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Cinema in English

On March 3, a Saturday evening that hinted at spring, Berkeleyites gathered at the splendidly refurbished Convitto dei Teatini. It was the initial meeting of a program set up by the Circolo and the Scuola d’Italiano per Stranieri (SIS). ‘Cinema in English’ will dust off some of the best English-language movies of cinema’s short history and send them on their way again decked out with fresh comments, humble, informal, but our own.


The series began with ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ directed by Wes Anderson in 2014, a considerable earful for learners of English. Its wide register of American English, from the literary to the profane, gave them much to chew over. There were puzzling ironies behind the words, themselves often unfamiliar to apprentices in English. Thanks, however, to the subtitles that duplicated the words spoken on screen, the learning process went forward with no small pleasure.


Language is of course only one aspect of Wes Anderson’s movie and not the most important. It’s a stunning visual presentation, self-contained and absolutely coherent, of a magical world that’s always just one remove from history. If there’s a moral statement amongst the fun, it’s the example of Ralph Fiennes’ character, Monsieur Gustave, who insists on maintaining his very personal idea of civilized standards in the face of national decline and disaster. He insists that the invading barbarians mind their table manners.


Will Douglas, creator of the program and leader of the discussion, discovered or probably re-discovered, what film critics know. There is no art form that can compare with movies for bringing forth the most varied and sometimes startling reactions. Cinema mimics life so closely that we can’t help taking it personally and putting ourselves in the picture. That’s as it should be and a sign of the cinema’s undying vitality, why it’s here to stay.


After thrashing out a language problem or two, our viewers were, from their various points of view, pretty much in agreement. ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ was a one-off maverick. It demonstrated a maturing in the industry that could accept its quirkiness and give it top prize of the year. While its peculiar beauty might not set a new trend in filmmaking, the movie remained an admirable landmark. We wondered for a moment what Wes Anderson would come up with next and then, closer to home, what Will Douglas would treat us to next time.


Peter Byrne

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