speakers, and they come from a wide range of countries. Many of the shorts are also favorites at film festivals around the world! Make sure to check out Uno by Javier Marco. For more Spanish shorts, check out Short of the Week, and sort by country to find more foreign language short films.

Detrás Del Espejo (Behind the Mirrors) by Julio O. Ramos

Best for: Beginners
Genre: Action
Location: Peru
Watch for: an exciting short with a dramatic end
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Film Recommendation: Зеркало (Mirror)

Andrei Tarkovsky is one of, if not the most famous Russian film director of all time. One of his most beloved films by Russian people, Зеркало (1975) is a semi-autobiographical sequence of clips playing with memory, war, and daily life in Moscow.

The film features stunning creative techniques, such as Tarkovsky’s famous long shots. The one above is considered not only one of his best shots, but one of the best in film history. Other techniques include color schemes and themes such as the mirror, time, and poetry, which is read by different characters and narrators throughout the film.

The plot is kind of tricky to explain. A dying poet is the narrator (something that isn’t revealed until the end), but the story is far from linear or clear. The scenes switch between different time periods, and it’s sometimes difficult to keep up with which one you’re actually in.

I’m no film buff, but this is definitely one of Tarkovsky’s most important works. He’s a hard director to understand no matter what, so you might as well start here! The Russian is fairly hard to understand, and I did need the help of subtitles to understand what was going on.

Feminism in China: “Cell Block Tango” Reinterpreted

cw: violence, abuse, misogyny

“天朝渣男图鉴” or “The Scumbags of China” is a parodic rendition of “Cell Block Tango” posted on Weibo in November, 2018.

There is a good chance that you’ve heard of the infamous “Cell Block Tango” song from the 1975 musical Chicago. In the scene, six women in jail recount the vengeful murders they committed, describing their mistreatment at the hands of their former partners. Loosely translated as “The Scumbags of China,” “天朝渣男图鉴” is a parodic rendition of “Cell Block Tango” by Tú Yǒuqín (徒有琴), a student at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. In the video Tú Yǒuqín plays six different women from six different cities in China, Beijing, Shanghai, Sichuan, Hunan, Guangdong, and Shandong. For each character, she slips into different dialects and recounts their acts of revenge against their abusive and misogynistic partners. While one woman recalls stumbling upon her husband’s notebook detailing his sexual exploits, another recalls being beaten by her husband.

“Cell Block Tango” from the 1975 musical Chicago

Posted on the Chinese social media platform, Weibo, in November 2018, the video roused conversation and debate about women’s rights and sexual and domestic abuse in China, contributing to a movement that has been gaining momentum in the past few years. The video was blocked and removed from the site not long after it was posted, speaking to how censorship has worked to silence and minimize the visibility of feminism in China. Nevertheless, the cultural and political impact of the music video cannot be undervalued.

I have been thinking about the significance of language, translation, and reinterpretation to the cultural and political impact of the music video. Representing six different regions of China, the six different dialects Tú Yǒuqín uses include Dongbei, Shanghai, Chonqing, Changsha, Shandong, and Cantonese. In re-appropriating an English song from an American musical, Tú Yǒuqín highlights the global phenomena of misogyny and barriers confronted by women everywhere. At the same time, her translation and reinterpretation of the song in multiple Chinese dialects serves to illuminate the distinctive lived experiences, oppression, and positioning of Chinese women in different regions of China. In this way, the “Chinese Cell Block Tango” is a testament and glimpse into the manifold languages of resistance and feminism across the world.

Full transcription and English translation for the song can be found here:

Film Recommendation: La Jetée

La Jetée (1962) is a 28-minute “photo-roman” (photo-novel) by French New-Wave director Chris Marker. It is composed entirely of still photographs which are arranged into a montage and, as a result, come to acquire a special movement of their own.

The film is set in a post-apocalyptic Paris where all surviving humans live together in tunnels underneath the city. Scientists are researching time travel in the hopes that they can send for help from the past or future.

After many failed attempts at sending test subjects into the past, an unnamed prisoner with vivid childhood recollections is selected and succeeds. After painful conditioning and several deep dives into his own memories, he is eventually sent to the future where he encounters a new kind of human race.

Pushing against genre conventions, La Jetée is science fiction stripped down to its bare essentials- the result is a beautiful interrogation of time, memory, and the power of the image.

This is a great, and short, film for beginner or intermediate learners to practice comprehension; the audio is very clear because it is a stream of overlaid narration, and the nature of the still frames makes the subtitles more accessible.

For those interested in learning more about French film history, La Jetée is a great example of pioneering techniques in montage used by directors of La Nouvelle Vague to disrupt traditional cinematic forms.

La Jetée is available to stream on Kanopy by using your Reed login

Film Recommendation: Russian Ark

Russian Ark (2002) follows the 300-year history of St. Petersburg. Directed by Alexander Sokurov, this 96-minute film was completed in one shot, entirely taking place in the Winter Palace of the Hermitage Museum.

The narrator, a ghost of the city, follows an unnamed “European” through the museum, witnessing actors with beautiful costumes portraying historical figures such as Peter the Great, Tsar Nicolas II and his family, or Leningrad citizens during Soviet times. A lot of the Russian is quiet and muffled, so it may be hard for beginners to get everything. Either way, it’s still an interesting cinematographic piece!

This film is perfect if you want to learn something about past and presents notions of St. Petersburg and see a new use of cinematography. If you want to learn more about the making of the film, you can watch In One Breath (2003), a documentary that follows the making of Russian Ark.

Soviet Cartoons

Soviet cartoons are some of the best out there. Along with their artistic value, they’re great for keeping up your Russian! Here are a few suggestions to start with.

  1. Винни Пух is the Russian version of Winnie the Pooh. This first came out as a film in 1969, followed by two other sequels. The main characters are Winnie the Pooh and Piglet instead of Robin, and the illustrations are a little more rugged and with lots of character. The Russian is fairly simple, but Winnie’s voice can be a little hard to understand. You can find it on YouTube here.

2. Тайна третьей планеты (Secret of the Third Planet) is a science fiction animated film that came out in 1981. It is based on the children’s book Alice’s Travels, and follows the store of Alisa, who follows her father in what ends up being a detective story. The Russian is very clear and easy to hear, and the illustrations are great! This one is also available on YouTube here.

3. Бременские Музыканты (Bremen Town Musicians) is a 1969 animated film based on a Brothers Grimm fairy tale. It follows the story of a donkey, a dog, a cat, a rooster, and their master Troubadour, and is known for its lively soundtrack and rock n’ roll songs. The Russian is fairly easy to follow as well! It is on YouTube as well, right here.

Media Recommendation: Babylon Berlin (2017-)


Babylon Berlin (2017-) is a German crime series created by Tom Tykwer. The show is set in 1920s Berlin in the Weimar Republic, and deals with the intersecting criminal activities of that age.

Babylon Berlin is a must-watch for anyone interested in learning German. It is the most expensive non-American TV series ever made, and features beautiful cinematography. It’s also a good way to learn more about Berlin culture, since the series is very well-researched.

The first two seasons of the show are streamable on Netflix, and have good English and German subtitles. The language is fairly difficult to follow, mostly due to the Berlin accent that some of the characters use, but most of the story can be followed in context.

Check out the trailer here:

And check out this short interview in German with Liv Lisa Fries, who plays the principal female role, Charlotte Ritter: