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American studios should stop remaking foreign films

American remakes of non-English language films are not a recent trend.
Photos courtesy of IMP Awards

it’s disrespectful in more ways than one

Recently, advertisements for the film Downhill have been circulating that depict the film as a witty comedy about a father abandoning his family during an avalanche. What the ads don’t mention though, is that it’s a remake of the critically acclaimed Swedish film Force Majeure, a well-crafted black comedy about the nuclear family dynamic. The trailers for Downhill disregard the source material and instead say ‘Look over here! We have Will Ferrell!’ Whether or not the film itself is good (which its mixed reviews and poor box office performance indicate it is not), there is a larger issue here: American remakes of foreign films are disrespectful to both their foreign counterparts and American audiences.

What Downhill and other American remakes are doing is taking a great story told by a foreign filmmaker and claiming it as their own. Sure, there’s a little blurb at the beginning of the film that credits the source material. But what good does that do when the films themselves fail to see what made their source materials work? These studios market these films as original stories with zero regard for the foreign filmmakers who did it first and who did it much better.

The studios and filmmakers behind these remakes think that they can simply hit most or all of the original story beats and call it a day. Consider the American horror film The Uninvited, which is a remake of the exceptional South Korean film A Tale of Two Sisters. The American version is basically the same story, but it ruins the effect of the original by toning down the scariest aspects of the original story for the sake of a PG-13 rating. It’s this kind of mistranslation that produces a sloppy product and a shameful knock-off of a perfectly fine foreign film.

But the problem goes beyond these borderline plagiaristic techniques. By remaking these great foreign films, America is saying to its audience that it’s okay to stay within one’s own comfort zone. Most film watchers are actually fine with subtitles in a film and it is insulting to movie goers to assume that they are subtitle averse. These studios are coddling their audiences by pushing forward these remakes and limiting the distribution of foreign material. It’s easy to understand the difficulties in marketing foreign films here. But when these studios are remaking the most accessible foreign films, then they aren’t even giving American audiences a chance to explore this plethora of great movies. Instead of financing these bland remakes, studios should make more of an effort to distribute the originals. It would save studios a lot more money releasing films that are already made and it would give them a lot more credibility.

Make no mistake, not all American remakes of foreign films are terrible. A good example of an American remake that gets it right is Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria. Rather than making a carbon copy of Dario Argento’s classic horror film, Guadagnino does what all other remakes should do. He shows immense respect for the source material by understanding what made the story great. Not only that, but he applies his own style to the film so it still feels fresh.

Unless a remake is going to try to do something different with a story or pay homage to it in a respectful manner, what is even the point? Why ruin a good thing when you can just have the good thing itself? If it’s all for the sake of making a profit, then it’s just pathetic.

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