Foreign films have been fascinating to me since I first watched The City of Lost Children. Everything about them seems so alien and bizarre, they approach the subject matter from an angle that English speaking cinema would never even dream of let alone attempt. This insight into the cultures of other countries gained from just watching their movies is both immeasurable and invaluable. So if you don’t tend to watch many foreign films: catch up; hundreds of films come out every year in other languages and you’re missing out on some fantastic stories by missing them. Here’s my top 10 to help you get started.
The Seventh Seal (1957)
A 97 minute film about a knight playing chess with Death, seems simple enough doesn’t it? But encompassed in those minutes are such varied portraits of life, which readily find analogues in modern society, that it seems the entirety of the broad spectrum of life, as well as much of the finer detail, is examined. The fact that the characters act as tools for exploring questions of life, faith, and mortality, and aren’t just simple mouthpieces act in concert with the themes to make this a movie to see before checkmate.
Seven Samurai (1954)
Some of the best movies are groundbreaking in terms of story or technological achievement, some hit every aspect perfectly, creating a film which is incredibly enjoyable to watch: Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai does both. The quintessential ‘heroes assemble’ story, if you’re a fan of The Magnificent Seven, The Avengers, heck even A Bug’s Life, this is the movie that started it all. Irrespective of its enduring legacy, this story of seven heroes defending a helpless village from bandits is a great film.
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
A young girl in post-civil war Spain stumbles upon a faun who gives her three tasks to determine if she is the lost fairy queen. Meanwhile the girl’s new stepfather is locked in conflict with rebels and her mother struggles through pregnancy. Pan’s Labyrinth deftly weaves together reality and fairy-tale, which Guillermo del Toro is so well known for, into a visually stunning film where we’re never quite sure what’s real and what’s make believe. The delights are plentiful and the scares truly hair-raising, I’m still not sure whether to be more frightened of the monsters or the men, this film delivers on all fronts.
Let the Right One In (2008)
A modern vampire film which won’t nauseate you with bad acting and dull romance, but just might nauseate you with some gore. This horror revolves around a young boy who is tormented at school slowly forming a relationship with a young vampire who moves in next door, it’s better than it sounds. The fact that neither of them really fit in with the rest of the world causes a strong bond to form between them with some genuinely touching moments while never shying away from the fact that one of them is a bloodthirsty monster. This is, it seems, one of the few modern vampire incarnations which reminds us that there’s a reason these creatures are scary and Let the Right One In is all the better for it.
More groundbreaking cinema from Japan, if you like manga and anime then watching this is compulsory as it was the start of a revolution in animation style as well as a spread of the medium across the globe. The story is about a teenage motorcycle gang member developing psychic powers and the efforts of others to prevent him from destroying Neo-Tokyo. This beautiful film is adapted from a manga of the same name so if you can’t get enough of the well-drawn, so to speak, characters and intricate, compelling plot then there’s plenty more where they came from.
I usually cannot stand found footage films. The shaky camera work, the shots of people’s feet while they’re running, and the fact that, even after all that effort to choose a style of film which is supposed to make us believe in what’s happening, they’re still unrealistic. Trollhunter manages to either dodge or make me ignore these pitfalls. Watching this you get completely sucked into this world where trolls are real and it’s someone’s job to deal with them. The writing, the performances, everything melds together to form an experience that at some point you’ll forget is fiction and is worth every minute.
All About My Mother (1999)
Pedro Almodovar’s Oscar winning film takes woman from all walks of life, a single mother, a famous actress, a transgender woman, and a nun, and celebrates them. Their struggles, their failings, their triumphs, we’re taken on a guided tour, and what better guide than the famed Spanish director, of the strength and humanity of women. These characters are assembled in a manner as skillful and distinct as a Picasso but which is, frankly, much more fascinating to look upon. Plus it’s great to see Penelope Cruz can actually act.
Princess Mononoke (1997)
Any Studio Ghibli film could’ve taken a spot on this list but I chose Princess Mononoke over more obvious options such as Spirited Away because it has a more compelling and important message. At its very core it’s about conflict between humans and nature, but this is open to interpretation; perhaps it’s about the conflict within people between the ideal and the practical. Regardless of the message the tale of a boy venturing into the unknown to obtain a cure for his illness is entertaining and, as is a given with a Ghibli film, exquisite to behold. Every frame is a painting that I’d happily hang on a wall. Another masterpiece from the creative powerhouse which is Studio Ghibli.
Off-kilter French film making at its best. Micmacs propels you into a world where a troupe of would-be circus performers taking down arms manufacturers and living inside a pile of trash seems not only feasible but logical. The quirks of the characters and directing alike might lighthearted fare of what in other hands might have been dark and brooding and out of which stems a feel good romp of nonsense which somehow feels sensible.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
A woman in a black cloak stalks, and sometimes skateboards, around a run-down Iranian town. She feasts on the blood of men who disrespect women, which is a refreshing twist on depictions of vampires, and is in control at all times. Even when she is forging a relationship with a handyman turned drug dealer and showing a more vulnerable side she is the driving force of the film. This feat is all the more impressive given the sparsity of the dialogue but the power of the performance is electrifying and the tension from never knowing her next move, as anything is possible and no one could stop her, is palpable.
Which one of these films have you seen? Let us know in the Comments!