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Comparing British and German attitudes to European film

Over the last six months, Jessica van Roye has been an Intern with the MeCETES team at the University of York. In her second blog post, she compares British and German attitudes towards European film based on the focus groups she helped conduct.

Over the last few months I’ve been helping Dr Huw Jones conduct focus groups in the UK and Germany about people’s attitudes to European film. In my previous blog post, I outlined some of the challenges we faced in terms of recruiting participants and running the focus groups themselves. Here, I want to outline some of our key findings.

Part of the reason why we wanted to speak to audiences in both the UK and Germany was to see whether people in different countries held different opinions about European film. Germans, for example, consume five times more European films at the cinema than the Brits (14% of admissions compared 3%).

However, even though the composition of the British and German groups were slightly different – the British groups had more highly educated people, while the German groups were more mixed – both countries actually shared very similar views.

French comedy drama Untouchables was a hit across Europe in 2012, except in the UK.

One of the most popular European film amongst both the British and German focus groups was the French comedy-drama The Intouchables (2011)

Subtitling v dubbing

One noticeable difference was in terms of attitudes towards subtitling and dubbing.

In Germany, where imported European films are generally dubbed, our focus group participants said they found subtitles distracting, because they made it harder to focus on the picture. Because so many Germans can speak English, most also said they didn’t mind watching British or American films in their original version, particularly if this meant they could catch the latest releases.

By contrast, none of our British respondents were interested in watching dubbed films, because they felt this had less authenticity. Watching films with subtitles was seen as hard work – one of the reasons why so few Brits watch European films – but it nevertheless meant that the British audiences had a better sense than the Germans of where particular films came from.

French and Scandi cinema

Both the British and German audiences held particularly strong views on French films – they either loved them or hated them. Vibrant colours, strong dialogue and a keen sense of humour were seen as some of the stand out features of French cinema.

Amongst the German focus group participants, the most popular European film we showed was the French comedy-drama The Intouchables – almost all had seen it before and most loved it. The film was also popular amongst many of the British respondents, though it was much less well-known.

Scandinavian cinema also had a strong level of recognition, even if many had never seen the specific Scandinavian titles we showed, such as The Hunt. Scandinavian cinema was associated with a sense of darkness in terms of its aesthetics and storylines. But while some said they found this quality attractive, others suggested they had to be in the right mood to watch Nordic Noir, especially when these dealt with serious topics.

Popcorn films

Both the Brits and the Germans generally associated European film with complex stories, serious subject matter and socially relevant topics. But while complex films were generally held in higher esteem, many also admitted they often preferred to watch ‘popcorn films’ on a Saturday night – described as something easy, fun and not too exhausting or serious after a long week.

European films were also seen as less familiar than American films. Both sets of groups were much more familiar with Hollywood stars and US culture than that of their immediate European neighbours. With the exception of the Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen, few could identify European stars, such as Marion Cotillard or Trine Dyrholm.

One noticeable difference, though, was in terms of people’s attitudes towards films from their own country. The Germans tended to negatively describe their own films as “boring” and “always the same”, while the Brits had a more mixed opinion on UK films.

Advertising and availability

If European films were less well-known than Hollywood movies, most agreed this had more to do with poor advertising and availability – particularly in cinemas and on TV – than the quality of the films themselves. In this respect, many of the British participants pointed to the growing popularity of Scandinavian television dramas series like The Killing or The Bridge as an example of how British audiences could become more interested in foreign European drama.

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