Yes, I watch movies with subtitles, even if they’re in black-and-white, with people smoking French cigarettes while speaking French and watching things happen to other people in some scrappy, destitute part of Paris or, for variety, a tiny farming village in Normandy.
We are talking about a different sort of foreign film with subtitles.
- Bonus No. 1: This film is 3 minutes long instead of three 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.
Okay. 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. No. Good storytelling. The main narrative question is, “Will they get together?” This is a love story, which doesn’t have to be a rom-com with a high-powered professional woman who eventually gets together with a chubby, unemployed virgin who owns the Largest Comic Book Collection Known to Man, because for some reason, that’s what half the rom-coms are these days.
The other half of rom-coms star Matthew McConaughey.
Back to this little film: 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.
Real stories beat Michael Bay explosions
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 take those $294 million budgets full of special effects and a scripts credited to five different writers. (Pro-tip: the more screenwriters you throw in the kitchen, the crazier the thing that comes out of the oven.)
Give me a story with strong bones and a tiny budget.
Give me people I actually care about, because I don’t give a hoot about Shia LaBeuf and Megan Fox fighting robots or whether the awkward teenage girl gets together with the Sparkly British Vampire vs some kid who used to be a Power Ranger.
Give me a story. A story like this.