Monday, June 22, 2009

Ten Foreign Films Everyone Should See

I've always been a fan of the foreign cinema, most assume its to do with my roots in grindhouse and its obsession with asian market action films, and thats probably correct, but it goes so far past that, as I've grown older in my 31 years on this planet, most of which were spent watching movies, I've gained a sort of love for foreign language films, maybe its the way they're shot, or how they dare to do things that we here in the states wouldn't ever do, or couldn't do because of rating systems and things, or their completely non-formula take on things, or how they all feel generally real for the most part, given their shot on actual location, not just shot in LA or Vancouver and have you believe its some other place, or maybe its a number of things that i just can't seem to put my finger on, but the fact remains, i do love the foreign cinema ever so, and that is why I thought about it, and felt the need to write down my list of ten foreign films that everyone should see.. Oh and I should note that the order these are in isn't really a "top ten list" or anything its just I felt the need to number them, because I'm organized like that...

So with out any farther preamble, lets get to it...

Number 10: Yojimbo
As anyone can tell by my almost constant rambling on the matter, I am a huge fan of the Asian master of cinema himself Akira Kurosawa. And though you hear me go on and on about Seven Samurai and Rashomon, my two favorites, I often forget to mention the brilliance that is Yojimbo, the tale of a lone ronin (a master less samurai) who calls himself "Kuwabatake Sanjuro" a made up name its implied, and how he brings peace to two warring towns by inciting them to the brink of war. Alot of people claim this is the first "man with no name" film ever made, the man with no name concept would later become a staple of the early Clint Eastwood westerns among other things in the west, and I guess its possible, after all alot of Kurosawa's work was adapted and borrowed from in westerns, given the concept behind most westerns and samurai films weren't all that different. If you've not seen Yojimbo though, its definitely worth tracking down a copy via the internet or retail, beautiful film with a poignant story told as only Akira Kurosawa can.

Number Nine: Häxan
This is another of those films I'm always going on about, and with good reason honestly, readers of my blog know that this film is a documentary done in the early part of the 20th century about the history of witchcraft, and though we all know the "facts" to be horribly wrong, the cinematography and re-enacting of alot of the "historical events" make this film a must watch, even if you find it just comically bad, or insultingly offensive to your intelligence, its still very much worth a look, if for nothing else but to see just how early film makers from around the world did things in the days when budgets were so low they were almost not even there at all. Personally, I find the film engaging in the sense that even though its facts are all based on unchecked and untrue hearsay and local superstition, it still shows you just how far we have come in our beliefs of those things we can't understand and fear or dismiss because of that. Plus, the devil dancing around with all the witches will make anyone laugh atleast once.

Number Eight: Omaret Yakobean
Its name translates to "The Yacoubian Building" in english, and is possibly the greatest arabic movie I have ever seen. It was groundbreaking in both middle eastern cinema and in its native Egyptian cinema as well, given its taboo breaking nature, most notably the true to life in the middle east depiction of an openly homosexual character in a prominent role in the film, as well as its bluntly true depiction of discrimination do to someone's personal and even their parent's social standing. Its just a brilliant picture of what life is like in a modern, non war torn middle eastern country thats trying to stay true to its history and beliefs, but also moving forward in the modern world. The story is really several small stories all rolled together to make a film, with the central connection being the business buildin for which the film is named as the center point. Each story is happening at the same time, and though short in the pretext of fitting into a film with other stories to be told, they do a great job, I won't go into to much detail about each because i'd tend up telling you everything, but this really is a film everyone should watch atleast once, its based on a book of the same name and even spawned a television series, which is pretty impressive for anywhere in the world honestly.

Number Seven: Kader
This turkish film's name translates to "Destiny" and follows the life of three people, an emotionally damaged woman in her middle 20s, her mentally unstable boyfriend, and a shy man who falls in love with her, and how their lives connect and enventualy lead to the same point of destiny. I've always loved films of this nature, they are so good when done right, which sadly doesn't happen as often as you'd believe in cinema. This film took my by surprise honestly, I wasn't expecting to be as riveted to it as I was, truly impressed. The film does a great job jumping between the focus on all three and their backstories and clearly drives home how their relationships all work, the second half of the film though is the best, when it jumps afew years and involves two of them looking for the location of the other and all that happens in that quest, thats where the film really shines. Its hard to actually explain this film with out giving you everything all at once and ruining it, which really is a good sign about a film. Atleast I think so.

Number Six: Sügisball
As I've stated many times, I love this film, its name translates to "Autumn Ball" and tells the story of those who live in a rundown apartment building in Tallinn Estonia before the fall of the soviet union, it tells its stories in a fashion alot like Omaret Yakobean except in some form or another everyone in main cast interacts with each other and plays a role in each other's stories, and unlike most movies of this kind, they all come to the same end. I fell in love with the style this film was shot in almost insanely, form its realistic location shooting to its realistic depiction of social interaction on all levels, a true feel of realism, I always love thta in a film. A film's job is to take you into the world of the characters and make you feel a part of the story, not to just stare at a screen for 2 hours or so. I had alot of trouble though on this one, where to place it and such once I decided I wanted to show Estonia some love, and debating between listing this one, magnus or Klass all three are equally as brilliant, was really hard to decide, so I finally just pulled a name out of a hat. Yes, thats exactly how we all do lists in the business, its a truly scientific method really.

Number Five: Linha de Passe
I would be in alot of trouble if I hadn't included a Brazilian film on this list, and though to be honest, I am fairly new to the Brazilian cinema, one of the stand outs for me, has been Linha de Passe, the story of a poor family in São Paulo and how they all reach for their dreams while trying to survive. The film depicts a family that consists of four brothers who all have different father's but the same mother, who is pregnant with a fifth child and cleans houses for a job. The film tells each brother's story of their dreams as they go through childhood together and how they try to reach their goals while not being taken into the somewhat unhealthy lifestyle of the Favela (shanty town in english) where they live. As you would expect with a film of this nature, its fun and uplifting, and at times seriously saddening, but its true to life in that respect, no life anywhere is with out conflict or emotion. This film made me want to do research on the lifestyles of those who live in Favela communities and it seems to be pretty on point with afew differences, that I assume where made for cinematic reasons, but you get that with any film honestly, though as I've stated many times, the key is the not make it seem unrealistic. I was totally taken by surprise with this film, I hope the rest of you will be too.

Number Four:
I, like many, spent most of last year raving about swedish vampire film "Let the Right One In", and rightly so, but once that dust settled, I was aimed in the direction of another foreign horror film, who's name translates to "The Left Bank" in english, Linkeroever is a Belgian horror film in the older meaning of the term, where its more like a thriller that messes with your mind and your senses, with out going for that insultingly craptastic to the viewer concept modern american horror has where it has to be all bloody and gross out to be scary. This is more horror in the vain of the 1972 version of Last House On The Left or the 1973 version of The Wicker Man, where it was more the slow decent into a mental hell of one's own making was the real horror of the film. The centerpiece of this film is, oddly enough, the love story between its main characters and how its put through the most horrible stress, its the story of Maria, a professional runner who has just qualified for a large europian championship, and Bobby, a professional Archer, its the story of how they meet, fall in love, move in together and are slowly driven insane as they find clues to the mysterious disappearance of the people that lived in the apartment building on the left bank of Antwerp, which is built on an area said to have mysterious and dangerous history going all the way back to the Medieval times. I know alot of people will think this is a horror film in the horribly over done american sense and dismiss it, but seriously, don't sleep on this one, this film is a stellar mental horror film that twists your mind up in knots the whole way through.

Number Three: Loss
Its original name "Nereikalingi žmonės" translating too "Unnecessary People", this Lithuanian drama, loosely based on the film "Six Degrees of Separation" is the story of six lives that clash together no matter how hard they try not to, and how no matter what you do, you can not run away from your life and its complexity, there is just now way. The film starts in Ireland where a priest who's come there from Lithuania meets a woman from his homeland, and discovers that she is connected to the life he tried to leave behind. its a bitter tail of love, adultery, and child custody, thats just so gut wrenching that it almost is a crime to have not seen it, its just, so well made and so direct and to the point with its story and message. I love when a film does that, seriously, I can't repeat this enough, a good film is a film that takes you into its world and makes you feel you're part of it, something that is helped by the way the film was shot. It was shot in a way akin to the film Cloverfield, which was done all by hand held cameras to give you a "natural" sense of movement, you are at eye level with the cast, you move at the same speed, the same motions all of that, you truly feel as if you are part of the film. I love that.

Number Two: A Touch of Spice
This is the cute greek dramatic comedy that tells the story of a man named Fanis Iakovides as he looks back at his childhood in the 1960s and remembers his time living in Istanbul Turkey, and then moving to Athens Greece, it starts out in Istanbul where he works in a specialty spice shop owned and run by his turkish grandfather, a sort of culinary philosopher as he's called, he teaches him of the joy of spices and how they are the secret to life. He is later deported back to Greece with his parents because tention between Greece and Turkey at the time demanded the deportation of all greeks and their families back to Greece. Fanis having issues fitting in to life in Athens, spends alot of his time in the kitchen cooking, the only real link to his homeland and to his grandfather, this worries his mother who fears either he is depressed or a homosexual, how being a great cook links to homosexuality I have no idea, Fanis grows up to become an excellent cook and teaches many others, and often shares his tricks with friends and other cooks he meets, the film ends with Fanis back in Istanbul with his grandfather's health fading and looking back at his life. Its a cute and kind of sad at times story of one man's life, its not stellar or something that will stand the test of time, but, I find it a nice peak at the greek cinema, which is often forgotten by most outside of the country itself.

Number One:
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
I'm pretty sure most people knew this film would be on this list, given how I constantly rave about it, and how its a must see film. For those that are new, or haven't seen me ramble about this film, "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" is a Romanian film that takes place in 1987 Romania, when abortion is still illegal, it tells the story of two friends and their journey to find an abortionist to terminate one of them's unwanted pregnancy, and all the mental trauma that happens on the way, during and after, as i've said many times, its a punch you in the face hard edged in your face taboo subject matter film that kicks you in the genitals and stabs you in the stomach with its realism and its drive to push just how important it is to make films of this nature, about these things that no one ever talks about, and more so, to never water them down as most countries do. This gem of Romanian Cinema doesn't do that, instead it refuses to even entertain the idea and forces you to deal with its nature, if you agree with the subject matter or not, it doesn't care, it just makes you sit there cativated in your seat while it tells you a story that you might not be personally ready to hear, but are going to hear anyway. I've said it before and i'll say it again, films like this need to be made, and seen.

Ok so thats it for this post... i'll be back soon... so till then, blessid be.




  1. the brazilian movie you mentioned (the one not foreing to me in this list) i haven't seen it yet. Usually i don't like the way life and people in favelas are showed on movies, like in City of God or Slumdog Milionaire, but in the case of Linha de Passe i believe there is a great chance of being diferent, first cause it's a movie directed by Walter Salles, a guy i respect a lot for the works he has already done, and now also for your recommendation here.
    Big hug, BC:)

  2. linkeroever sounds interesting.i shall add it to my list of things i will at some point attempt to see :)
    ~Pamela xxoo