My favourite Portuguese word has seven letters, short, but loaded with meaning: saudade. Saudade can’t quite be translated into English (or any other language, as a matter of fact). Its definition can be described as a profound, melancholic feeling of missing something or someone.
Leaving my country behind in order to pursue further education was not an easy choice, but it was one I felt ready to make after years of dreaming about moving abroad. Nothing, however, could truly prepare me for the overwhelming saudade I would feel of everything and everyone.
I have to say, it is only when you leave your home that you realise how much you actually belong where you were born. Moving to a different land brings all of your birthplace characteristics into sharp focus and suddenly you see yourself comparing even the smallest little habit or tradition common to this new environment to the ones you were raised to follow.
Since my very first trip abroad, I’ve realised that there was only one place where I actually felt totally and completely at ease: a cinema room, my home away from home. But the feeling would not be the same for any given screening; it needed to be a subtitled film.
It might seem like an odd statement, but subtitles have a nostalgic trait for me. I was always passionate about movies, but my home country of Brazil did not have a prominent film industry at the time. This meant I grew up watching films such as The Godfather, 8 ½, Jaws, Harry Potter and Amélie, all of them with one single common peculiarity: subtitles. When you are not born in an English speaking country, or a European country known for its film production, essentially every film is a foreign language film.
Before I started travelling, I have never once questioned subtitles; they were always so natural to me. Odd was the concept of a film without them. On my first visit to a foreign cinema, I was absolutely shocked by the lack of subtitles during the screening. My head could not conceive the idea of someone speaking English accompanied by a subtitleless screen. It was only when I went to see Leviathan that I finally felt like I was at a cinema again. There they were, my old friends, my companions. From that moment on, I have resorted to a subtitled film whenever I felt homesick or needed the comfort of something familiar.
Accepting his Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2019, Alfonso Cuarón, a Mexican film director, told the crowd formed mostly of his American colleagues that – to him – all classic American films were foreign language films. This passage of his speech hit me with the impact of a crushing wave. Right there, during the biggest event of awards season, with his third statuette of the night in hands, a Latin filmmaker voiced so clearly feelings I had nurtured for years, without being able to fully communicate. At the end of the day, I have learned that there is no cure for saudade, but if there were ever a film about it, it would most definitely be subtitled.