Foreign Streaming

Words: Sopan Sharma

‘Netflix also seemed quick to realize this, entering non-English language territories, scouring their respective film industries for well-formed ideas, and putting their money where their mouth was’

Have a fetish for subtitles? It’s also a great way to stay in tune with the world, millions of streaming fans are realizing. Netflix has been on the ball shirking English and going local. It’s an interesting case study

It may be termed an oversimplified equation, but roughly, the Worldwide Web + Streaming = Worldwide Cinema. Ever since cinema has gone streaming, the combination of crafted, moving stories and the web has resulted in a never-before explosive mixture of ideas and narratives that are floating around the world, ready to be consumed by anyone. Netflix, as the leader in the movie streaming boom, has done well to support the industry of artists, with its original shows and films, all which have by now employed some of the best names in Hollywood. But as mentioned, Hollywood, the States, and by extension English speaking countries, which do form a fair chunk of viewers, are still a small cross-section when it comes to the reach of the web. Netflix also seemed quick to realize this, entering non-English language territories, scouring their respective film industries for well-formed ideas, and putting their money where their mouth was. While these shows have done much to popularize Netflix in their respective territories, it has also allowed the ideas of vastly diverse creators to travel across the world. So here’s an account of five series that have charted the path thus far.

Genre: Crime / Drama / True Story
Production: Colombian / American
Language: Spanish
Original Release: Aug 2015

Narcos really started the whole foreign-production/foreign-language deal for Netflix, and with a story as explosive and addictive as that of cocaine-king Pablo Escobar, they had their job cut out. With some amazing writing came the ballsy decision to have all characters speak their local tongues – which given that the show was set in Colombia, happened to be Spanish. What possibly could have been a creative call – it is certainly much easier on the ears given the visuals of Colombian rainforests – resulted in an added side-effect – a new gamut of actors to cast from. In came Brazilian actor Wagner Moura to create one of the most lasting impressions of the ultimate crime boss of our time. Through his story, the show kept millions around the world enamored, in great flowing Spanish.

Genre: Political / Drama
Production: French
Language: French
Original Release: May 2016

The now-shelved French show that lasted two seasons was another adventurous move by Netflix – making a political thriller in a country that takes its politics very seriously. Set in the southern French port town of Marseille, with Gerard Depardieu (who we could risk calling the Amitabh Bachchan of France) playing the grand political patriarch fending off attacks and knives in the back, the show hit some very interesting chords for its time in terms of treatment. While it was almost universally panned in highbrow France that called it “childish”, the world found fair interest in it for a second season to materialize. It is not great storytelling, but if you like the sound of French and wish to see some intense performances, you could give it a shot.

Genre: Teen / Survival / Drama
Production: Brazilian
Language: Portuguese
Original Release: November 2016

What started off as an independent pilot episode made in 2009 has flowered into this continuing series that just released its second season. A dystopian take on the extremes of wealth in Brazil, the show explores a future where only 3% of the youngsters, through competition, can make it to the promised Offshore, the Maralto. While they enjoy life and propagate the best of the species, the rest of humanity suffers on the Mainland. The series itself has some great writing and performances from young Brazilian actors, but what really stands out is the smartly saved production costs –minimal sets, tight shots, and almost no CGI. Just good performances, tight character interactions, and a pacy story. Very cool.

Genre: Sci-fi / Drama / Thriller
Production: German
Language: German
Original Release: Dec 2017

While it’s non-English efforts until now had been measured, and mostly in Spanish to snare the Latin American audiences, Dark was the first Netflix production in German and showed its intentions to make inroads into the European mainland too. While the experiment with Marseille wasn’t all that great, Dark has blown the game open for Netflix with loyal viewership from across the globe.

It has also seen wide support from the community connected via social media and has been quite a sensation. And in many ways, it represents the pinnacle of the service’s efforts to find audiences around the world, but while doing this from a profit point-of-view, connecting creators and consumers like never before.

Genre: Crime / Drama / Heist
Production: Spanish (for TV Channel Antena 3)
Language: Spanish
Original Release: Dec 2017 (internationally by Netflix)

So Money Heist is not a Netflix production, but it’s a brilliant show that is being distributed internationally exclusively by the service – and sometimes picking is as successful as making. The brilliantly pacy show is designed for binging, set around the hostile takeover of the Spanish Royal Mint with hostages, where members of the heist team form the chief protagonists. It is an extremely intelligent screenplay – really vulnerable characters and these oddballs bouncing off each other against the background of a siege, and lots and lots of money. The show’s second season recently hit Netflix, and it may be a good time to catch it. And those red jumpsuits, man.


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