“Toto, I have a feeling we are not in Kansas anymore.” Wizard of Oz 1939
Favorite Foreign Films
There is nothing I like better than sitting in a dark theatre with subtitles. It combines some of my favorite things – reading , movies and foreign countries. The best thing is to be eating popcorn, red vines and a diet coke. Lately, it is healthy snacks brought from home – almonds, Tcho chocolate and water. I know when people think of the best foreign films they include names like Fellini, Kurosawa, Trauffaut, Eisenstein, Bunuel, De Sica etc. This could be another blog. Im sure most of you have at least heard of those. I thought I would list some of the ones that I have really enjoyed a little more recently. You might find a few that you have missed. They are in no particular order. Im sure you can get them on netflix. Sadly, I feel the need to add a disclaimer. None of these films will cause trauma or violence to anyone.
Cinema Paradiso (Italy)
Writer Director: Giuseppe Tornatore Cast: Philippe Noiret, Enzo Cannavale
It is my favorite movie and my favorite movie score (Ennio Morricone). Cinema Paradiso won the Academy Award for best foreign film in 1989. It takes place in a village in Italy during World War ll and has a wonderful cast of villagers. The film follows Toto (Jacques Perrin), a Sicilian boy who persuades the town projectionist, Alfredo (Philippe Noiret), to teach him how to show films. Spanning nearly 50 years, it draws parallels between Toto’s life and those lives he sees on screen. As Toto matures into Salvatore, a successful Italian filmmaker, the Cinema Paradiso ages as well.
The Lives of Others (Germany)
Writer Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck Cast: Ulrich Muhe, Martina Gedeck and Sebastian Koch
In 1984 East Berlin, an agent of the secret police, conducting surveillance on a writer and his lover, finds himself becoming increasingly absorbed by their lives. The film does a beautiful job of questioning integrity or duty while keeping you on the edge of your seat with the suspense. The acting is superb and has one of the most satisfying endings. It won the 2006 Academy Award for best foreign film.
Director: Jean Pierre Jeunet Writer: Guillaume Laurant, Jean Perre Jeunet Cast: Audrey Tatou, Mathieu Kassoviz
Amelie is a young waitress in Montmarte. She has grown up isolated from other children, very shy and with a vivid imagination. She begins to get involved in the lives around her by matchmaking and fixing problems from a distance. She forms a friendship with a man who slowly helps her breakdown her own isolation and shyness .
A Separation (Iran)
Writer Director: Asghar Farhadi Cast: Peyman Moadi, Leila Hatami and Sareh Bayat
The film focuses on an Iranian middle-class couple who separate. More conflicts arise when the husband hires a lower-class caretaker for his elderly father, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. It shows life in current day Iran. The film won the Academy Award for best foreign film in 2011. I think it is the closest thing to a perfect film – it is very well written, acted and directed.
Moscow Doesn’t Believe In Tears (Russia)
Director: Vladimir Menshov Writers: Valentin Chernykh, Valdimir Menshov Cast: Vera Alentova, Irina Muravyova, Aleksey Batalov
The story of three women takes place in the nineteen fifties and continues twenty-three years later. It depicts life in Russia for these three women who come to Moscow to follow their dreams. (A Soviet chick flick). It is mainly the story of Katerina and her daughter. The film won the Academy Award for best foreign film in 1980.
All About My Mother (Spanish-French)
Writer – Director: Pedro Almodovar Cast: Cecilia Roth, Marisa Paredes and Candela Pena
Esteban wants to become a writer and also to discover the identity of his father. His mother searches for his father. That is is the simplified version of the story. Almodóvar dedicates his film “To all actresses who have played actresses. To all women who act. To men who act and become women. To all the people who want to be mothers. To my mother.” It won the Academy Award for best foreign film in 2000.
Strictly Ballroom (Australian)
Writer – Director: Baz Luhrmann Cast: Paul Mercurio, Tara Morice, Bill Hunter
While studying at the National Institute for Dramatic Arts in Sydney, Baz Lurhmann and friends wrote a short dramatic piece about competitive ballroom dancing. A dancer risks his career by performing an unusual routine with a new partner at the Pan Pacific Grand Prix Dancing Championship. The characters are great and if you are a Dancing with The Stars fan this is a must see. It is being made into a musical in Sydney.
.Life Is Beautiful (Italy)
Director: Roberto Benigni Writers: Vincenzo Cerami and Roberto Benigni Cast: Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi
A Jewish man uses his humor and imagination to get the girl and later to protect his son in a Nazi concentration camp during World War two. It won the Academy Award for best foreign film in 1999. Robert Benigni won the Best Actor award that year.
City of God (Brazil)
Directors: Fernando Meirelles, Katia Lund Writers: Paulo Lins, Braulio Mantovani Cast: Alexandre Rodrigues, Matheus Nachtergaele and Leandro Firmino
This is a story about two boys growing up in a favela (slum) of Rio de Janeiro. They take different paths: one becomes a photographer, the other a drug dealer. The story is based on real events. It is about the growth of organized crime in the Cidade de Deus (city of God) suburb of Rio de Janeiro. Many of the actors are residents of the favelas. “If you run, the beast catches; if you stay, the beast eats”.
Goodbye Lenin (Germany)
Director: Wolfgang Becker Writer: Bernd Lichtenberg, Wolfgang Becker Cast: Daniel Bruhl, Katrin Sab, Chulpan Khamatova
In 1990, to protect his fragile mother from a fatal shock after a long coma, a young man must keep her from learning that her beloved nation of Communist East Germany as she knew it has disappeared.
Y Tu Mama Tambien (Mexico)
Director: Alfonso Cuaron Writers: Alfonso Cuaron and Carlos Cuaron Cast: Maribel Verdu, Gael Garcia Bernal, Ana Lopez
In Mexico, two teenage boys and an attractive older woman embark on a road trip ( yes, a Mexican road movie) and learn a thing or two about life, friendship, sex, and each other. It also depicts the economic- political scene of Mexico at that time.
Director: Kaige Chen Writers: Kaige Chen, Xiao Lu Xue Cast: Yun Tang, Peige Liu and Hong Chen
A violin prodigy and his father from a poor peasant family travel to Beijing, where the father seeks the means to his son’s success while the son struggles to accept the path laid before him. He learns not only music but what is important in life.
The Untouchables ( France)
Writer -Directors: Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano Cast: Francois Cluzet, Omar Sy, Anne Le Ny, Audrey Fleurot, Clotilde Mollet
The Untouchables is a story of a rich quadriplegic, his daughter and staff and what happens to them all when he hires a caretaker from a Paris ghetto. It is corny, calculating and commercial and I loved every minute of it.
The Wind Will Carry Us ( Iran)
Writer Director Abbas Kiarostami Cast:Behzad Dorani, Noghre Asadi and Roushan Karam
“The Wind Will Carry Us is a film about nothing and everything—life, death, the quality of light on dusty hills.”
A city engineer comes to a rural village in Iran to keep vigil for a dying relative. In the meanwhile the film follows his efforts to fit in with the local community and how he changes his own attitudes as a result. The villagers are played by real people in the village. It is a very hard film to describe because it is so visual that you are in it and so symbolic and poetic that you are always searching for the deeper meaning.
The Class (France)
Director: Laurent Cantet Writers: Laurent Cantet, Robin Campillo Cast: Francois Begaudeau, Agame Malembo-Emene and Angelica Sancio
The film is based on the semi autobiographical novel by Francois Begaudeau who plays himself as he negotiates a year with his racially mixed students from a tough Parisian neighborhood. The camera never leaves the school, so we see what he saw as a teacher.
Salaam Bombay (India)
Director: Mira Nair Writers: Mira Nair, Soona Taraporevala Cast: Shafiq Syed,Hansa Vithal, Chanda Sharma
Salaam Bombay chronicles the life of street children in Bombay. The children are played by the real street children. It centers around the story of Krishna who has been abandoned by his mother and is trying to make enough money to return. It is another one of my most favorite films.
Shall We Dance? ( Japanese)
Writer-Director: Masayuki Suo Cast: Koji Yakusho, Tamiyo Kusakari, Naoto Takenaka
A successful but unhappy Japanese accountant finds the missing passion in his life when he begins to secretly take ballroom dance lessons. There was an American remake of the film in 2004 with Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez but it was not good. The Japanese version is very good.
The Lady (France)
Director: Luc Besson Writer: Rebecca Frayn Cast: Michelle Yeoh, David Thewlis, Jonathan Raggett
The film is the story of Aung San Suu Kyi as she becomes the core of Burma’s democracy movement, and her relationship with her husband, writer Michael Aris. She is a real life heroine, a female fighter who uses no other weapons than her human virtues. She was the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Asia. She could not be there to accept because she was under house arrest in Burma (Myanmar) for over a decade. Michelle Yeoh who plays her in the film is not allowed into Burma. It is an important movie, especially if you don’t know much about her.
Let me know about some of your favorite films.
also see favorite foreign documentary films.