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One Year!  Wow, it seems like just last June we were in the street markets of Ancient Baghdad on a flying carpet with Aladin.  Or, trying to escape from the top of a burning tower in South Korea.  These films offered us a cinematic glimpse into the diverse traditions, customs, and ways of life for people in different places around the globe, and all in the name of international Christmas entertainment.  As the Festive Fans, we have learned so much about the holiday celebrations of the places we visit and elements of their history and culture as well.  It has been enlightening in a way we didn’t expect.  When we watch films from foreign countries we are exposed to a unique artistic experience. These films tell stories with different perspectives and new ways of thinking.

As a simple little Christmas podcast, we have enjoyed scary goats, naked elves, and zombie high schoolers; we’ve explored issues of white nationalism, antisemitism, and sexual abuse; we’ve watched dramas, comedies, animation, and whatever the heck that Echo was; and we’ve touched almost every continent – Europe, Asia, Africa, North and South America. Each different location we visit demonstrates how the world is so much bigger than we often recognize.  This podcast has been an amazing ride for us, especially with its soundtrack of foreign Christmas music.   Our next two episodes are going to highlight the best of the last 24 shows.  We have selected our own personal favorite quotes, food and drink, customs, songs and films.  It is our time to review and revisit the best of what we’ve discovered.  Watching foreign films allows us to visit and celebrate Christmas in exotic cities that we may never be able to see in person.  It sometimes takes a movie from halfway across the world to remind us how our experiences and rituals are more universal than we think –regardless of linguistic, cultural or geological differences.

If this is your first time joining us, we hope it’s a good experience and maybe you want to go back and start at the beginning.  If you’ve been with us before, let’s appreciate this change of pace and treat this like one of those flashback sitcom episodes.  Pop some champagne and kick back, it’s the Best of the Festive Foreign Film Fans – Season One!  On with the show!

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Title:

Episode 25 – It’s Our Anniversary! (Part 1)

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Festive Fans Unite! (send us a message)

OK, Festive Fans, pour yourselves a Mai Thai and get ready for the last episode of our first season!  We are heading east – Far East – to Thailand, a captivating land of beaches, palaces, ruins, and temples.  It’s the perfect ending for a final holiday outing to shake our Christmas booties with the Buddhists and elephants.

First, we review the film Rak haeng Siam or The Love of Siam.   The portrayal of life in the film is very realistic:  family dynamics, confusing emotions, and the painful truth that you don’t always get what you want.  It is a multi-layered drama that deals with loneliness, longing, pain, tragedy, alcoholism, peer pressure, success, sexual awakenings, and family responsibilities, all in one film.  Merry Christmas!  No wonder the film is so long.

And yet, there is nothing more poignant than when Mew finally receives the last piece of Tong’s gift, completing the wooden Santa.  It accurately captures all of their pent-up emotions without dialogue — the memories they made together, the love they share, and the reality that they can’t be together.  If there is a lesson here, it is about societal separation, and coping with being apart from ones you truly love.  Not cheerful or merry, but honest and emotional, which is what the holidays are all about.

We also discuss the open way that Buddhists accept the Christmas celebration and the teachings of Jesus.  It is uplifting and spiritual how Thai culture shines through in their local approach to the holiday.  Many Thai will celebrate Christmas, but will also incorporate Buddhist traditions as well.  We all share the core beliefs of togetherness, love, generosity, and care for others that are on display at Christmas.  We can’t  think of a better common message of brotherhood and community on which to end our first season.   Optimum est alius nondum venit (the best is yet to come)!

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Episode 24: Rak haeng Siam or “The Love of Siam” (Thailand)

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The boys are going Dutch this episode and exploring Christmas in the land of tulips, windmills, and hole-y dykes.  Grab your wooden shoes, we are heading to the Netherlands for St. Nicholas Day!   We also examine a surprisingly dated film from 2007, Alles is Liefde, and discuss whether the same film could be made today.  It is another example of the subgenre we call the “Love Actually Knockoffs” with several characters, many stories at once, and intersecting storylines brought together by the holiday spirit.  The film is funny and has all of the necessary feel-good elements – including a charming prince on a horse – but it also features the controversial assistant of St. Nicholas known as “Zwarte Piet” or “Black Pete”.  This traditional Dutch character is portrayed here in an exaggerated and offensive fashion.  The film even posits the question of whether the Petes exist as the slaves of St. Nicholas, and this concept is played for laughs.  Sadly, this undertone of racism detracts from what is a fun, lighthearted holiday movie, especially if you’re interested in the culture.  And speaking of, we also take a look at some unique Christmas elements, including a novelty song about a dead rabbit, Santa with a butt plug, and a popular festive song that was first popularized by Ernie and Bert on the Dutch Sesame Street, and is sung by one of the actresses in the film.  This episode is truly a delectable gourmetten!

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Title: Episode 23: Alles is Liefde (Netherlands)
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In today’s episode, we enjoy Skenbart or “IIlusive Tracks” a black and white Swedish film set in 1945. It is a comedy, thriller, drama and love story, all wrapped up in one, along with those common elements you expect in a Christmas film – murder, adultery, and violence.  Plus, if you can believe it, it’s really, really funny.  Join the boys are we travel with the hopelessly idealistic Gunnar, a failed author who quit his job to escape on a train for Berlin.  He sees excitement and opportunity and wants to rebuild the city after World War II, but instead leaves chaos in his wake.

On the train leaving from Stockholm is an eccentric crew – a Catholic doctor who wants to kill his wife, a gay man who hates men, a hapless soldier on the wrong train, and some hard-drinking nuns with religious doubts and a motley group of Baltic refugees.  Now this is a holiday party!

Even with the hilarity, Mark and Bob still find time to celebrate a true Swedish Christmas, with an authentic smorgasbord washed down with a couple mugs of Julmust.  They also set a giant straw Yule goat on fire and enjoy their annual viewing of Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul, all while waiting for Jultomten to arrive.  To top it off, they swing to the silken tones of the dashing former model and Eurovision winner Måns Zelmerlöw and his 2010 cover of “Tomten, jag vill ha en riktig jul”.  With all this laughter, adventure, and generosity, can it get any more festive, fans?

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Author: Bob & Mark
Title: Episode 22: Skenbart (Sweden)
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The boys  head north again to another Scandinavian country to fully embrace the land of Vikings, pastries, and Mads Mikkelsen.  It’s Denmark!  Yes, our own Hannibal Lecter stars in a revenge drama that has all of the elements you didn’t know you wanted for the holidays  – anger, grief and lots of violence.  And It is still feels Christmassy!  Don’t misunderstand, this is the rare film where you recognize by the end that everybody should’ve gone to therapy.  Good thing we are in the happiest country in the world!

Even their Christmas customs are snug and cozy (well except for the nisse who wants to break the necks of your cattle and burn down your barn). You better leave him some Risalamande.  Plus, we have our first international rap anti-Christmas song “Jul ‘Det Cool”.  It joyfully celebrates how Christmas is expensive and boring.  Happy Holidays!  There is nothing rotten here, so sit back and enjoy this ride.  Trust us, it’s a wild one!

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Title: Episode 21: Retfærdighedens Ryttere (Denmark)
Festive

We are still in our post-St. Patrick’s Day reverie so the Festive Fans decide to head off to enjoy the Emerald Isle.  Mark is excited to celebrate the locale of his favorite film The Quiet Man and the home to three of his great-grandparents.  He is our resident leprechaun so he gets to present the Irish movie Kisses.  And no, it’s not about that famous blarney stone.  This film follows a young boy and girl who run away from their violent homelife at Christmastime. Although still young, they share a hardness in their eyes and cussing in their mouths, so it is not your typical holiday film.

It begins in black and white. Their lives are rendered in sad, bleak tones, which later turn to color when they escape to Dublin. They encounter musicians, street walkers, con artists and thugs, and yet the mood is still whimsical.  It has a vague hint of Christmas spirit about it — and these young teens deserve a touch of festive Irish magic in their lives, if only for a short time.

We explore some holiday customs like the killing of the wren, the Christmas morning polar swim, and Shloer, a special seasonal drink.  There is also “Women’s Christmas” or “Little Christmas” on the Epiphany, where it’s a girls’ night out with a suggestion of magic in the air.  We debate St. Patrick’s over St. Joseph’s Day.  Plus, we enjoy a song called Christmas the Way I Remember  by the High Kings.  It is part of the new era of folk music, modern but still  reflective and insightful like the traditional ballads.  Mark caps it off his family’s Christmas blessing.  It’s an episode that is all so very Irish.  Sláinte!

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Author: Bob & Mark
Title: Episode 20: Kisses (Ireland)
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Don’t cry for us Argentina, you have delivered on a very meaty holiday.  And we are not just talking about the ox tongue and tuna sauce at the Asado.   Our first tour stop in South America really delivers its fireworks — both on and off the screen.  La Noche Magica is a film that may seem dark and unsettling, but it is what Mark has described as a “must see”.  The complicated plot finds a thief mistaken for Santa on Christmas Eve who becomes intrigued with the family he is robbing.  He first stumbles upon the wife’s lover, hiding on the balcony.  Next, he walks into an unfortunate love triangle between a fussy collector, his beautiful wife, and the best man at their wedding.  In the midst of this serious storytelling and social reflection, there are also comic moments and black humor to relieve the suspense and to help grapple with the heady subject matter being tackled in this arty Christmas movie   All is not what appears to be, including Nicola and his mission. This is not your conventional festive film but hold on to your red hat for a provocative and colorful ride,

Next, we explore the traditional customs of Nochebuena (Christmas Eve) with an hourly detail of the evening’s events, both the dinner and the Sobremesa.  The all-night party continues with a festive display of fireworks, globitos, and the arrival of Bom Velhinho.  If you can’t make it, at least you can listen to “Ven a Mi Casa Esta Navidad”, which reflects the yearning we all have for a sense of belonging and togetherness during the holiday season. The song is a reminder that if can’t be home, at least you can “Come to My House this Christmas”.

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Title: Episode 19: Le Nocha Magica (Argentina)
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This reminds us of when we reviewed a film from Turkey in November, now February is Black History month in the States and we just happen to be covering our first film on the African continent.  Today we travel to Lagos, Nigeria for an entertaining Christmas rom com that features all of the classic Hallmark movie tropes – boys meeting and losing girls, misunderstandings, maternal meddling, corporate greed, and a best friend crush.  Plus, there is the annual holiday festival that teaches everyone about love, kindness and the meaning of Christmas.

While a seeming cliche, “A Naija Christmas” has a bit more heft.  It is festive and heart-warming to watch three brothers compete to fulfill their Mother’s wish to see her sons married.  However, the real Christmas present is being introduced to a different, more genuine side of Nigeria.  There are no money-seeking Nigerian princes or corrupt warlords here, but three familiar young men who tease, argue, and fight like brothers do, but also look out for and take care of each other.  They have their normal struggles at work, with their girlfriends, and taking care of their aging Mama.  These are real-life scenarios that all can viewers relate to, butnwe are also treated to the honest cultural issues of class, gender and faith found in Nigeria.

We also explore local customs like Detty December, Christmas rice, and knockouts and fireworks on Christmas Eve.  We meet the Nigerian Father Christmas, who gives out his gifts by hand or by throwing them into the air instead of delivering them at night.  Last, we enjoy the song “Y’ello Christmas” by Nigerian-born Moelogo because the color yellow in Africa represents happiness, harmony and culture.

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Author: Bob & Mark
Title: Episode 18: A Naija Christmas (Nigeria)
Festive

We’re gonna show you a movie you can’t refuse.  The boys are off to Italia — Bob’s ancestral homeland – for a magnifica celebration of amore, famiglia, and Natale.  And don’t worry, it’s not personal, it’s business.  We review the Italian holiday film Una famiglia perfetta from 2012.  But first, we listen to Bob try to pronounce the Italian words without mistake, so he doesn’t end up sleeping with the fishes. This is a thoughtful comedy that asks the question of what it means to be a family, because, as we know, a man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man. And don’t ever take sides with anyone against the Family. Ever.

This film also examines the delicate fragility of marriage. While it can be a bit emotional, you act like a man. What is the matter with you?  Is this how you turn out, a Hollywood finocchio that cries like a woman?  While thoroughly enjoyable, this film has equal parts charm and anxiety, and a few comic twists that we don’t want to share. What are you worried about?  If we wanted to tell you, you’d know already.  We go the mattresses and weigh in on the cultural battle of panettone versus pandoro – dishes that taste best when served cold.  We also discuss La Befana, the Christmas witch and enjoy a festive song that is an ode to, of all things, ginger, which the lyrics describe as “the true fulcrum of Christmas, not the crib, not the Baby Jesus, but ginger.” And when we’re done, leave the gun.  Take the cannoli.

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Author: Bob & Mark
Title: Episode 17: Una famiglia perfetta (Italy)
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Vincent Van Gogh’s classic painting “Starry Night” has, through the years, inspired poets, musicians, and now another gem — this episode’s holiday film from Taiwan.  Mark describes it as the “best film we have reviewed” so far.   It is a heartfelt story based on an illustrated novel, and the film shares the artful imagination of both the painter and the author with its stunning visuals.  The genuine emotional content of the story sparks a discussion between the boys on what elements make for a good Christmas movie.  Although Taiwan is a majority Buddhist and Taoist country, “Starry, Starry Night” creates true Christmas “feels” while dealing with painful issues like bullying, divorce, and death.  However, despite its heavy themes, the movie and its young actors shine as brightly as the night sky that inspires them. The film also includes some fantasy elements that provide for a welcome escape from their unhappy reality.  In addition, we learn about Taiwan’s dazzling Banqiao District with its high-powered projections, digital Christmas trees, and giant Lego Santa.  Plus, we discuss the Dongzhi Festival, celebrated on the winter solstice (December 22), with its sticky rice animals and nine-layer cakes that are offered as a ceremonial sacrifice to honor deceased ancestors.  Join us on a sentimental journey to a land that, like this movie, is colorful, charming, and a bit magical.

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Title: Episode 16: Starry, Starry Night (Taiwan)
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It’s a new episode, a new year, and an exciting new country for the Festive Fans!  For the start of 2024, we travel to Iceland — a country with dramatic landscapes full of giant glaciers and fiery volcanos.  Such extreme contrasts also underscore the movie Echo.  This intimate film is equally humorous and heart-breaking.  It is a probe of contemporary Iceland at the holidays, with 56 separate scenes highlighting the minutiae, quirks and idiosyncrasies of daily life.  Once you get past expectations of a fluid storyline, Echo has a real-life poignancy with its authentic detail, nuanced emotion, and universal themes.  This movie leaves a lasting impression through its small and quiet moments. Plus, we also explore the magical Yuletide customs of this land, with its dark winter nights lit by the celestial Northern lights.  So get cozy, lick a spoon, put on your new duds, and put aside your book for our love letter to an Icelandic Christmas!

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Title: Episode 15: Echo (Iceland) … and Happy New Year!
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Merry Christmas to all of our Festive Fans!  The boys celebrate Christmas today by considering the uplifting Ukrainian song and the movie Carol of the Bells or “Schedryk”.  The story takes place in the years preceding and during World War II and features three different families who are living as neighbors in a large house.  They are different nationalities and religions, and all experience death, violence and inhumanity.  It may seem like an odd choice for the holiday, but at its heart, it is a story about humanity, sacrifice, and kindness. What better message at Christmas than one about always having hope and finding light in the darkest of times, which was true then and is still true today.  Our effort this December was to feature Russia and Ukraine to highlight the spirit of brotherhood and unity that naturally exists in this region and throughout the world.  Our Christmas wish for the new year is for peace in the Ukraine and all of the areas across the globe currently under siege.  We can live as the families do at the beginning of the movie – each culturally unique but still sharing and enjoying our diverse music, food and traditions.  There is a healing power in joy, and so today embrace this simple, but compelling message:  glory to God in the highest and on earth  peace, good will toward men.

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Author: Bob & Mark
Title: Episode 14: Schedryk (Ukraine) and Merry Christmas!
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The Festive Fans embark on their plan to spread Peace on Earth and Good Will to Men this episode as they journey to Mother Russia.  It’s a sincere effort to try to find some Christmas spirit in the former Soviet nation.  We watch a movie filled with class warfare, occultism, and pick pockets.  It is set before the Bolshevik Revolution, so you will see elements of the holiday depicted in the stunning surroundings.  St. Petersburg is gorgeous in 1900 and we get a glimpse at how the aristocrats and the servants celebrate and, trust us, you’ll want to be at the goth carnival with the peasantry.  Plus, we listen to an updated Christmas song based on a poem from 1905, but it sure doesn’t sound like it.  So don’t say Nyet, strap on your skates and join us as we go dashing through the snow.

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Title: Episode 13: Serebryanye Konki (Russia)
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In today’s episode we explore how true Americans celebrate Christmas – the Native Americans.  Yes, we make a visit to the American Indian nation, as a Thanksgiving Day salute to the indigenous people who saved the Pilgrim butts and got a big thank you dinner and European delicacies like smallpox and kidnapping. When we first learned to say Merry Christmas in the language of the Mi’Kmaw tribe during our Quebec episode, we wondered aloud if there was a Christmas movie featuring native people and we found a delightful one.  We thought it appropriate for this weekend to kick off the holiday season with a lighthearted romp at a Utah ski resort, that includes all of your favorite rom-com tropes:  convenient coincidences, obvious misunderstandings, and a beautiful snow-filled festive setting.  Sit back, turn off Yellowstone, and enjoy a cheery movie filled native people and without the stereotypical portrayal of casinos and substance abuse.   Merry Christmas!

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Title: Episode 12: Christmas in the Clouds (the American Indian Nation)
Festive

It’s November and we are talking Turkey.  No, not those dim-witted, low-flying, tree-roosting birds that many of us plan to eat later this month.  We are talking the country of Turkey, which is the ancestral home and inspiration for Santa Claus – St. Nicholas.  Although this is a country that lies part in Asia and part in Europe, and is 99% Muslim, they do have a statue to Saint Nick himself, and his remains are in a sarcophagus there. Plus, they have a Christmas film and it’s a good one.  Neseli Hayat, which means “Jolly Life”, and this is what you will be feeling after watching this film with its overwhelming Santa spirit. Ho-ho-ho. Now you know why St. Nick was born there   Also, enjoy the fabulous food of this region and their interesting holiday drinks.  Also, we learn about Radio Sharma and hear a song off the first Christmas album in Turkey ever.  So put on your red underwear, and if you like the podcast, do some pyramid marketing – you tell some of your friends, they can tell their friends, and so on, until we have a Festive Fans sales network and we all get a villa.

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Title: Episode 11: Neseli Hayat (Turkey)
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Author: Bob & Mark
Title: Promo #3
Festive

Happy National Christmas Podcast Day!  The theme of today’s special event is for the many different Christmas podcasts to cover a version of Charles Dickens Christmas Carol.  Since we are the Festive Foreign Film Fans, we needed a foreign adaptation and we discovered the 1953 Italian film Non è mai troppo tardi, which means “It’s Never Too Late”.   Now, we have to apologize to our listeners because the subtitles for this film were AI generated, so they are not exactly perfect.  It was lucky that we know the story so well, or we might’ve been in trouble.  We had a scene where our main Scrooge character — Antonio Trabbi — just shouted “Orange”, which did not seem particularly relevant in the context of the film.  Or, when he has reformed and yells to the boy in the street, he calls out “What vegetable is today?”  Again, compared to what I recall, this does  seem to track the book.  SInce we are only discussing the movie, and not customs or music, this is a much shorter episode. Take the extra time to find and listen to other Christmas podcasts.  They cover different topics and are all great, and I promise they will lift your spirits.  Just seach for Christmas on APple or Spotify and see what comes up.   We did this a few years ago and look at us now — watching Italian movies about fruits and vegetables!

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Listen to this episode of Festive Foreign Film Fans podcast
Author: Bob & Mark
Title: A Very Special Episode (Non è mai troppo tardi)
Festive

Boo!  It’s spooky season for our Christmas podcast.  This episode we have Pastorela, and it is devilishly good.  It is the appropriate holiday film for October as it features demons, an exorcism, and an epic battle of Good versus Evil.  What more could you want from a film that plays like a Halloween-Christmas crossover event, let alone the corruption, sex and swearing?  All that’s missing is an enema.  Merry Christmas!  Plus, we discover Mexico’s famous Christmas beer – Noche Buena, discuss Pastorelas and Posadas (and no, you don’t eat them), and we learn (and sing) about the famous decorated branches from Veracruz.  And, to make sure we provide you with enough shopping days, Bob mentions his December birthday.  It’s a Trick and a Treat!

Email Address:
festivefans@gmail.com

Festive Foreign Film Fans Playlist:
https://open.spotify.com/playlist/2QIjYWNP1TS0hC2OFeBXqO?si=8791632a966d4f53

Facebook Page:
https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100092522416848
X:
@FestiveFilmFans
Instagram:
@festivefans

Listen to this episode of Festive Foreign Film Fans podcast
Author: Bob & Mark
Title: Episode 10: Pastorela (Mexico)
Festive