Last week, I was walking past one of
Bangkok's major department stores, and a large sign on the
skywalk grabbed me.
Bangkok was hosting a European Union Film Festival
for eleven days at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, and
all screenings were free.
Twenty-two different films from 16 different European
Union countries, shown in their original languages, with
subtitles in English. What
a breath of fresh air, I thought at the time.
The common perception is that European
films are deep and insightful.
Think of Ingmar Bergmann (Sweden),
Frederico Fellini (Italy), and Francois
Truffaut (France). Meanwhile,
American films are derided as cliched pop culture drivel.
The intelligent movie-goer, the thinking goes,
appreciates European cinema.
Bangkok has plenty of cinemas.
Every major shopping
mall has one, and shopping malls are as popular as 7-11
outlets these days.
The city has 3D cinemas and an Imax screen.
But all these cinemas all show the same range of
films all the time, which consist of the latest
or Transformers franchise mixed in with some
mainstream Thai releases.
Upon further investigation, I realized
that this wasn't a film festival at all in any typical usage
of the term.
There were no films in the festival made this year and just
a few from last year.
The majority of the films were at least two years
old; one was nine years old.
All the films were actually DVD's played off a
projection system. With the film festival being in
Thailand, probably pirated DVD's at that.
The organizer was probably just someone from the
cultural center who assembled a collection of European Union
movie DVD's. The
filmmakers wouldn't be present, and there would no questions
As far as I know, there's nothing
illegal about screening aging European Union movies for
free off pirated (or legitimate) DVD's.
Even if it were illegal in the European Union to do
so, I don't see that stopping
anyone in Thailand.
In this country out in the open, one can buy a
pirated DVD at a department store for $3 while the cinema is showing the identical film
one floor above.
Warner Brothers wouldn't appreciate screenings of any
Harry Potter film for free at the cultural center and with
Free viewings would eclipse paid ones for a film that
stands to make tremendous profits from later DVD sales and
European Union films are another animal.
Few are known outside their homelands.
Any viewer strolling in to see one of these films is
someone who'd probably never have seen the film otherwise.
All film festivals
nowadays may actually be just DVD festivals.
With digital technology, it doesn't make sense
anymore for cash-strapped filmmakers to pay for multiple
prints of their films to display at festivals when it's a
lot easier and cheaper to pre-screen and display films from
DVD or Blu-ray.
The difference between, say, Sundance and the Bangkok
European Union Film Festival is that at Sundance, the films
are all new to the viewing public.
Sundance's rule for consideration is that the film
cannot premiere anywhere else.
Even at lesser known film festivals, most of the
films haven't gotten distribution deals yet.
That's one of the reasons they've been entered in the
festival, to gain acclaim that will lead to wider
The films at the Bangkok European Union Film Festival may
not have made some serious coin, but they had all gotten
some prior distribution, enough so that the organizer of the
event had heard of the film in the first place.
With that in mind, I realized I didn't
need to spend 30 minutes each way traveling to and from the
I could instead just download a number of these films based
on their synopses on IMDB and watch them in the pleasure of
my own pad and at my own pace.
At home, if a film
were bad twenty minutes in, I could stop watching it and
play the next one, something I could not pull off at the
I chose which films to watch based on a
The plot. If it
wasn't something of interest, I didn't go any further.
The country where it was made.
I had lived in Sweden and spent considerable time in
Finland, so when I saw films made and set in those
countries, I downloaded them.
I had never been to Romania but was interested in
what was going on there in the 20+ years since they'd
The relevancy of the subject matter to the country
of origin. I was more apt to see a movie if it covered some issue particular to the country in which it was made.
And the last, the most mundane, was simply if it was readily available for download. More than a couple films were watched because they were
The first film I saw was about two
Finnish Lutheran Laestadian
They go to the big city of Helsinki to experience
real life outside the confines of their strict Christian
upbringing which rejects rhythmic music, alcohol, make-up,
television, birth control, pre-marital pickups.
The topic is definitely a Finnish one, where
100,000+ Laestadians reside in the northwest.
What I saw were two girls running through a checklist
of forbidden activities, followed by weak scenes of the
girls recoiling in guilt.
I didn't find it realistic or poignant.
The film would have struck a more authentic note if a
real Laestadian wrote the screenplay about a real journey
getting past fundamentalist Christian conditioning.
This movie was phony.
Another loser was a Swedish film.
The protagonist, whom we'll call Jackass, lives at
home with his mom and dad in western Sweden, working at a
factory that soon shuts down.
Jackass' mom, his dad, his brother-in-law, and now
himself are unemployed.
He dreams of becoming a wedding photographer.
A former TV actor now well past his prime, if he ever
had any real talent, is in town for an unsuccessful play.
Jackass and his friends hire the actor for $1,500 to
deliver a few jokes for his sister's wedding.
The comedian's performance is abysmal, and Jackass
doesn't want to pay.
The TV actor tells Jackass that audience reaction doesn't
determine the payment.
Jackass can work off the debt by coming down to Stockholm
and taking some wedding photographs at a friend's wedding
for no pay.
Within a day, the layabout Jackass we
saw sponging off his parents has ingratiated himself with
the wealthy family whose daughter Jackass took the
complimentary wedding photographs for.
Although Jackass isn't particularly likeable,
everyone on screen magically takes to him.
Another daughter in the wealthy family, also an
aspiring photographer, is inexplicably smitten with him.
The father embraces him, buys him a luxury car, sets
him up with a studio, invests in his business.
Jackass returns home briefly with his new girlfriend,
lording it over his hick family that he's "made it."
Remember, he just left for Stockholm a week ago.
Even if had the talent of Michael Jackson during his
Thriller days, how realistic is it that he could
ascend the ranks of fame and fortune that quickly?
As all this is going on, the TV actor,
who introduced Jackass to the wealthy family, grows jealous
with Jackass for his quickly rising fortunes.
The actor boasts of his newest starring role at the
The actor delivers a pathetic performance by any standard,
and behind his back his rich friends and now Jackass make
fun of him.
The actor can't take it anymore and commits suicide.
At the eulogy hardly attended by any, we're supposed
to believe that Jackass truly cared about the now dead actor
and finally understands that friendship is more important
than sucking up to the rich.
The film is an inconsistent mess.
anyone care about the drunken, minimally talented actor?
When Jackass first comes to Stockholm, the actor
rents him a tiny room in the back of his apartment for $460
and demands three month's deposit up front.
Jackass has to sell his dad's car to come up with the
Later, we find out that the rich family owns the actor's
apartment and are letting him stay there rent free.
The actor doesn't do Jackass any favors.
The actor only 'hires' Jackass to do the Stockholm
wedding shoot so that he can gift his rich friends some
wedding photographs at no cost to himself.
And why should anyone care about Jackass?
He uses everyone he can and shows loyalty to no one.
Yet, at the end, when he "learns" his lesson and
hooks up with the rich daughter, we're supposed to leave
feeling swell that epiphanies have been made.
The worst of the lot was a Belgian
film. A Flemish
girl returns to her hometown after living some time in New
York City. She hooks
up again with old friends.
We watch them drink and play Frisbee.
One of the old friends is a former lover, call him
Jackass #2, who unknowingly impregnated her just before she left for New
York. Jackass #2
is now married with a kid.
Overshadowing the entire plot is some "mysterious"
suicide of one of their old crew.
The suicide victim only appears briefly in a few
scenes about three-quarters of the way in, and we see him
jump off a building.
We never learn why, much less care.
Jackass #2 mentally loses it and skips off to France
after shooting his dog.
His friends drive to France to fetch him, skinny dip
in a lake, realize life is worth living, and return to
the ones ready for suicide at this point.
I've seen plenty of American films this
Dinner With Schmucks was incredibly awful, a horrible
waste of talent.
Dinner With Schmucks, however, wasn't entered
into any film festival.
It was a slick Hollywood production, and everyone
knew it. This
lower budget slop gets festival street cred
because it's European.
The movies only got as far as they did because they
were produced in smaller European countries hungry for
Natives are willing to cut the movies a lot more
slack just to see a movie produced at home, using local
actors and situations, however shoddy the scripts; and
international viewers are more willing to concede
the movies are deep tales documenting the human condition
when they have to read subtitles to know what the actors are
saying. 'Shit' sounds deep when you pronounce it
See, if I produced a film about an
unemployed Oklahoma factory worker who moves to Los Angeles
to become a wedding photographer or two Amish girls who
decide to experience life in New York City, in the American English-language marketplace, I'd be facing stiff competition.
The fight for viewers' eyeballs is intense, not just
at the cinema, but in the festival circuit before a film
ever has the hope of making it into a cinema.
What does make it tends to be of a higher standard
(plot, production values, acting, or special effects).
And even if it's bad, it's higher budget trash
starring big name actors.
The best European cinema can be deep
and insightful, but so can the best American cinema.
Day-to-day, we don't usually run into the best.
We encounter the average, and run-of-the-mill
American films are, by far, superior to their European
counterparts because we're not under any illusion that
they're anything better than that.
American garbage is more honest.
On the ingredient label, it reads "glossed up trash."
On the European label, we see a list of fancy
sounding ingredients that are really all preservatives, and
in large font underneath "MADE IN EUROPE," as if that makes
it good. Sorry,
Competition is what usually breeds diversity and quality,
and welfare state Europe doesn't have much of it.
Just like the European welfare state, most European
films have too much unattractive fat on them.
An American Film Festival in Bangkok would have been superior in quality.
If the organizer could select from well known
American films made over the last 9 years, just as was done
with the European Union Film Festival, s/he would have had
no trouble picking out 22 winners.
And if we were to impose a condition that the
twenty-two films couldn't be well known ones, s/he'd still
be able to find 22 high quality films that garnered
attention at various film festivals but, for one reason or
another, didn't get a wide or any distribution deal.
I still have four downloaded films left
to watch, one German, Danish, British, and Romanian.
I'll be smart before I put the next one on and insure
I'm as drunk as the average European is before viewing.