Hello my lovely readers! My apologies for the less frequent posting; back in college, things are a little busy but my goal is to provide at least one post a week as well as a guest post every couple weeks or so on the wonderful blog, thefilmchair. Seeing as I haven’t even seen a movie in theaters in some time now, but will hopefully be seeing You’re Next tomorrow, I figured I can achieve my goal through some of my semi-regular posts as well as reviews when I can. And since school is where I actually watched most of the foreign films I’ve ever even seen, this seemed like a nice post in honor of returning to my rigorous academic life, which entails two seminars (where I’m trying to write both 15-30 page papers on horror films in some capacity, Writing for the Media in which I’m learning to be a journalist apparently, German Conversation and Composition so that I can continue watching German films, of which there are many on this list, with no subtitles, and tutoring a first year writing seminar about representing Italians in film. So I’m sure I’ll have plenty of filmy fodder to inspire me, time permitting)
Anyway, here are my favorite contemporary foreign language films in no particular order!
The White Ribbon (Germany 2009)
This film is a subtle and chilling powerhouse from Michael Haneke. His expertise as an auteur lies in his usually over the top tendency to consistently test viewers’ expectation and perception. Here, he does this by presenting a time and place he usually does not, while still maintaining his usual concerns and themes of youth and violence, just minus the media we usually find as the culprit, either overtly or lurking ominously in the subtext, in previous films like Benny’s Video (1992) and Funny Games (1997). Here, we’re presented in ice cold black and white a small village in pre-world war I Germany, where strange horrors are occurring and the children seem inexplicably linked to the odd events; the theme here of course being that their twisted and cruel psyches are only such because of the equally, if not more, twisted and cruel behaviors of the parents and adult townspeople raising and, arguably, caring for them. It is long and subdued but the acting is superb and you will feel suspicious and uncomfortable, which is all Haneke ever really wants isn’t it?
Head On (gegen die Wand, Germany 2004)
Fatih Akin’s skillful blending of Turkish and German cultures and sensibilities come together here in a Hamburg set tale of violent punk rock romance out-of-desperation, which tonally shifts in an abrupt and melodramatic way to Turkey itself, the assumed beautiful backdrop and the seedy underground it hides serving to emphasize the despair of true love found too late. The scene in which this shift takes place is particularly noteworthy. It finds Sibel, our female protagonist, having an uncharacteristically joyful time at a fair and buying Cahit, our brooding and short tempered male protagonist, a heart shaped cookie, all the while their marriage of pretense is on the brink of collapse just as that pretense was beginning to melt away; crosscutting shows Cahit’s feelings towards Sibel in a far more violent and fateful way. From there, the dreamy motown soundtrack is replaced with a heartbreaking mournful Turkish ballad as Sibel revels in teary self-mutilation, which we only see from outside the bathroom, making us all the more distant and obscured. This climactic and emotional sequence sold the movie for me. The second half after this is so filled with even worse self-destruction and a looming sense of pointless patience. You feel everything, which is what I love about this movie: it is so tragically beautiful in all its various tones that it is worth the many emotions we are thrashed around between as they are transferred flawlessly from the film to us.
In the Mood for Love (Hong Kong 2000)
Wong Kar-Wai may have hit it big with The Grandmaster this year but his true ultimate work is this gem of restrained and unrequited love. The tale of two neighbors whose spouses are cheating on them with each other is so carefully controlled with that harrowing theme song running throughout. It has been a long time now since I last watched it in full, but I can still remember the way every shot, every edit, and every colorfully composed interior drew me in and made me feel, and that odd sensation of simultaneous satisfaction and yet lack of fulfillment too makes this film so unique and exquisite.
Goodbye, Lenin (Germany 2003)
This movie is pure whimsy– it is perfect for a cold war history buff like me who also loves the late 1980s, early 1990s Berlin setting. Daniel Bruhl is comic perfection as a devoted son whose pro-communist mother falls into a coma and wakes up after the wall has come down. The presence of that specific east German brand of nostalgia is so striking and used so problematically, that you are given a new perspective on an old history lesson, as the east is hilariously and tellingly recreated so as not to shock her. Definitely a must see.
Once Upon A Time In Anatolia (Turkey, 2011)
This Turkish film is very much a fairy tale, rich with striking imagery as we slowly but surely get to know a group of men looking for a body in the Anatolian country side. The use of light and color are particularly notable, and the angelic but fleeting presence of a beautiful girl is all we need to know these men all have ghosts and demons of their own.
There are so many others I love so maybe I’ll make a part two of this category sometime but for now at least, here are at least five foreign language films that I love, in no particular order.