WWhy are people so cool when it comes to foreign films? When Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho received a Golden Globe for his 2019 drama parasiteHe spoke wryly of breaking “the inch-high barrier of subtitles,” his words laced with a long-held truth. For many people, foreign cinema has always been a daunting endeavor, a treat for snobs and die-hard movie buffs. “Foreign film” is of course too broad a generic term to be useful: works of accessible pop entertainment such as Seven samurai or game time are lumped together with sophisticated art-house dishes Jeanne Dielman. But it’s a term that’s stuck in the minds of the public. With very rare exceptions – Crouching tiger, hidden dragon; life is beautiful – foreign language films have always struggled to find a wide audience in the West. And yet, look at the current UK Netflix film rankings and you’ll see that a foreign language feature tops the list. Holy Blue.
The film, troll, is a Norwegian monster film that pits humanity against a folkloric creature that has awakened deep in the mountains of Dovre. There’s plenty of tense family melodrama leading up to the big ending – an unlikely CGI giant running amok in urban Norway – but Ibsen obviously isn’t. troll is an odd film, a clunky, eccentric B-movie that vacillates between tones and routine genre tropes. Despite friendly reviews from the few English-language media outlets that covered it, audiences didn’t exactly love it (if a decidedly ambivalent 50 percent viewership on Rotten Tomatoes is any indicator). But the fact that a film is as weird and flaky as troll can find an audience on Netflix speaks for one of the greatest virtues of the streaming platform.
It’s no exaggeration to say that Netflix has revolutionized the way movies and TV shows are distributed internationally. Operating as a single global entity, the streamer has invested in all types of original content from a variety of different countries. There are the hitters – breakout foreign language shows such as Squid Game Money Heist Dark and Call my agent! – but also a huge, diverse catalog of original films and series from all over the world. The quality is admittedly spotty, but in terms of sheer quantity, Netflix has offered Western subscribers an unprecedented wealth of options.
For decades, the foreign films most widely distributed in the UK have tended to fall into the category of high profile or ‘prestige’ releases. you know the kind Critically acclaimed, often with an animal-shaped trophy from a faraway film festival in tow. Of course, Netflix has plenty of that in its back pocket – films like e.g Roma or Atlantic – but most of these more artistic releases are sucked up by specialized subscription services (Mubi or BFI Player in the UK). Rather, most of Netflix’s international content follows the same ethos as its English-language content, that is, anything and everything. A lot of it is dirt. But dirt deserves a chance to be seen, too.
The thing is, we Brits tend to pigeonhole things. For a time in the late 2000s/early 2010s, inspired by the success of The killing, Britain’s national channels indulged in a hot fascination with Scandinavian crime drama. Morose Scandi imports were served with the dogged consistency of McDonald’s burgers. But our country’s appetite didn’t really grow beyond that narrow geographical and sonic framework (if it did, the caustic Norwegian sitcom Day would have rightly been hailed as a modern classic). Netflix, on the other hand, doesn’t follow these kinds of fads. Spanish melodramas? Korean reality series? Brazilian science fiction? Like the world’s most flamboyant arbitrage player, Netflix has it all covered.
For all the problems with Netflix’s relentless production model, the value of its international content stash can’t be underestimated. Foreign films don’t have to be masterpieces to have a chance with audiences. God knows there’s enough homemade grot we’re all lapping up. For a movie like troll It’s, however short, the most watched film on the site, an electrifying indication of that is a market for various types of foreign films. Perhaps Hollywood’s stranglehold on popular entertainment is loosening. Who knows what might happen with a little air to breathe?
https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/features/troll-netflix-norway-movie-b2240629.html Netflix’s Troll is an odd, curvaceous B-movie. Here’s why that’s a good thing