Films in foreign language have been in the award category lists for a very long time. Yet these films remain oblivious to the masses. CelebMix decided to prepare a list of Best Films in Foreign Language. So, next time you plan a movie night, choose one of these movies and we assure you, you won’t be disappointed!
- Pan’s Labyrinth by Guillermo del Toro (2006)
“Dark, twisted and beautiful, this entwines fairy-tale fantasy with war-movie horror to startling effect.” –Kim Newman, Empire
Fables are meant for children. With their very definite division between good and evil, they are meant to teach a lesson. But Guillermo del Toro’s political fable is hardly meant for children. Even adults do not like to indulge in this horrifically graphic tale of power, corruption and resistance. The film is a political statement, an attempt to interpret the happenings in 1944 Spain and Toro does it by keeping for the real and fantastic side by side. Set at the backdrop of Spanish Civil War, the story is about a girl name Ofelia who is brought by her mother to a home owned by Captain Vidal, Ofelia’s stepfather who is an officer in Franco’s army and an astute follower of fascism. His brutality is witnessed by Ofelia as he killed two suspected Republicans. His unwelcoming attitude towards Ofelia and her mother makes the girl to resign from her life into the world of fairy tales. She believes in this world and the location of her new home surrounded by half buried structures provokes audience in turn to believe it. As revealed by a faun named Pan whose eyes are in his hands, Ofelia is a princess who needs to reclaim her throne but for this, she needs to complete three dangerous tasks. But is this world real or just a child’s imagination to escape her painful life?
- Scenes from a marriage by Ingmar Bergman (1973)
“A dramatically absorbing and psychologically rich portrait of a couple whose intimate relationship is falling apart and evolving into something quite different” –Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
Wedding is happening, where is the marriage? Bergman in this brilliant movie asks his audience a question, “What does it take to live a happy married life?” Through Johan and Marianne, he explores the life of a couple who live together because divorce in society is still not very well accepted and not because they love each other. Johan is a well settled and successful in his professional life but he is not happy with his wife Marianne and decides to leave her for another woman. Marianne too is struggling and they both decide to get a divorce. Once out of their fruitless marriage, they rediscover their love for each other. The tension visible in their shyness to discuss anything person during an interview for a magazine to a discovery of new bonds, “Scenes from a Marriage” paints emotional on the canvas of our otherwise mundane life. The way the story unravels (through snippets of conversation between the couple) shows what a brilliant work of art Bergman has presented to us. The conclusion is as Johan says:
“We’re emotional illiterates. We’ve been taught about anatomy and farming methods in Africa. We’ve learned mathematical formula by heart. But we haven’t been taught a thing about our souls. We’re tremendously ignorant about what makes people tick.
3.Il Postino: The Postman (1994)
“The Postman (Il Postino) is slight, but it’s tough to imagine anyone not liking it.” –USA Today
Mario lives with his father on an Italian Island. In his quarters, he dreams of something big to happen in his life but his life on the island shows the audience otherwise. His uninterested father goes on drink his soup like many others in the place. Everything changes with the arrival of the famous poet Pablo Neruda who is exiled from Chile due to some ‘political reasons’. Mario is given a job to deliver the letters to Neruda’s residence. Known as ‘love poet’, Neruda receives letters from women. This makes Mario to gather some insight from the poet as to how to impress a girl. He is in love with Beatrice and thinks that poetry could be put to practical application to win a girl. He seizes every opportunity to interact with the poet. Initially, he is cautious but as the narrative unfolds, we see a bit bold Mario evident from his opinion that he deserves more that “Regards, Pablo Neruda” for an autograph. Being with Neruda, Mario realizes that he too could be a poet. And he is hurt with Neruda’s description of people on the island “I lived in complete solitude with the most simple people in the world” because Mario has come to realize that he is anything but ‘simple’. Mario’s interaction with Neruda is worth watching.
4. Tuesday, After Christmas by Radu Muntean (2010)
“The strength of “Tuesday, After Christmas,” Mr. Muntean’s fourth feature, lies in its rigorous, artful and humane fidelity to quotidian circumstance.” –A.O.Scott, “New York Times”
The movie starts with an intimate conversation between Paul and Raluca. Paul talks about his foot and Raluca, a dentist advise him to quit smoking. It seems to be a blissful affair but with a secret. Paul is a married and Raluca is his mistress well aware of his marital status. Muntean’s plot focuses on spaces. The everyday mundane life is the backdrop of the film. The clinic where Raluca works becomes a place where everything Paul ‘constructed’ could have easily collapsed. Paul loves both Raluca and Adriana and tries to demarcate his affections but life as we know isn’t that simple. Like X-ray of Mara mouth that reveal the unseen, the dissatisfaction, tension and friction in Paul and Adriana’s relationship reveals his willfulness to search an alternative, maintain it and also, feel shameful about it. Confession over coffee without any melodrama only points to the monotony of our lives. This movie neither focus on the difference women have, keeping one on higher pedestal while condemning the other nor it offers a space of revenge. It only showcases the multiplicity of emotions we have and the consequences we need to face for our spoilt choices.
5. Poetry by Lee Chang-dong (2010)
“A remarkable Korean meditation on the nature of life, death and memories” –The Guardian
Survival is the key. This clichéd statement suits perfectly on Lee Chang-dong’s unique plot of Poetry. Mija, a woman in her sixties lives with her grandson Wook. She is beautiful, often called ‘chic’ by people. But she realizes that she has started forgetting basic words like ‘wallet’. Doctor tells her that she has Alzheimer. In an attempt to capture her life before she forgets, Mija joins poetry classes. She studies rivers but in vain. She cannot write poetry. All she has is a blank page on which she tries to pen down her feelings. She lives and is constricted by words. Mija, who is trying to deal with her difficult life trying make the ends meet by working as a maid at an old and disabled man’s house is caught up in yet another problem. At girl’s body is found floating in the river and it turns out that this girl had deep connection with Mija’s life? What is it? And how will Mija get out of this problem? The movie won the award for ‘Best Screenplay’. The plot not only showcase Mija’s attempt to compose poetry but also showcase the injustice of a society that comprises corrupt people especially people in power.
6. Lies My Father Told Me by Jan Kadar (1975)
“Lies My Father Told Me” (actually the harsh truths the boy cannot understand or accept) may be somewhat sentimental and quaint in its Jewish rituals and traditions. But under Mr. Kadar’s sensitive guidance, this journey back to lost youth modestly but touchingly reveals people as authentic as the settings in which they are captured.” – A.H. WEILER, New York Times
‘Lies My Father Told me’ is not about lies but about the truth no one want to accept. A story of 8 year old boy living with his grandfather explores the realm of truth, acceptance, authenticity and tradition. A father who thinks of himself as a ‘progressive’ man tries to invent creaseless pants does not like grandfather filling his son’s head with ‘nonsense’. His grandfather is an ardent Jew. He enlightens his grandson about the religion through tales. Son enjoys his grandfather’s company but at the same time feel pity for his own father. Interestingly, the sense of community Kadar gives to the audience is not that of highly flourishing upper or middle class but a prostitute with a golden heart, Marxist tailor and some local kids. Father wants to escape this place while the boy loves it. A religious tale with an attempt to look back at the traditions, “Lies My Father Told Me” brilliantly portrays the clash between logic and religion, fact and fiction, individual and community.
7. Spirited Away by Hayao Miyazaki (2001)
“Despite a dip midway through, this is a captivating fantasy that sets a new benchmark for animation.” –Patrick Peters
Upset over her family moving to another town, Chihiro’s disappointment sets the tone of the movie. Easily frightened, she does not want to get into any adventure while her father on discovery of an abandoned theme park decides to explore it. She realize that place is not right for them and before she could alert her parents, they’ve already turned into hogs. With the help of her friend Haku who later turns out to be a sinister creature, Chihiro gets a job at bathhouse.The movie talks about ‘appearance’, what seems real might not be real. Taking us into the fantasyworld, Miyazaki shows us the evil side of this fantastical world. Chihiro is losing her identity and over the course of movie, she realizes what is happening to her. She stops whining and learns ‘responsibility’.
8. The Official Story by Luis Puenzo (1985)
“The Official Story is part polemic, part thriller, part tragedy. It belongs on the list with films like Z, Missing nd El Norte which examine the human aspects of political unrest. It is a movie that asks some very hard questions” –Roger Ebert
Set at the backdrop of Argentine politics of late 70s and 80s, when leftists, the opponents of the government were killed in a secret holocaust, “The Official Story” explores the lives of people who became victims of this political tussle. During this time, babies were presumably taken away from pregnant mothers who were taken as prisoners. Alicia’s world revolves around her adopted daughter. She is hardly aware of the politics but with the re-entry of her friend Ana, she starts thinking and questioning the origins of her daughter. She even starts suspecting her husband Roberto’s involvement into this political turmoil. Her thought process is brilliantly shown on the screen. When she touches the clothing in which her daughter was brought, she actually thinks that this clothing might have been her daughter real mother’s possession. Alicia suspects Ana to be her daughter’s grandmother. People who should have been rivals find an unbreakable relationship, trying to search for a common ground. Will she be able to find her daughter’s origin? Watch this movie to find out.
9. 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days by Cristian Mungiu (2007)
“In more general terms, it is part of that emerging 21st-century phenomenon, ordeal cinema: a cinema that with great formal technique makes you live through a horrendous experience in what seems like real time. As a drama, it is superbly observed and telling in every subtle detail; yet it is also simply as exciting, in its stomach-turning way, as any thriller.” –Peter Bradshaw. The Guardian
Abortion is still unacceptable in many countries. Set in Romania of 1980s, ruled by Ceausescu, the film is about two girls Gabita and Otilia. Interestingly, Ceausescu did not abolish abortion rights because of moral reasons but for increasing population. Gabita is pregnant and wish to abort her baby but instead of taking responsibility, she turns to her friend Otilia to help her in getting the baby aborted. They set an appointment, goes to hotel, the venue set for the task but encounters something terrifying. Often called “anticlimactic”, the final scene defines the movie. The brilliant cinematography gives enough time to the viewers to study the protagonists. Otilia’s character is so well portrayed. She is brave unlike Gabita who does not take any initiative. She tries everything to help her friend but in her own life, she is like Gabita, struggling to resolve her problems. The movie does not have any music and each shot is taken one at a time. It brings into focus black market, abortion laws and the lives affected by them.
10. Amelie by Jean-Pierre Jeunet (2001)
“Mr. Jeunet’s sense of humor gives the movie heart; his real affection for the medium can be seen in all the funny little curlicues and jottings around the action.”– Elvis Mitchell, The New York Times
Amelie is sunshine. She fills the color in people’s lives until she discovers an album belonging to Nino which makes her realize that she too have some problems. If seen today, the atmosphere seems very similar to the one shown in “Letters to Juliet”. Often called ‘city of love’, Paris is the place Amelie resides in. Unlike “The City Of Lost Children” which brings out the grotesque, “Amelie” is one the most joyous movies ever showcased. Amelie is a positive force in lives of people who carry sad eyes on their happy faces. Literally, translated as ‘feel-good’, this movie will actually make you feel good.
So, what do you think about our list? Do you have any suggestions? Tell us in the comments or tweet your favorite film in foreign language @CelebMix .