Five Times The Pink Panther Accurately Summed Up What It’s Like Teaching English Abroad

And it looks like I’m staying for one final year in Japan. Two years was just the right amount of time to get my life sorted; unfortunately, I’m not quite ready to say good-bye just yet. It’s been a long road. It’s a longer one to come. The papers are signed, the decision made. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu, JET 2016-2017.

A lot of my friends in the States have, at one point or another, expressed curiosity on what it’s like to teach English abroad.¬†The myths and realities as expressed through the five times that The Pink Panther suddenly became too real for words…

1. WE DO NOT QUIT!!!

“Your life must be so glamorous, living abroad and teaching English to Japanese kids!” Glamorous is one word for it. And then there’s this…

…I do enjoy every minute of it even though I wouldn’t call it glamorous ūüėČ

2. Why would they do something like that?

“I hear Japan is soooooo high tech! You must be going to all crazy-amazing robot conventions every weekend and never want to come back to the US, right?” The hard cold reality is…

…and not only that: my office is (somehow) still running on XP. Why would they do something like that?!

3. Why do you¬†think they’re dressed like that? For fun?!

Doing anything for the kids on Halloween is basically along these lines. Also applies to generally trying to blend in with society when the clothes just look different on you than on the cute models (TTwTT)”

4. It is one of my specialties…

So, I can do things, I swear, I can! Sometimes, though, I can’t show them off perfectly because of cultural differences.

Can’t bake half the Viennese pastries I learned how to make because Japan and it’s non-baking culture. It’s still fun trying, though ūüėÄ

5. I thought you were ordering in Italian.

That moment when you suddenly become Vincenzo Roccara Squarcialupi Brancaleone at the local Starbucks… or anywhere, really.

Happy Friday, everyone!

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Foreign Film Fridays 03: The Fall (2006)

We are, all of us, the story and the storyteller. We are the villain and the hero of our own making. But what if the lines between fantasy and reality blurred until it became impossible to tell one from the other?

the-fall

Original Title: The Fall
Year: 2006
Country: India & USA
Language: English/Romanian
Subtitles: English
Length: 1hr 58min
Availability: Amazon

The Fall is a fantasy epic, filmed over the span of four years, with all the magical realism of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel and the visual beauty of a living, breathing art piece.  But more than just an artistic statement, this film grapples with emotionally charged themes that by no means make it a simple or lighthearted tale of redemption. If viewers are willing to take the plunge into the realm of moral ambiguity, this film more than delivers a masterful blend of philosophical inquiry and fantastical storytelling.

The two main protagonists are as disparate as human beings can be: the ever hopeful five-year-old Alexandria (Catinca Untaru) is no stranger to personal tragedy – already in her short life she has had to witness much pain and suffering –¬†yet she maintains her childlike innocence in the face of all adversity; by comparison,¬†her new found friend is a convalescing film star turned stuntman named Roy (Lee Pace). Roy is intent on ending his life by any means necessary… even if it means manipulating the one person who has come to care for him with all the love that a child’s¬†heart can possess. Theirs is a fateful encounter that is as intense as it is brief.¬†The Fall¬†will leave you wanting more long after the credits roll.

The story-within-a-story device takes viewers to a neutral middle-ground wrought of fantasy and child-like imagination. It is only there that the two protagonists can engage in an allegorical discourse via mutual storytelling. With each day that passes, their dramatic tale grows until it blossoms into a beautiful secret that keeps each of them alive Рbut for different reasons. Roy, desperate to end his life, lives day-to-day just to accumulate the pills that Alexandria sneaks from the dispensary, which she in turn exchanges for more stories. All the while, she is unaware that her beloved storyteller is planning the final act of of his tale to end in a real life tragedy. The ending of this film is nothing short of sublime, passionate, and intriguing.

But perhaps the greatest triumph of The Fall¬†is the palpable father-daughter chemistry between Catinca’s and Lee’s characters. More than the vivid cinematography or the intricate layering of reality upon fantasy upon reality, these two actors work surprisingly well together. They make the perfect bandit duo in their fantasy world and affectionate friends in the real world. Lee couldn’t have done better to portray himself as her fictional “long lost” bandit-masked father than if he really had been.

For those who have a hard time placing Roy’s actor, it is the one and only: the Lee Pace.¬†With¬†a face that not only blends fluidly from emotion to emotion¬†but can also shift with ease on the gender spectrum, his acting skills are on a level that I have never before encountered. I didn’t realize how many films I had seen him in until I consulted The Google Machine for proof of his existence outside of Pushing Daisies. Apparently, I’d seen him in many, many films but had never realized. He looks like someone new each time, which I attribute more to his unique ability to assume entirely¬†new sets of mannerisms for each of his characters than to a wardrobe department, although they did a stand up, ovation worthy job on The Hobbit for his character. I sincerely believe that he deserves any role he wants.

And not to be outdone by her incredibly talented cast member, Catinca is also quite the actress herself despite being so young.¬†Perhaps it’s her inexperience and vitality that help her shine in such a heavy role. There are no pretenses. Even as she sobs for Lee Pace’s character to choose life over death, I am hard pressed to find a single moment when she is not 100% convincing. She is honest and raw, realistically so. Her childlike optimism and ingenuity have lent this film the perfect amount of innocence to counterbalance the darkness. And if you’re perceptive enough, you can see her growing up with the film: her height adjusting, her English skills improving, her affectionate bond with Lee developing on level within and -out of the role – all of it that much more endearing.¬†The Fall was an excellent debut into the film industry for her, though I am rather sad to see that she has not secured many more roles since then. Maybe, that is for the better – seeing how so many child stars end up like Shia LaBeouf or Amanda Bynes.

The film is not without its gaffes but it is cleverly scripted so that viewers will gain fresh insight each time they re-watch to catch missed moments, segues, and facial expressions. In all, it is incredible in its scope and breadth of creativity. The melding of cultures, the subtle unfolding of its subplots, and the breathtaking candor with which it grasps a harsh and terrifying reality… if you have two hours to devote to this film, it will be well spent.

WARNING: Best watched not alone. This is not a film for the faint of heart as it requires significant courage to delve into the dark recesses of depression, outright manipulation, and suicide. Many reviewers who have scored this film poorly seem to be divided into two camps: the first being, the film is too dark and complex for them to follow on an emotional/intellectual level, and the second side can’t seem to understand the little girl’s broken English. In the first case, be assured that the film ends well even if it may not be the ending you had in mind;¬†however, like all good art it will take you on an emotional, sensory adventure first. It will make you think (as well as feel) long and hard about certain issues. Those are not comfortable emotions or thoughts for many people to grapple with for 2 hours. I would say that it is as dark, if not darker than, Pan’s Labyrinth. Also, many of the scenes are stories that will rewrite themselves to reflect either Roy’s or Alexandria’s interpretation of the tale. If you fall into the category of the second case: there are subtitles available for those who are not auditory or who have trouble understanding Catinca’s charmingly accented English.

I put off watching this film for almost a year, mainly because a friend warned me that although it ended very well – on a good psychological¬†point, she emphasized – this wasn’t the kind of film that anyone could watch without first being made to experience the¬†emotional equivalent of a roller coaster ride. Normally, I’m all for art that sparks an inspirational revolution within the soul, mind, and heart; but something about the way she said it gave me pause for concern. She was right to warn me. I saw it for the first time with a group of friends who had mostly already seen it before. Everyone, except for myself and one other, were in the know about the story line and exactly how it would end… and they all passed me tissue after tissue, and eventually the whole damned box, as I devolved into a sobbing mess of humanity right along with the plot. Friends are the best.

Foreign Film Fridays 01: Mostly Martha

Because what‚Äôs not to love about watching films on Fridays about foreign worlds? A weekly series of posts to follow on all sorts of films: thriller, romance, action, mystery, and just down right quirky from all countries and languages. If you have any suggestions, by all means leave a comment! I would love to receive suggestions for more foreign films. Opening this weekly series we have…

mostlymartha

Original Title: Bella Martha
Year: 2001
Country: Germany
Language: German
Subtitles: English
Length: 1hr 45 minutes
Availability: Netflix

The film begins with a mouth-watering, epicurean description of food as the eponymous protagonist details to her therapist how she would go about preparing the perfect full course meal. DISCLAIMER: DO NOT WATCH ON AN EMPTY STOMACH. I did and regretted it within the first two minutes.

The plot is deceptively simple: Martha is a single, German woman with a passion for cuisine who must learn to reorient her life around a new Italian coworker and to care for her orphan niece after the untimely death of her sister.  For those who have seen the American version, No Reservations (2007) with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart, the German original will breathe new life and understanding into its American counterpart.

But while similar in the main plot, No Reservations features an all Caucasian main cast, which in turn renders Mostly Martha‘s original secondary plots useless in the remaking. Other differences include the pacing of the film. American films tend to be fast-paced, segue easily and fluidly from one scene to the next, and stitch themselves together into a false sense of artistic perfection.¬†¬†I say false because in the seamless move from main scene to main scene you miss the little scenes, the imperfect little fillers that give a film its realistic essence. By comparison, Mostly Martha is shot to give the viewer as much background context as possible about who Martha¬†is and life around her.¬†There are main scenes, not so main scenes, and fillers shots of the characters at their most candid. None of the romance or her flaws are romanticized or glossed over; the story reveals itself gradually at a natural pace. When Martha and Mario kiss, they don’t go at it calmly or at just-the-right angle, they simply have a go at kissing like most of us do, however awkward it may be to watch.

Also of note, our alliterative culinary artiste duo have all the tension and chemistry that two people from vastly different background¬†can possess. From language and culture to¬†the way in which they run their kitchens and the food the make¬†– everything, except their shared love for the art of cooking, is different. As they learn how to bridge their differences through their commonalities¬†and how to accept each other as they are, Martha’s and Mario’s characters grow. The secondary plot issues, palpable between German-born Martha and Italian Mario, revolve around race and who is an insider versus an outsider.This in turn makes his food that much more exotic to Martha, who has never once been to Italy and can only experience it through Mario’s cooking. Indeed, this film feels as much a discovery of culture and intercultural interactions as it is about the food and the romance.

Unfortunately, No Reservations¬†also has no underlying current of bridging cultures and worlds through food. It’s feels more like two people who have a different administrative approach and can’t seem to see eye to eye on the running of a kitchen. While Catherine Zeta-Jones’ character prefers French cuisine and Aaron Eckhart’s cooks Italian, different culinary tastes do not an intrinsic cultural battle make. Also her descriptions of the food fall flat with her calm and quiet demeanor, where Martina Gedeck’s take flight through use of sensual intonation and passionate ¬†verbal caresses.¬†While I love and prefer the modern cinematography of No Reservations (and Catherine and Aaron do have chemistry), I would rate Mostly Martha¬†as the better of the two films for its diversity and for being more than just a romantic caper between two chefs.

Both films are wonderful (yes, I went there)¬†and worth watching… just not on an empty stomach! Bon appetit!