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The Berlinale Blog: English as a second language

English might be the world's lingua franca, but it sure ain't easy for native speakers to communicate.

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The Guard

After finally seeing True Grit (and agreeing with everything our EXBERLINER guest reviewer Klaus “Bing” Bierschneider says), I ventured out to watch another “kind-of” Western. I mean, True Grit is mostly a comedy. And, as often with the Coen brothers, a kaleidoscope of languages and dialects. Brilliant, the way Mattie’s perfect grammar winds its way into the hearts and minds of the grizzled old-timers with their mangled pronunciation. Jeff Bridges already sounds like he has a hot potato in his mouth in real life, even more so as Federal Marshal Rooster Cogburn out of Arkansas, but the best moment comes when the very proper Texas Ranger bites half his tongue off – try to understand him now!

Yesterday’s The Guard plays more openly with the pitfalls of modern intercultural law enforcement cooperation, as Brendan Gleeson’s Irish cop tries to communicate the particulars of Gaelic stubbornness to the American FBI agent (Don Cheadle) come to investigate a drug smuggling operation. Lots of relatively cheap jokes at the cost of blacks, Dubliners, and Protestants come across as mildly funny, and add up to a surprisingly complex portrait of a man you’d first think of as your typical small-town bumpkin.

The ending is a proper shootout, and while the hero doesn’t exactly ride into the sunset, he does leave a proper air of mystery about himself and his end. Quite enjoyable, really, especially if you’re a connoisseur of the many different facets of the English language. At the press conference, Bridges apologized for the fact that his Rooster Cogburn is hard to understand – I say it’s just one of the many reasons to see True Grit again!