I have always loved foreign films– besides horror and comedy which are my two favorite genres, foreign films have been the next biggest interest of mine within cinema. Even before I started college, I found myself drawn to these films, fascinated and refreshed by how different they were from the Hollywood fare I’d been used to. I remember watching the bleak but gripping Romanian drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007) on Netflix streaming before Netflix streaming was as big as it is now (and before I really knew how to watch such a film– I’m surprised it’s stuck with me as an ultimately meaningful experience even if what I was viewing was anything but pleasant; I even defended it to my joke of a film class when I studied abroad, and being the only film major in said class, my claims that it was a disturbing but unbelievably well-constructed period piece were dismissed as pretentiousness). Anyway, it wasn’t until my contemporary world cinema class that I got to see another Romanian film– the equally bleak dark comedy/drama The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005).
Now, as I head into 2015 wishing I not only blogged more but also watched more movies on my own, as a form of much-needed me time that is also productive somehow, I’ve decided that I miss watching foreign films and that I should really utilize my Netflix account more than I do. So, I’ve started a little passion project to watch more foreign films this year and write a little bit about them so that come 2016, I can see how I did!
The first two I watched were: Child’s Pose (from Romania) and Big Bad Wolves (from Israel).
Child’s Pose, which won the Golden Bear at the Berlinale the year I was in Berlin for my semester abroad, actually, was as bleak as the other Romanian films I mentioned, but rather than exposing the horribleness of communism when you need all you need is an abortion (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) or the horribleness of the modern healthcare system when all you need is a doctor and a hospital (Mr. Lazarescu) this film makes the bourgeoisie out to be the bleak, corrupt and callous facet of Romanian society– its grit is in its glamour, and in a way, that made it more disturbing to me. The film focuses intently on the class difference between Cornelia (played by Luminița Gheorghiu who also costarred in those two other Romanian films– not ironic since she’s like the Romanian Meryl Streep) and the grieving parents– whose 14 year old son was killed in a car accident, with Cornelia’s own beloved son Barbu behind the wheel.
Though he is at least partially to blame of course, Cornelia coldly calculates what needs to be done to clear her son’s name, even when her interference is clearly unwelcome; the relationship, or lack thereof between Barbu and his mother is what makes her attempts seem all the more skewed, her denial of his wrongdoing comes second to her denying her own son’s disdain for her. The climactic scene toward the very end of the film finds Cornelia in tears, spewing his accolades and achievements as a way of defending her son, begging for his life to be spared even though the recipients of these pleas are those grieving parents whose own son was not spared, whose own son was not given such an opportunity– and with seemingly no real guilt from Cornelia. It’s a class allegory about power and pride and, though it’s never really an easy film to watch, it’s powerful if you can master it.
The next film also had to do with dead children, but other than that disturbing commonality, these films were totally different: Big Bad Wolves, which opened early in 2014 in limited release, is an Israeli thriller/dark comedy that many horror fans buzzed about (so I knew I had to move this one to the top of my list). This film was AMAZING in every way possible. From the stylish opening credits sequence to, well, a lot of other very visually striking moments, the film had a slick sense of panache. It was also sickly funny, as a dark comedy should be when done right– I found myself laughing while cringing (a sort of “should I really be laughing at that?” type reaction). I loved this film and would have given it a perfect score, easily.
The story is that of a pedophile/child murderer who is interrogated by the father of one of the victims, with a little help too from a sarcastic vigilante cop who’d been officially taken off the case. Taking matters into their own surprisingly sadistic hands, the film takes a turn for the disturbing and suspenseful, but still with that sick humor making itself known throughout (I mean, the choice of music when the father is baking a cake with sedatives in it is priceless and will make your skin prickle). I loved the deliberate way the camera moved, the way certain moments played out in a kind of stylized slow motion; I loved the music and the script, the way humor and horror were so intertwined as if to seem naturally synonymous; I loved the way we’re meant to question everything– who is telling the truth and whose motives are justified– that is, until the twist at the end that will leave you shocked, shaken and cheering (more for its build up and execution than its content)… or maybe that was just me getting way too excited about this amazing movie culminating in the most satisfying– and yet frustrating– way possible. I don’t usually praise things this much even when I give them super positive reviews but this film honestly made me this giddy so censoring myself is not an option.
Anyway, thanks all for reading and for following me on this little foreign film journey! Coming up in this feature if all goes according to plan, I’ll be checking out two more of Leos Carax’s films, the Russian noir Elena, modern Spanish classic Y Tu Mama Tambien and recent Spanish camp-fest Witching & Bitching, Norwegian psychological drama Oslo August 31st and much much more!