By Parul Assudaney:
“Cinema is a foreign language, a language created for those who need to travel to the other side of life.”
Foreign Language Films do not have much of a market here in India, probably because of unfamiliarity to subtitles or strong and heavy subjects which these films deal with, even when some of these have been internationally acclaimed films. They are generally considered ‘art house’ films or too serious for our tastes, but that is not always the case. There are quite a few films that you just can’t miss. And it certainly helps in developing your film palate.
Here is a list of 15 must watch foreign language films. Some are funny, some others are intellectually stimulating; all offer respite from our familiar culture.
1. Life Is Beautiful (1997)
Life is Beautiful (Italian: La vita Ã¨ bella) is a 1997 Italian film directed by and starring Robert Benigni. It is a take of a slapstick comedian on one of the most sensitive chapters in history – The Holocaust. The film follows the story of Guido Orefice (played by Benigni) who is a small hotel waiter in 1930s in Italy. It tells the story of a father who uses his imagination to shield his five year old son from discrimination aimed at Jews while being in a concentration camp and comfort his son in such difficult times.
The film went on to win the Academy Award for Best Actor at the 71st Academy Awards for Benigni as well as the Academy Award for Best Original Dramatic Score and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 71st Academy Awards, Best Jewish Experience prize at the Jerusalem Film Festival among many other awards.
As Roger Ebert said in his review, “Life Is Beautiful’ is not about Nazis and Fascists but about the human spirit. About rescuing whatever is good and hopeful from the wreckage of dreams….”
2. Amour (2012)
Amour (French for Love) is a 2012 French film directed by Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke about a retired couple Anne and Georges, who are retired music teachers with a daughter who lives abroad. Anne, one day, suffers a stroke which paralyses the right side of her body which makes Georges nurse her in the final stages of her life when Anne makes him promise not to send her back to hospital or to a nursing home. As Michael Haneke, the director said about the film that it deals with the question “How do I cope with the suffering of a loved one?”. The film met with acclaim from critics and also went on to win the Palme d’Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival; also winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 85th Academy Awards.
“Old Age ain’t no place for sissies, and neither is this film”, said Roger Ebert in his review of the film.
3. Blue is the Warmest Color (2013)
Blue is the Warmest Color (French : La Vie d’AdÃ¨le — Chapitres 1 & 2) is a 2013 French romantic drama film about AdÃ¨le (played by AdÃ¨le Exarchopoulos), a high school student and Emma (played by LÃ©a Seydoux), who is a few years older. It is a film about a female teenager (Adele) who discovers desire and freedom when a blue haired lesbian (Emma) enters her life. It is about the exploration of love and freedom between the two central characters.
The film went on to win Palme d’Or at 2013 Cannes Film Festival. Many critics declared it to be the best film of 2013.
4. A Separation (2011)
A Separation is a 2011 Iranian drama film about a middle class Iranian couple who separate and the conflicts that arise when the husband hires a lower-class care giver for his elderly father, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. It brings into focus the Iranian society and in the backdrop of a separation facing the couple, uncovers the layers of the characters in the moment of crisis and how they deal with it. The film explore contemporary situations in Iran.
A Separation won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2012, becoming the first Iranian film to win the award.
5. 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days (2007)
4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days is a 2007 Romanian film set in the late 1980’s before the fall of communism in the country. It tells the story of 2 students, roommates in a University Hostel, who try to arrange for an abortion when one of them gets pregnant, in a time when abortion was illegal.
It won the Palme d’Or at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival.
6. The Intouchables (2011)
The Intouchables is a wildly funny and extremely touching French film telling a story about growing relationship between two likable characters Philippe and Driss. Philippe is a millionaire who was paralyzed from the neck down in a para-gliding accident. Driss is a man out on parole for robbery, who applies for the job of Philippe’s caregiver only so he can be rejected and get a signature on his application for unemployment benefits. The plot of the film is inspired by the true story of Philippe Pozzo di Borgo. It was a big commercial success in France. A critic in his review of the film said the reason that the film is breaking box office records in France is because it gives people permission to laugh with, not at, people with disabilities, and see their lives as they have never seen them before.
7. Turtles Can Fly (2004)
Turtles Can Fly is a 2004 Kurdish war drama film. The characters in the movie are children and teenagers, all of them orphans. In Turtles Can Fly, we meet two survivors, Hengoa, an armless teenager, and Agrin, his sister, who was raped by soldiers during the attack. A blind child who clings to Agrin is the child of that rape. The three have settled temporarily in a village where Satellite, the head of a group of impoverished children, spies on Agrin and falls in love with her. The film takes place before the invasion of Iraq by America and the characters in it look forward to that invasion and the fall of Saddam Hussein. All the child actors in the film were actual refugees.
8. Paradise Now (2005)
Paradise Now is a 2005 film about two Palestinian men preparing for a suicide attack in Israel. The director Hany Abu-Assad said about, “The film is an artistic point of view of that political issue.” The movie involves two days in the lives of Said and Khaled, two Palestinians, garage mechanics and best friends, who are recruited to cross into Israel and blow themselves up.
It won a Golden Globe for best foreign language film.
9. Children of Heaven (1997)
Children of Heaven is a 1997 Iranian family drama film that tells the story of a brother and sister who live in a poor section of Teheran, their adventures over a lost pair of shoes, who now have to make do with one pair of shoes between them.
The film was nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Foreign Language Film category but lost to Robert Benigni’s Life is Beautiful.
10. A Town Called Panic (2009)
A Town Called Panic is a 2009 stop-motion animated Belgium film. It takes place in a town where panic is a daily emotion. Here, in a house on a hill, live the friendly roommates Cowboy, Indian and Horse. It is Horse’s birthday, and Cowboy and Indian decide his gift must be a brick barbecue. They go online to order 50 bricks, but order 50 million through a computer error, which causes no end of problems, especially when Cowboy and Indian stack them on top of the house, hoping to conceal their foolishness from Horse.
Empire magazine summed it up as “Toy Story on absinthe”. It was the first stop-animated animated film to be screened at Cannes Film Festival.
11. AmÃ©lie (2001)
AmÃ©lie is a 2001 French romantic comedy film. It tells the story of a shy waitress who decides to change the lives of those around her for the better, while struggling with her own isolation.
Roger Ebert described it as a delicious pastry of a movie. You see it, and later when you think about it, you smile.Â The film met with critical acclaim and was a major box-office success.
12. Downfall (2004)
Downfall is a 2004 German war film depicting the last final ten days of the life of Adolf Hitler.Â It had inspired much debate about the nature of the Hitler it presents. One tabloid asked “Are we allowed to show the monster as a human being?”
The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
13. The Counterfeiters (2007)
The Counterfeiters is a 2007 Austrian-German drama film about the Nazis’ top secret Operation Bernhard, the largest counterfeiting scheme of all time, to destabilize the United Kingdom by flooding its economy with forged Bank of England pound notes. The film centres on a Jewish counterfeiter, Salomon ‘Sally’ Sorowitsch, who is forced into assisting the operation at a concentration camp.
The film won the 2007 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar at the 80th Academy Awards.
14. The Great Beauty (2013)
The Great Beauty is a 2013 Italian film. It tells a story of Jep Gambardella, an aging intellectual and one-time writer, who decides to dedicate his life to the search of a meaning. He wrote a best-selling masterpiece of Italian literature 40 years ago and has been living off its success since then and now he slowly rediscovers beauty under a monotonous life.
The film won Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards, among many other awards.
15. Simple Simon (2010)
Simple Simon is a 2010 Swedish comedy film about an 18-year Simon with Asperger syndrome. Incapable of living independently, he is cared for by his endlessly loving and patient brother, Sam, and his girlfriend Frida.
The film was selected as the official Swedish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 83rd Academy Awards.