Globetrotting: Parkside’s Foreign Film Series takes audience around the world

By Bill Robbins

Acclaimed films from 12 countries including Russia, Lebanon, Japan and Spain are featured in this season’s Foreign Film Series at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.

The 14 films have been recognized by critics as some of the best cinema the world has to offer, collecting prizes from international film festivals and competitions including the Academy Awards, Cannes Film Festival, Berlin International Film Festival and the Asian-Pacific Film Festival.

Included in this year’s program are 2013 Oscar winners for best foreign-language film and best documentary.

The series remains a bargain, said its director, Norman Cloutier, a UW-Parkside economics professor.

“We sell season subscriptions only — there are no single tickets sold at the door,” Cloutier said.

“Season tickets are $27 — $25 for seniors — so our patrons are paying less than $2 per film,” he said.

Over the past 31 years the season-ticket price has, in effect, decreased, he said.

“Adjusted for inflation—you can’t take the economist out of the film- series director — our patrons are paying a lower price per film now than they did when the series began in 1982,” he said.

Patrons have six showtime options and three free guest passes.

“When patrons order their tickets we ask them to choose one of six possible showtimes,” he said.

“We understand, however, that it is not always convenient to attend their chosen showtime, and so we have adopted a very liberal switching policy.”

Patrons may attend any of the alternative showtimes.

Each season ticket comes with three free guest passes, which can be used anytime during the season, he said.

“We consider this a great way for our patrons to introduce the series to their friends, and it’s common for guests to subsequently purchase season tickets.”

Audiences play a key role in choosing the films.

“Every spring our patrons respond to an extensive survey in which they indicate what they want to see next season,” he said.

“While we occasionally tweak the final selections in order to get a balance of countries and genres, the films in this year’s program were our patrons’ top 14 vote-getters. Our patrons have a sense of ownership in the series — and they should, because we rely heavily on their preferences.”

Cloutier encourages people to order season tickets as soon as possible.

“Our most popular showtimes — Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at 5 p.m. — have sold out for a number of consecutive years,” he said.

Tickets can be ordered online by visiting and inputting the keywords “foreign films” or by calling 262-595-2307.

Films are shown in the Student Center Cinema.

Here are this season’s films:

“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” (United Kingdom, 2011) 124 minutes, Sept. 19-22.

Upon arriving at the once-opulent Marigold Hotel, a retirement destination in India, eager British pensioners come to realize that rumors of the building's restoration have been greatly exaggerated. But just when it starts to seem they have been swindled out of their life savings, they summon the courage to sever their ties to the past and embrace their new life with a sense of wonder and adventure.

“Elena” (Russia, 2011) 109 minutes, Sept. 26-29.

Elena is a former nurse in a late-in-life marriage to the emotionally distant Vladimir in this tense, domestic thriller. He's got plenty of cash and a caustic, estranged adult daughter from a previous marriage. Elena, in turn, has a chronically unemployed son. The son, in turn, has a wife, a sullen teenage son and a fresh, accidental toddler. When Vladimir suffers a near-fatal heart attack, a pragmatic truce with his daughter turns into a potential inheritance nightmare for the easily manipulated Elena.

“A Simple Life” (Hong Kong, 2011) 118 minutes. Oct. 17-20.

Ah Tao has spent her entire life in the service of four generations of a Chinese family. She is now the servant of Roger, the only family member still living in China. When Ah Tao suffers a stroke Roger takes charge of her care, but she wants to live in an old folks' home. As Roger visits, brings things, offers money, we see that although she raised him from infancy and he is now her sole contact with the world outside the nursing home, they have never articulated their dependence on each other.

“The Gatekeepers” (Israel/France/Germany, 2012) 101 minutes. Oct. 31-Nov. 3.

Granted an extraordinary level of access to six former heads of Israel's Shin Bet counterterrorism agency, this documentary achieves a remarkably clear-eyed assessment of how state-sanctioned violence has exacted a crippling moral toll on the region and its pursuit of peace. Even as men with guns and technologies might debate details of their campaigns, this film reveals that they are as much products of what they do as they are authors.

“Sound of Noise” (Sweden, 2010) 102 minutes. Nov. 14-17.

Amadeus, a city of Malmo policeman, was raised in a musically talented family yet he is tone deaf and hates music. He has been assigned to stop a group of masked terrorists who set out to shake up the residents of Malmo by staging incidents of cheeky musical theater. The film veers between socio-political satire, slapstick comedy and bizarre fantasy.

“Barbara,” (Germany, 2012) 105 minutes. Dec. 5-8

In a story of love and subterfuge in 1980 East Germany, physician Barbara has been sent to a small country pediatric hospital from a prestigious post in Berlin by "authorities," after she had the temerity to request an exit visa. She is now constantly under surveillance. As it turns out, Barbara does have a secret: She's planning an escape to be with her lover in West Germany.

“Where Do We Go Now?” (Lebanon, 2011) 110 minutes. Dec. 12-15

The women of a remote Middle Eastern village, where Christians and Muslims live side by side, concoct radically inventive schemes to prevent sectarian violence from further corrupting their loved ones. The women on both sides unite to distract their men with clever ruses, from faking a miracle to hiring a troop of Ukrainian strippers.

“I Wish” (Japan, 2011) 128 minutes. Jan. 23-26.

Two brothers have been separated by marital discord. Koichi, a fourth grader, lives with his mother, and Ryunosuke, a few years younger, lives in a distant town with his father. The boys are absorbed by the fact that a high-speed bullet train will soon provide service linking their homes. They become electrified when Koichi hears that at the moment when the two 160-mph trains pass each other, some kind of magical field is generated that makes wishes come true.

“The Impossible” (Spain, 2012) 114 minutes. Feb. 6-9.

Inspired by actual events surrounding the tsunami that devastated the Pacific Basin in the winter of 2004, this drama details one family's incredible fight for survival. We meet the Bennetts aboard a flight beginning their family holiday in Khao Lak, Thailand. Shortly after arrival there is an alarming shift in the atmosphere; something is fundamentally wrong. We see the tsunami from the tourists' point of view as it leaves behind a dazed group whose world is a jumble of destruction.

“Sister” (France/Switzerland, 2012) 97 minutes. Feb. 20-23.

“Sister” charts the divide between the haves and have-nots in a Swiss mountain town and ski resort. Navigating between these two worlds is Simon, an adolescent Robin Hood who steals ski equipment from vacationers. Simon lives in a cheap, one-bedroom apartment with his listless 20-something sister, Louise, who shuffles through low-paying jobs and has a habit of disappearing with lowlifes who don't treat her well.

“Searching for Sugar Man” (Sweden/United Kingdom, 2012) 86 minutes. March 6-9.

In this age of Google searches, a true modern musical mystery like the one in this documentary seems impossible. But that's what surrounded Sixto Rodriguez, an early-1970s next-big-thing whose career fizzled in the U.S. before he became an underground superstar in apartheid-era South Africa, but seemed to disappear from the face of the earth. The film won the 2013 Academy Award for best documentary.

“The Intouchables” (France, 2011) 112 minutes. March 20-23.

This a portrait of intimacy between two men, one an opera-loving quadriplegic and the other his caretaker, a vulgar Senegalese immigrant. The film gets respectability from the actors — Omar Sy as the bald caregiver with a blinding smile, and Francois Cluzet as the curt but mischievous quadriplegic. Each man pulls the other into experiences that expand his sense of the world.

“A Royal Affair” (Denmark, 2012) 137 minutes. April 3-6.

Late in 18th-century Denmark, the books and ideas of Voltaire and Rousseau arrived under the arm of Dr. Johann Struensee, a German physician who was hired to care for the tormented young King Christian VII. The doctor has a brilliant idea: Use Queen Caroline to persuade her husband to make radical changes in the kingdom.

“Amour” (France/Germany/Austria, 2012) 127 minutes. April 24-27

An octogenarian couple find their love put to the ultimate test when one of them suffers a stroke, and the other must assume the role of the caretaker in this compassionate yet unsentimental drama. Romantic poets often equate sacrifice with some grand gesture, but this film shows us that it is also suffering along with loved ones because they hurt and there's nothing you can do to ease their discomfort. The movie won the 2013 Academy Award for best foreign language film

What people are saying

What do people love so much about UW-Parkside’s Foreign Film Series?

Two years ago, as part of the series’ 30th anniversary, patrons were asked what the series meant to them. Here are some of their responses:

— “Incredible foreign films — not available anywhere else in Racine or Kenosha counties. A wonderful venue in which to watch these films. Intelligent movies-goers to discuss the films’ intents with and a respectful audience of people to associate with.”

— “The series means a lot to me —it brings films that cannot be seen in Racine. As a single senior citizen, it enables me to see foreign films without driving alone to Milwaukee, especially at night.”

— “It’s been an interesting and cultural experience. I look forward to not only the movie, but being able to view the cultures of the people and their surrounding environment. Some of the films have left me speechless...They certainly give me food for thought.”

— “Viewing these films helps satisfy my curiosity about how other people live: How their homes are decorated, what their jobs are like and the ways they interact with family and friends. The series has meant that I do not have to drive to Milwaukee or Chicago to see these films.”

— “It is a ticket to a different world, countries and customs I have not had the opportunity to experience. Some of these movies are among the best I have ever seen.”


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