Celebrating international films can open a window for fresh perspectives and new ideas. Boston University’s “Language of the Month” Film Series at the Education Resource Center brings this to life.
Each month, the ERC chooses one language and organizes an in-depth community conversation on a celebrated film in the language. The ERC’s “Language of the Month” program also features a monthly newsletter and a resource guide.
The language featured in September is Korean, and the ERC hosted a discussion on Sept. 30 on the Oscar-winning film “Parasite,” directed by Bong Joon Ho. The film comments heavily on class disparities when the Kim family cleverly cons their way to each work for a rich but oblivious family.
Yoon Sun Yang, associate professor of Korean and Comparative Literature and women’s, gender and sexuality and convener of Chinese and Korean, was the speaker at the event. She opened the discussion with a historical overview of the Korean War, Korea-U.S. relations and the development of Korean film, laying a foundation for the discussion that followed.
As a long-time researcher of Korean literature and cinema, Yang’s expertise made the conversation even more engaging. Participants shared interesting observations and questions about the representation of class, the mysterious ending of the film and the portrayal of poverty in the film.
“One of the points that came out during the conversation is how unempathetic the director seems toward any of the characters,” Yang said in an interview. “He doesn’t romanticize the poor people. He doesn’t glorify the rich people either. And he just says the bare truth, bare reality of the society that is defined by class disparity.”
Yang said the impact of the “Korean wave,” which started around two decades ago, has brought more international attention to Korean films.
“It’s been quite amazing to see the rise of Korean culture steadily,” Yang said. “Because the infrastructure of cultural industries in Korea … you can’t ignore it. It is very stable [and] it’s getting stronger.”
Jim Carter, a lecturer in Italian at the College of Arts and Sciences’ romance studies department, attended the Korean Film Series discussion. Carter was the host of last month’s “Language of the Month” discussion, where he led the conversation on the 1948 Italian film “Bicycle Thieves.”
In an interview, Carter said that his passion for international cinema drew him to this event.
“I’m interested in international cinema, so not only Italian films, but things from all over the world,” Carter said. “One of the cool things about this event is that it brings together once a month students and professors, and staff at the University.”
Carter also said that he is excited about next month’s film discussion.
“[It] establishes a space in which we can all talk to each other about something that we’re all passionate about,” Carter said. “Film has this potential, this power to give us something in common that we can engage with, and that we can also disagree about.”
The language of the month for October is German, followed this semester by Japanese and English.
Yang also highlighted the importance of cultural exchange. She said there is an important linkage between global cinema and one’s cultural awareness and empathy.
“Culture and literature are really wonderful tools to be more analytic, and be smarter, and be more aware of what’s going on,” Yang said, “because American culture doesn’t stay in America.”
Just as American culture travels beyond its border, foreign cultures also come into the United States in some ways, Yang said, and therefore appreciating different cultures can be enriching for students.
“That actually helps us expand our knowledge, expand our empathy, [and] make us better people,” Yang said.