In the U.S., it’s a common weekend practice to head to the movies, grab a bucket of popcorn, and enjoy the newest release. After all, the American movie industry is known as the gold standard in cinema (even though Bollywood does produce more films per year, but that’s another matter), and we Americans love our movies.
So, it was only natural that even when I was overseas, I would crave a good movie outing. Thus began adventures in botched subtitles, creepy art films, and 3-D Polish eyewear.
My first international adventures with movie theaters began in Europe. Now, most Europeans can’t get enough of the latest American blockbusters, so I assumed that going to the movies over there would be similar or pretty much the same as heading to my local theater in Texas or D.C.
Nope, not so much.
In Madrid, some of my classmates and I decided to test our language skills and go see a movie that our Spanish teacher told us we absolutely had to see while we were in Spain. So, we headed to a movie theater and were really excited to see what a Spanish summer movie would be like–would it be an action film with an Antonio Banderas lookalike, only he would actually be speaking Spanish?
Not even close. The film was pretty much about a little boy growing up in Madrid when the Franco regime came into power and he was ripped apart from his friends. As an adult he returned to Madrid and had flashbacks of the past. Now, it was great to get a local perspective on the difficult times that Spain went through under the dictatorship, but it wasn’t what we were thinking for a lazy Saturday afternoon. We left pretty depressed, actually. But, the next weekend we saw “El Fantasma de la Opera” (The Phantom of the Opera) and enjoyed that, minus the fact that the phantom almost fell while doing the scene where he swings in on a chandelier.
My next movie experience overseas was in Rome, where I lived for a summer while interning with the State Department. They showed movies at the American embassy each week, but I wanted to stick to the local movie theaters to get the real Roman experience (as a result I missed meeting Matt Damon, who apparently showed up at an embassy event when they were showing one of his films).
And experiences they were. The three movie theaters that I tried out in Rome only showed a couple of American movies at a time, and way after they premiered in the U.S. I tried to watch Italian movies, but the thing about European movies, whether Italian, Spanish, or French, is that they are pretty depressing for the most part. We Americans know how to do r0mantic comedies with happy endings–in European films, they often start out as a typical rom-com and then end up with someone getting hit by a car or something.
I convinced two of my friends to check out an Irish/American movie that was showing, that looked like an indie film but was being shown in English (usually in Rome they dubbed over everything, and there were times I just wanted to hear English-speaking actors in their normal voices and not in breathy dubbed ones). My friend Sophie hesitated and said that it looked a little weird, but I insisted that it should be fine.
We walked out of the theater in states of shock and quietly headed to dinner without saying a word. Lesson learned that day: don’t see an artsy, weird looking movie unless you do some research. Let’s just say that the movie was about a teacher who, well, took a liking to his young pupils in 1940’s Ireland. I can’t say anything more without throwing up. After that, to be safe, I saw “Harry Potter.” Twice.
Going to the movies in South Korea was also interesting. In Korea, they usually left the English sound and did Korean subtitles, which was a relief since I was learning Korean at the time but didn’t have great listening proficiency. They loved American movies and showed more recent films than I had encountered in Europe, interestingly enough.
One day, while out with one of my dear Korean friends, we decided to see “Shrek 3,” which had just opened and was received enthusiastically by Korean moviegoers. I was the only non-Korean person in the movie theater, and that became obvious during one scene in particular. In one part of the movie, the three little pigs yell out, “Pigs in a blanket!” before slinging one of them out of a blanket. I laughed my head off, and quickly realized that everyone else in the theater was silent (and looking over at me with curious looks on their faces). My friend Chi-hye whispered to me that the subtitle in Korean had read, literally, “Sausage in a blanket,” and that the Koreans were all confused because it didn’t make sense to put sausage meat in a blanket–you put it on a plate.
Another memorable movie outing was in Warsaw, Poland, while I was visiting my friend Kora. We planned to head to Berlin for the weekend when she finished work, so I hung out and killed some time at the train station before she left her office. The train station in Warsaw is attached to a really nice shopping center with a movie theater inside, and since it was a hot day, I decided to see a movie. I said “jin daubbre” (“good afternoon” to the teenager working at the box office and asked for a ticket to “Step Up 3.”
I didn’t realize that the movie was in 3-D, so when I walked into the theater, the other Polish moviegoers were decked out in giant 3-D glasses. Okay, random, I thought–but just go with it.
It ended up being one of the most fun I’d ever had at the movies. Watching a dance movie in 3-D was by itself randomly hilarious–add in several Polish audience members dancing in their chairs with their big glasses on, and you have movie magic.
In conclusion, when heading to a movie theater overseas:
–Proceed with caution when a film looks artsy or you’re not sure what it’s about.
–Don’t expect foreign films to be uplifting.
–Don’t expect the popcorn to be fresh. In some countries, I gleefully ordered popcorn but then spit it out in disappointment (sometimes they’ll have it, but since the locals don’t go for it like we Americans do, it sits there until an American comes along and orders it). Unless you’re in South Korea, where they have the most addicting caramel popcorn ever.
So, while traveling, consider heading to the movies for a taste of home and/or a bit of local culture–just make sure to take your sense of humor with you.