Most 'World Cinema' film guides are pretty revealing in their Eurocentricism - shockingly so. The contents page has 'Asian' and 'Eastern European' cinema sections more as reluctant after-thoughts than anything else. The very fact that we tend to label cinema from half of the entire globe as 'Asian' while giving film culture from Europe claim to its own nationality and separate critical attention says something worrying about our skewed perspective: worrying, but natural, given world history.

Only recently has cinema from the other side of the world been made widely accessible in Europe and America. The film critics of the 60s and 70s - the period in which the basis and concept of the cinematic canon as we know it was established - simply did not have access to other kinds of cinema. Unsurprisingly, the banal 'Top 100 Films' lists that come out every year have been dominated by European and American entries.

The good news is that there is increasingly less consensus about what 'the classics' are. Inundated with the discovery of material new and old, we are left like a child with too many exotic new toys at Christmas: frantic and confused by how to work all the new gadgets. The instruction manuals don't correspond to reality. Unaware of the artistic framework that cinema from unfamiliar cultures might fit into, we often force it into our own tiny close-up.

For want of better projects, Hollywood likes to rip off foreign films and Americanise them without crediting their original source. Vanilla Sky, The Departed and Godzilla are notable examples. There is noting wrong with being influenced by something, but what Hollywood does is more akin to plagiarism. Film criticism often talks of 'Eastern' cinema in terms of how it has appropriated Western styles and techniques. We start to think of Chinese action films in terms of Jackie Chan movies, not the other way around. Let's give credit where credit is due.

Take the film Rashomon: a film that made it big in the West by winning at the Venice Film Festival in 1951, the same year that Elia Kazan's A Streetcar Names Desire and Robert Bresson's A Diary of a Country Priest premiered there. The director, Akira Kurosawa, didn't even know that it had been submitted to the festival. Since then, Rashomon has become synonymous with contradictory versions of reality and parallel storytelling. It shows a murder from the entirely different points of view of the characters involved. Rashomon paved the way for films that played with multiple-point-of-view narratives in a similar way - famously Last Year in Marienbad. The narrative technique it showcased forms the genetic make-up of the cult films Reservoir Dogs, The Usual Suspects and Run Lola Run. It has become a trope so common that we barely recognise it.

The relative commercial success of certain foreign films in the West has the great effect of opening our eyes to possibilities beyond our shores. In these columns I will look at various Eastern national cinemas through the lens of a couple of notable examples. However, we are only scratching the surface. Market realism means that distributors don't make a lot of money from selling and marketing foreign language cinema: inevitably we are only exposed to the Breathlesses of the Asian world. The story of film is a bit like that of Rashomon: it can be constructed any which way. We talk a lot about Hollywood, forgetting that Bollywood is in fact the world's biggest film industry. Cinema has its roots as much in the East as it does in the West.


Dasha continues her film writings here.