So last week I narrowed down my favorite foreign films of recent years from 10 down to 5 and then realized, well yeah that made my writing the post a little less daunting but I certainly have some films I felt too guilty leaving out to not make a part two of this category.
Old Boy (Korea, 2003)
When I first saw this film, I was simultaneously mesmerized and horrified. It goes beyond the realm of schlock and shock in its totally silly violence and taboo themes riding in an undercurrent of mystery that crests only to leave the audience stunned and still wondering. I’m sure many will see the Spike Lee remake starring Josh Brolin, but I preemptively urge you to watch this original at least first if not instead. It deals with themes of memory, family, justice and revenge being the most overt of all, as our main character is left in an apartment-like cell for 15 years only to escape and not only figure out why he was left there but to also punish those who left him there. The film is artful and interesting, creepy and exciting, and not for those with weak stomachs but nonetheless can be considered a revenge-horror film for the ever so slightly more art house inclined.
Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India (India, 2001)
This film is so much fun, if you happen to have nearly 4 hours to spare. It is, if I’m not mistaken, one of the few if not only “Bollywood” films nominated for the best foreign language film Oscar. That’s a big deal! And it is worthy, trust me. This film cannot be described as anything other than epic; it retains that characteristic Bollywood excess, song and dance but it adds a component of underdog sports story to the plot and tone by centering the fairy tale with a cricket challenge to the Imperialist British. It will make you cheer, laugh, cry, and maybe even hum along if you’re into that sort of thing.
All About My Mother (Spain, 1999)
Almodovar may be an acquired taste but this film is so rich and varied and emotional that I’d be surprised to find someone who thought it was still too over the top for their liking. At this juncture in his career, Almodovar has provided us with a film about acting and pretending and all the roles we play, femininity and what it means to be a woman and a mother, as well as AIDS, choices, and children. It is a film which feels, for lack of a better word, complete, like we have been taken on a journey with these women who comprise the ensemble. And the journey is, par for the course, more enriching than the destination, but that isn’t to say that it doesn’t still take us somewhere by the conclusion nevertheless.
Beau Travail (France, 1999)
This film is about an ex-Foreign Legion officer recalling his life leading troops in Africa, and his odd relationship with one such soldier. Claire Denis is a disciplined master of each little thing in the film, which is what makes the fractured and oddly paced work so interesting to watch, making the male gaze into female gaze and giving us the most insane ending to a film, more like a coda, than any other I’ve ever seen. This little digression at the end is what sold and sealed the entire thing for me, not because it sealed it with a bow but because it took the loose and disjointed nature of the narrative and blew it even wider open.
A Separation (Iran, 2011)
This film packs so many punches emotionally and pulls you in basically effortlessly. It is subtle but substantial all at once, never too slow but also never skipping ahead over any single nuance or scene too quickly for you to not feel everything, and not just momentarily either– this is a film whose fluidity and thematic resonance will haunt you long after you see it.
There are obviously others which I love– Run Lola Run (Germany, 1998) being a sort of standard self explanatory answer for me personally. After so many courses centered on various “national cinemas,” is it any wonder I had to make a part two of this? Hope these recommendations aren’t too obvious or typical, seeing as some are award winners particularly among these five. But enjoy as usual anyway!