Storytelling insights from 3 minutes of glorious film WITH SUBTITLES

Because I am not a pretentious nancypants, I don’t typically watch movies with subtitles. They are in black-and-white, with people smoking French cigarettes while speaking French and watching things happen to other French people FOR NO DAMN REASON.

The only good part is the French cigarettes. I used to smoke Gallouise Blondes, which were smooth and expensive and glorious.

HOWEVER: all that is water under a bridge over the Seine.

We are talking about a different sort of foreign film with subtitles.

  • Bonus No. 1: This film is 3 minutes long instead of three flipping hours.
  • Bonus No. 2: There is hardly any talking, or any need to read the subtitles at all.
  • Bonus No. 3: Most importantly, this little film can teach us all great big lessons about storytelling and structure.

Also, unless you have no soul, it will make drops of water drip from your eyes and scurry down your cheeks.

Here. Watch the clip in high definition. Or low def, it that’s your thing. Whatever floats your boat.

Hokay. All done?

Let’s take it apart and see what makes it tick.

This little film has strong bones. The structure is a roller coaster: things are bad (son is running away), things get even worse (son nearly dies, is paralyzed), then in the climax, things get resolved and the world is forever changed, at least for this family.

The father is not sympathetic at first, right? My first thought was BAD CASTING. But no, that was stupid of me.

The main narrative question is, “Will they get together?” This is a love story, though not a romance starring Men in Kilts and the Lasses Who Love Them.

So if they’re getting together in the end, they must be split apart in the beginning.

Another narrative question is, “How do these people suffer, change and grow?”

The father moves from stern, humorless taskmaster to loving and dedicated. He’s the hero of this little film, because it’s his actions that matter most. The normal thing would be for him to let the doctors do their work, right? But it’s his turn to rebel. He carries his son out of the hospital, out of the wheelchair and back into the world. Rehab isn’t going to be nurses and machines and doctors. It’s going to be father and son, learning to walk again.

And all that suffering and sacrifice pays off. The son also transforms. In the beginning, he’s rebellious and aloof. In the end, he’s loyal and connected to his family.

The mother is a flat character. She suffers, but she doesn’t change. That’s OK. Having two characters go through all this in three minutes is plenty.

This tiny film, which is a flipping COMMERCIAL, moved me far more than bazillion-dollar CGI blockbusters involving dinosaurs, vampires or robots that transform themselves into Chevies.

You can have your $194 million budgets full of special effects and a script written by committee. Give me a story with strong bones and a tiny budget.

Give me people I actually care about, because I don’t give a damn about Shia LaBeuf and Megan Fox or whether the awkward teenage girl gets together with the Sparkly British Vampire or some kid who used to be a Power Ranger.

Give me a story. A story like this.


Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that was a finalist for some award.


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Filed under 3 Tinseltown Tuesday

11 responses to “Storytelling insights from 3 minutes of glorious film WITH SUBTITLES

  1. Pingback: Tinseltown Tuesday: LOOPER | The Red Pen of Doom

  2. Pingback: Tinseltown Tuesday: HENRI 2, PAW DE DEUX | The Red Pen of Doom

  3. That 3 min video moved me to tears. What a great short story that displays the raw, vulnerable love that is family. <3

    Thank you for the post! And I enjoyed meeting you on Twitter today. :)

  4. I agree with your post, the structure, the good bones, moving 3 minute clip.I don’t quite get your pretentious nancypants comment however. I don’t consider myself pretentious, just a lover of cinema in all languages. Some of the best films out there are “foreign” films with subtitles for us English speakers. They are not in black & white but in all colors and no one smokes French cigs. For instance, not sure where that clip was from, but I urge you to check out Korean cinema. Excellent films. But maybe you were joking about the nancypants stuff. I hope so.

    • Guy

      If you can’t tell, I’m only joking on days that end in Y.

      Foreign films are great. I watch Bollywood stuff all the time, and Korean films rock. Thanks for visiting, and commenting.

  5. Brilliant…gets close to being manipulative, but steers away, just.

    PS> The French ciggies….they’re Gauloises.

  6. Pingback: Story, first. Commercial, second. | A Story.In

  7. Loved the movie and your story attached to it. Completely agree. Thanks!

  8. Absolutely wonderful! For a while there, I thought I was one of the soul-less ones, then it got me! What a lesson in story-telling and what matters. Loved it!

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