Monday, September 3, 2007

Nationality titles

I’m a sucker for titles with nationalities. Even if the movies and books don’t always satisfy, the use of the words themselves are often excellent shorthand for “exotic,” “powerful,” or “naïve.” For the purpose of narrowing my subject, I’ve avoided all uses of the word “American,” but even that had some fine uses: “An American Tragedy,” “The Quiet American,” “American Pie,” “American Beauty,” (my personal favorite title if not movie) and “American” (the original title of “Citizen Kane”).

1. The English Patient – The irony, as those of you have seen the movie or read the book, is that the patient isn’t actually English. He’s Hungarian, burnt beyond recognition. But there’s a certain poetry in a man who has lost everything grasping onto an innocuous national identity.

2. The Spanish Prisoner – The trick, in its most modern incarnation, is attempted by every Nigerian who ever sends you an email requesting a transfer of 80,000 dollars to save a minor noble brought down by revolutionary violence with the promise of 10,000,000 later on. David Mamet could use it as a title only because the story it refers to was not too well-known. “Spanish Prisoner” might remind the average viewer of something closer to the Spanish Civil War or modern Basque violence than to a tale from the 16th century.

3. The Italian Job – I haven’t seen either version. But apparently it deals with a heist in Turin. And the title sounds lot more intriguing than The Turin Project.

4. The Argentine – It hasn’t even come out yet. But this is the most inspired title I could imagine for a Che Guevara biopic. So ambiguous. Is he an evil Argentine or a good one? Just where will Stephen Soderbergh lay his political beliefs?

5. The Mexican – The title refers to a gun. You can't name a gun after the Canadians.

6. Burmese Days – I guess I’ve lived in enough places that I can write my own books: Vietnamese Days, Bulgarian Days, Latvian Days and, maybe soon, Hungarian Days…But the lilting two-syllable/one-syllable bit only seems to work with Burmese Days, which recall the awful colonial experience so well. (No, I don’t know any film version of the Orwell book.)

7. The Good German – Was there any such thing in post-World War II Berlin? Soderbergh again.

8. My Big Fat Greek Wedding – Awful title. The fine thing about the use of nationalities in titles is that you can make them short. You don’t have to say much more than “Spanish Prisoner” (strange thriller) “The Mexican” (violence), or “Good German” (drama about moral ambiguity) for audiences to get the idea. If Nia Vardalos needed to say “whacky” she only had to say “Greek Wedding.”

3 comments:

Matt K said...

There's also "The French Connection," of course, but if memory serves the what actual French business exists is pretty peripheral to shots of Gene Hackman looking badass in a trenchcoat. And I'm ashamed to bring up "French Kiss", which is about France and French people, but is also a Kevin Kline fake-accent romantic comedy.

Others: Candy and Alda in "Canadian Bacon" ("Surrender her pronto, or we'll level Toronto"); and perhaps my favorite of these nationality titles -- certainly my favorite as a 10 year old boy -- "The Swiss Family Robinson."

Matt K said...

Also -- The Italian Job (v. 2.0) was disappointing. Ed Norton was a surprisingly bland villain, and Mark Wahlberg provided additional evidence that he's a supporting actor, not a leading man. Charlize was hot, though.

Katie said...

There's also a very bad Russian remake of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" called "My Big Armenian Wedding". 4+ hours long and filled with pain for the casual viewer.