Spanish Film for Spanish Students

I now understand some Spanish movies. Finally! Took me long enough.

Commercial, for profit, entertainment movies, made in Spanish, mostly in Spain. Without subtitles. Only some of them, mind you, and I never understand every word, but I can now usually follow a plot line, fathom enough to be interested.

A milestone! I presume that movie makers gear such flicks to native speakers, make no effort to hold the hands of language learners. Grok movies and you start to fit in.

Linked at post bottom — and here, too, if you’re impatient — is an informal round-up of movies that may interest other Spanish students. ‘Informal,’ as in haphazard, slapdash, unstructured as all get out. I realized in January that I could puzzle out some films, and thereafter eagerly queried Spaniards for recommendations. They offered many: randomly, off the tops of figurative heads, from Franco-era black & whites to blockbuster new releases. Some are well-known, others virtually unheard of.

I copied titles, researched them online, hunted later for discs. I now have more than sixty in bulging DVD cases.

A few notes up front:

() I see no point in pushing yourself before you’re ready. I need to understand at least half of what’s said before I can enjoy or learn much from a recording. If I can’t, I’m much better off with easier material. I listened to RTVE interviews with crisply-enunciating politicians for two years before graduating to commercial entertainment films. Before that, I watched made-expressly-for-Spanish-students videos on youtube. Baby steps.

() If you are ready, movie viewing can offer big rewards. You’ll hear Spanish as it’s spoken on the street, will learn essential phrases overlooked in conventional language classes. (No tiene nada que ver comes to mind.) Movies offer cultural insights; I never would have guessed that Spaniards can chuckle about the Basque separatist movement (at least in some circumstances) if I hadn’t seen the wildly-popular Ocho apellidos vascos. I feel much more at home here now that I know what makes Spaniards laugh and cry when extranjeros aren’t around.

() I can report only about movies as offered on DVDs, and know nothing about what might be available on Netflix or Amazon subscription video. I happily admit that I might be better off with one of these services. I won’t know unless I try one, and I don’t intend to. I could write a separate post about shopping for used DVDs in Madrid.

() Many movies far surpassed my expectations. Emphasize ‘far.’ I was a little shocked. Spain may be a small country next to the U.S., but seems to punch far over its weight on the silver screen. El Reino is one of the best political movies I’ve seen; Crimen Ferpecto, one of the funniest. (Although I can’t overlook one Crimen segment that must have been heartlessly cruel to the recruited actresses.)

Admittedly, I may be a poor judge. I have seen only a handful of commercial American movies since the mid-eighties, am thus often comparing modern Spanish offerings to films dimly remembered from the Reagan administration.

() This list is intended for fellow language learners. You’d rather be entertained and charmed than bored and irritated, no question, but you’re firing up the flick primarily to improve your comprehension of spoken Spanish.

“Intelligible dialogue” is my most important criterion. The yak in some movies is much more easily deciphered than in others. Maybe the movie is about a passel of folk not known for lecture hall enunciation. (The unlisted Celda 211 and El Bola, for instance, about, respectively, a Spain prison break and two adolescents.) Maybe one of the stars is a tough-to-understand character actor. (Like José Isbert, at least for me.) Maybe the director thinks actors will sound more authentic if they mumble and slur. Maybe the issue is audio engineering. Don’t ask me! What I know is that I can tell the difference, and include seat-of-the-pants ratings, from 1 (worst) to 5 (best).

The DVD’s offering of subtitles also matters, particularly subtitles in Spanish. In some cases, a Spanish-subtitled ‘3’ on the Intelligible Dialogue scale may be a better learning tool than a ‘5’ without subtitles. I can watch with subtitles the first time, then watch again without them.

The first part of the list includes a few movies I could hardly make myself sit through. They still qualified as good learning tools, and merited inclusion. In the second ‘Special Mention’ section, I am more charitable to my own tastes; I am a fan of almost all the films listed, although they are tougher to understand.

() My list includes three movies with extensive dubbing, and two with dubbed audio for two actresses.

Dubbed movies are a mainstay in Spanish cinema, thank to late dictator Franco’s belief that his countryfolk should imbibe flicks without subtitles. Spaniards know Gone with the Wind nearly as well as Americans, but know it as Lo que el viento se llevó, and saw it spoken in Spanish. (Youtube offers clips.) I distrust the disconnect between the audio I hear and the lip movement I see, but can’t argue with Spaniards who have pointed out that dubbed audio is often easier to understand. The heavily-dubbed Handia rates high on my list.

Without further ado:

Latest revision of linked .pdf: 07/21/2023.

11/19/2022: A separate, related post.

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