15 Great Non-English Language Film Trilogies That Are Worth Watching
5. Finland Trilogy (FINLAND, Aki Kaurismäki)
Drifting Clouds (1996), The Man Without a Past (2002), Lights in the Dusk (2006)
Aki Kaurismäki is a director whose entire filmography can be seen as one long story about everyday life and its ups and downs. His utter integrity and independence as an “auteur“, his dark humor and his incredible talent for color and light contrasts reached their new, more mature heights with this trilogy. The Finland Trilogy is Kaurismäki’s second trilogy, after the Proletariat Trilogy from the late ’80s (although he himself stated that Loser Trilogy would be a more appropriate name for that one).
The first movie, Drifting Clouds, was made in the wake of the premature death of Aki’s biggest acting star at the time, Matti Pellonpää (Mika, the taxi driver from Night on Earth). Therefore, Kari Väänänen (one of the taxi’s customer’s in Jarmusch’s film), took the leading role alongside his one-of-a-kind female colleague, Kati Outinen, in the efforts of their characters to save their restaurant named Dubrovnik (nothing is accidental in Aki’s movies, the Croatian city is very popular among Finnish tourists).
The movie also marked Kaurismäki’s definite comeback to Finnish language movies after a couple of successful stints in English and French.
Then came The Man Without a Past, his most globally recognized movie, an Oscar-nominee and Grand Prix-winner in Cannes. However, as he stated on various occasions he hates most of the festivals and that red carpets are the killers of cinema, we can assume that he wasn’t so thrilled about these awards.
At least he says isn’t. In the words of Jim Jarmusch (who else?), the entire film is, “Sad enough to make you laugh and funny enough to make you cry,“ The moment that deserves special recognition is the incredible song Paha Vaanii (The Devil is Lurking) performed by Marko Haavisto & Poutahaukat, with the lyrics so good that they’re worth learning the Finnish language just to understand the song better. Another interesting piece of trivia is that Tähti the dog won the award in Cannes for best dog actor that year.
Lights in the Dusk from 2006, another beautiful story of a loser trying to sneak his way through life, closes the trilogy in a triumphant way. There are more poker-face characters and their hilarious punchlines, more beautiful music and, last, but not least – more Helsinki.
Finally, we must add with sadness that in the year 2007, two more leading actors of Kaurismäki’s movies died rather prematurely: Turo Pajala (Ariel) and Markku Peltola (The Man Without a Past).
4. Apu Trilogy (INDIA, Satyajit Ray)
Pather Panchali (1955), Aparajito (1957), Apur Sansar (1959)
If you are a true fan of world cinema, the Apu Trilogy is probably one of the first things to come to mindwhen you hear the word trilogy. You have probably already seen all three movies, and you probably don’t remember the English translations of their titles (Song of the Little Road, The Unvanquished, and Apu’s World). You, however, do remember their original Bengali names because they sound way cooler.
On the other hand, if you haven’t seen it yet, you should know that this infinitely warm and humanistic trilogy focuses on the life of Apu since his childhoodall the way to his efforts to find his son and revive his long-lost fatherhood. Very low-budget and with an amateur cast and crew, the trilogy is the most famous example of the Indian Parallel Cinema movement, an alternative to the omnipresent mainstream Bollywood cinema.
Interestingly enough, the first installment of the trilogy represents Ray’s debut feature film.. The score is composed by Ravi Shankar, the world music legend and father of Norah Jones. Later, in the ’70s, Satyajit Ray made another trilogy, which focuses on the city of Calcutta, for which it is named.
3. Glaciation Trilogy (AUSTRIA, Michael Haneke)
The Seventh Continent (1989), Benny’s Video (1992), 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (1994)
How many of you had heard of Michael Haneke back in the early ’90s? Probably very few. Today the Austrian is a two-time Palme d’Or winner (for The White Ribbon and Amour, the latter also earning him an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film).
Long before becoming world famous for his movies, which focus on disturbed individuals and distorted communities and societies, Haneke made this fantastic trilogy set in his fatherland Austria (though he was born in Munich) which to a great extent predicted his later masterpieces, such as The Piano Teacher and the two aforementioned award-winners.
On top of everything, the three installments of the Glaciation Trilogy were actually his first three feature films, and The Seventh Continent his debut film, even though he was already forty-seven years old at the time.
The Seventh Continent is inspired by a true story about an Austrian family which did something completely unexpected (we won’t tell what it was because it would be a major spoiler). With a very interesting approach on colors and camera angles, the cinematography, which throughout the film, emphasizes the daily routines of a European family, is impeccable. Once more,it’s worth reiterating this was Haneke’s debut feature film.
Benny’s Video’s title character is a sociopathic teenager with a passion towards videos and cameras who one day takes it too far and, of course, his actions are caught on camera. Although distorted, the family proves to be disgustingly functional – the father tries to eliminate evidence of his son’s evil deeds after he sends him and his mother on a trip to Egypt (what an idea!).
Haneke’s genius is clearly seen in this part, as we’re taken on a small excursion with the two, whereas no father’s actions can be seen whatsoever.
The third film, 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance, has a somewhat different approach, as a viewer is immediately informed that in the end of the film there will be a mass killing in a bank in Vienna.
Immediately after the introduction, we’re sent back a couple of months, where we begin a journey with various characters with no connection to each other (including a young Romanian illegal immigrant, a pious bank security guard, and the future perpetrator) who will all be united by fate on the day of the tragic event.
These fragments that together form the film’s title are very intelligently intertwined with real television news, mainly terrible stuff, varying from wars in Georgia and Bosnia to Michael Jackson’s child molestation accusations.
2. Koker Trilogy (IRAN, Abbas Kiarostami)
Where Is the Friend’s Home? (1987), And Life Goes On (AKA Life and Nothing More) (1992), Through the Olive Trees (1994)
Although designated as a trilogy by theorists and critics, these three films, according to many of them, represent the peak or the key point of Kiarostami’s career. The great Iranian director suggested that the second and third installation, together with the Palme d’Or-winning Taste of Cherry, are more likely to be a trilogy.
Fair enough, the first film was made before the tragic 1990 earthquake with an epicenter in the eponymous village of Koker, while the other two deal with the direct consequences of it. However, these three movies are a genuine treasure of Iranian and world cinema.
Where Is the Friend’s Home? is the homework for all the scriptwriters out there on how a dynamic and catchy drama plot can evolve from something so painfully simple and everyday-life. In this particular case – a homework assignment. Literally. The main character is a boy, who throughout the movie tries, desperately to give back the school notebook to his classmate who still hasn’t done his homework for tomorrow. If he fails to do it on time, the teacher said, he will be expelled.
The two boys from this movie are also a central subject of And Life Goes On (AKA Life and Nothing More), in which a father and his son drive from Tehran to Koker in search of them, fearing that the two might have died in the earthquake. Throughout the movie, we can see the authentic ruins from the earthquake and the struggle of local people to cope with them.
Even though Iran didn’t play in the 1990 FIFA World Cup, its final match is a key point in the film, just as the 1954 edition is in The Marriage of Maria Braun, which you may remember from just a couple of minutes ago.
The aforementioned youngsters also recur briefly in Through the Olive Trees, a brilliant movie with another movie within. To be more precise, it examines the making of a small scene from Life and Nothing More, where dramas of peripheral characters from the previous film become the central points of this one.
Apart from simple plots which cherish the preciousness of life in the rawest and most sincere fashion, another connection of these masterpieces is the perpetual movement of the protagonists, sometimes by foot, sometimes by car, in search of something on the verge of being unattainable, which continues to be the leitmotif in most of Kiarostami’s later works. The title of the second film in the trilogy probably epitomizes in the best way his whole career and his idea about how to make movies.
1. Trilogy of Faith or Silence of God Trilogy (SWEDEN, Ingmar Bergman)
Through a Glass Darkly (1961), Winter Light (1963), The Silence (1963)
And the winner is – Ingmar Bergman! Nothing new, and this list is no exception. Brilliant is the word.
The first huge turning point in Bergman’s career was in 1957, when he changed the course from somewhat lighter comedy-dramas to such powerful classics as The Wild Strawberries and The Seventh Seal, both made that same year. Soon came the ’60s and the first of Bergman’s three Academy Awards for The Virgin Spring. This was only the second Bergman movie made with his celebrated cinematographer Sven Nykvist, who also did all three installments of the trilogy and many more of his filmslater on.
The first part of the trilogy, which spotlights vulnerable women and their inner struggles, is Through a Glass Darkly, which brought the second Oscar in a row to Bergman, with the brilliant Harriet Anderson in the leading female role. The movie is dedicated to Bergman’s then-wife Käbi Laretei. Described to be, “A chamber film in which four family members act as mirrors for each other,” it is also the first of many Bergman films to be shot on the island of Fårö.
The latter two installments, Winter Light and The Silence, came in 1963 (again two masterpieces in one year), with the beautiful Ingrid Thulin, who first came to stardom in The Wild Strawberries, shining in two very different leading roles.
Similar to many trilogies on the list, this wasn’t originally meant to be a trilogy, but Bergman himself acknowledged it in retrospect due to the similarity of the films. He himself wrote, “These three films deal with reduction. Through a Glass Darkly conquered certainty. Winter Light penetrated certainty. The Silence, God’s silence – the negative imprint. Therefore, they constitute a trilogy.“ Now it’s up to us to understand, and feel, which Bergman always emphasized as more important.
There are two particularly interesting and critically acclaimed movies that are both part of famous trilogies, but could not be on the list because their other respective installments are in English. They are Lars von Trier’s The Idiots (part of Golden Heart Trilogy) and Alejandro González Iñárittu’s Amores Perros (part of Trilogy of Death).
Another trilogy that deserves an honorable mention is the Iberian Trilogy by the late Bigas Luna, consisting of Ham, Ham, Golden Balls, and The Tit and the Moon, the first of which was the launching point for both Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz.
Author Bio: Ivan Andonov is an employee of the Venezuelan Embassy in Serbia and freelance journalist with a wide array of hobbies. Cinema is one of them. He likes to occasionally use his vacations or flu season for neverending “eat-sleep-watch movies“ marathons. His personal best is sixty in a row without leaving his home. A couple of these were enough for him to start writing about films.