Parasite made history when it won Best Picture at the Oscars. Not only was it the first subtitled film to do so but it was the first South Korean film to be nominated for an Academy Award. Parasite also took home Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best International Film. Only twelve foreign language films have been nominated for Best Picture in the 92 years of the Oscars, including Life is Beautiful, Crouching Tiger, and Hidden Dragon. However, Parasite is the only one to win in that category. In the director’s acceptance speech, Bong Joon-ho claimed, ‘Once you overcome the 1-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.’ I could not agree more.
Bong Joon-ho’s comedy-thriller is but one in an endless number of films which might initially be overlooked because of ignorance, with the belief that subtitles are a hindrance rather than an advantage. When I first watched Parasite, I was in awe of the beautiful cinematography and the astute script which addresses the class disparity and social inequality in Korea, as well as the capitalistic world in which we live. The film brings to light issues which permeate modern society, such as the economic and social order reinforced [‘changed ‘reenforced’ to ‘reinforced] by staircases leading up to the wealthy and down to the destitute.
La Vie En Rose, another Oscar winner, recounts the tragic life of the infamous French singer Édith Piaf. Marion Cotillard emphasises Piaf’s passion whilst simultaneously highlighting her vulnerability in a performance which earned her the title of the first French actress to win an Oscar for a French-language film. However, Cyrano de Bergerac is my personal favourite: the English subtitles maintain the poetic rhyme of the original 1897 play by Edmund Rostand, highlighting the film’s attentiveness to detail. Gérard Depardieu’s portrayal of Cyrano in the 1990 film is extraordinary – he brings panache and a sincerity to the role which is essential to the flamboyant yet insecure character.
Love, loss and inequality are internationally recognised themes which resonate with us. Films have an innate power to capture our attention and alter the way we perceive life. The subtitles become irrelevant when we are hooked on a storyline, allowing us to expand our knowledge and understand the human experience.
There is still a long way to go in terms of the prevalence of international films, especially regarding western recognition. High profile awards, such as the Oscars, do not acknowledge international films, nor the actors within those films, as much as their western counterparts. Hopefully, Parasite will be the first of many to begin paving the way to wider recognition for international actors and films. When this occurs, one-inch subtitles will no longer be a barrier rather a bridge to ‘so many more amazing films.’