Foreign Exchange: Rewarding Students With Foreign Films

Many U.S. students think foreign films are inaccessible, strange and boring. Turned off by the art house aesthetic they assume these films have, most students won’t actively seek out foreign films on their own. Here’s where teachers come in. Reward films are an opportunity to show students movies they don’t normally see. Whether the award is for great behavior, stellar academic achievement, or the class is just having a celebration, reward films can be used to educate as well as entertain.

Teachers can comment on the movie and provide a brief background that will enhance both educational value and enjoyment. Be straightforward, and tell the class they’ll be seeing a foreign film, and if they groan, tell them that they’ll be surprised by how interesting, entertaining or funny it is. After all, they’re still in school and teachers are paid to educate students.

Below are a few films that will intrigue students, and might just change their minds about foreign films.

1. Strictly Ballroom (Australia) (Ages 12 and up; Rated PG) This hilarious comedy will inspire young people to develop their talents to the fullest, show the complex relationships that can develop in a family, and demonstrate the self-interest that can pervert institutions from their apparent purposes. The plot revolves around Scott, 17 years of age, whose family helps run a ballroom dance studio in an Australian working class neighborhood. Scott’s mother was once a national ballroom dance champion and now teaches. Scott has also won awards for his dancing and everyone hopes that he will win the national championship this year, but on the way to the finals several unexpected events occur.

Questions to be discussed after the film include: Is competitive ballroom dancing a sport or an art form? What happened to this family as a result of the secret that no one talked about? What does this tell us about secrets in families? If Scott had abandoned his new steps and conformed to the pressure from the Federation, what would have eventually happened to his interest in dance?

2. Dear Frankie (UK) (Ages 13 and up; Rated PG-13) Frankie is a boy in the United Kingdom, rendered deaf in infancy after being hit by his father, a serial wife and child beater. Frankie lives with his mother, a woman who writes and sends him letters as if from the father he has never known. In the letters, she claims that Frankie’s father has been traveling the world on a ship’s crew. However, when the ship that Frankie’s father is supposed to be on pays a call at the port in which Frankie and his mother lives, there is a crisis. Frankie’s mother decides to keep the fantasy going by finding a man to play the part of the father. This is a touching film about a myriad of topics, including how one deals with deafness, the power of love, and the value of honesty.

The questions to be discussed after the film should focus on honesty: Was the mother wrong to weave this father-fantasy for her son? Was she wrong in hiring someone to play the role of the father? What might have happened had the man she hired not turned out to be an exceptional person? Were the risks involved in this mother’s efforts to protect her son from the truth worth the gamble?

3. Shower (China) (Ages 13 and up; Rated PG-13) Filmed in 1999, Shower is a Chinese film about family, loss, and change. It is beautifully filmed and the acting is superb. The story revolves around a bathhouse run by an old man who cares not only for his customers but also for his mentally disabled son. However, times are changing and the government orders that the bathhouse be shut down. An older, educated son shows up thinking the old man is dying and thus begins a story about forbearance and family responsibility.

After the film, students can engage in serious discussion about how much one family member can be asked to sacrifice in order to assist another. You can ask students to list the ways the old man helps community members solve their problems thus suggesting that a bathhouse is much more than a place to get clean. Tell the students to notice the difference between the high-tech shower at the opening of the film and the low-tech system of showers and pools used in the bathhouse. This film is largely about change: ask the students to talk or write about how the disabled brother adjusts to the events in his life and what we can learn from his ability to accept change.