Last week in the foyer of a specialised cinema I stumbled over a large standalone promotion for the new Meryl Streep film Doubt. About 8ft high, 4 ft wide and 18 ins deep, the cardboard construction struck me as physical evidence of what’s been happening to specialised cinemas in the UK. I won’t name the cinema since I’m sure the situation has been forced on them – and anyway, something similar is happening across the country.
Since the start of the year, it has been difficult to find new foreign language films on any kind of significant release (i.e. more than 20 screens across the UK). I’ve seen one film in the French Institute and half a dozen booked for my own courses and events. I’ve also been to a special event on Cuban Cinema, but in the general film programme the films with subtitles that I’ve seen have all been UK/US productions (Defiance, Slumdog Millionaire and Che). The screens I would have visited are filled with other American product – The Wrestler, The Reader, Revolutionary Road, Milk, Rachel Getting Married, Frost/Nixon and now Doubt. These films are all showing in multiplexes, so why are they on specialised screens as well? As far as I can see, there is no reason to think that they are ‘art films’ as such. To turn it round the other way, what should have been an important release – Tokyo Sonata, a Cannes prizewinner with a growing critical reputation, opened on just three prints. The only foreign language opening (discounting Hindi and Tamil films) with more than three prints has been A Christmas Tale with seven.
In these circumstances, cinemas have no choice but to put on the American films. OK, it’s all about getting Oscar-nominated films in front of the public, but this doesn’t wash. Where is Laurent Canet’s The Class? It is scheduled to open after the Oscar ceremony on February 27. My only other hope is Kim Ji-Woon’s The Good, The Bad and the Weird – a film I’m looking forward to seeing soon. This looks like a wide release – into multiplexes. I’m trying to find out if all the prints are subtitled.
So, am I getting paranoid? I don’t think so. True there are more foreign language films getting a release in the UK now, but when you investigate, it’s only one or two prints in order to bolster the DVD release. I don’t have anything against the so-called American ‘independents’, except that most of them aren’t – and they are crowding out what I want to watch.