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15 Non-English Language Films from This Century You Might Have Missed

18 August 2015 | Features, Film Lists | by Ilona Aggelidou

Distant (2002)

Blockbusters and Hollywood movies in general are the order of the day. There is an abundance of films made in the USA throughout the world.

However, many of the foreign gems of recent years are obscure in many regions. Here is a list of some meaningful European and Asian films which deserve a chance to shine.


1. Head-On (2004, Fatih Akin)

Country: Germany, Turkey


Cahit is a 40-ish solitary man of Turkish origins. After his wife’s death he leads a desolate life of drug and alcohol abuse. He earns a living by picking up empty bottles in a bar in Germany. After a self-inflicted incident he is taken to a psychiatric clinic. There Cahit meets a beautiful girl, approximately twenty years younger than himself. Her name is Sibel and she is also Turkish. She tried to commit suicide due to the burden of her life with her strict patriarchal family.

Sibel suggests getting married and goes to great lengths in order to convince him to feel the same. Cahit doesn’t like the idea at first but he eventually accepts it. They start off as roommates, leading separate sexual lives. As they get to know one another, they fall in love. Cahit accidentally kills one of Sibel’s lovers and goes to prison. Sibel then returns to Turkey and a hellish life. When they’re finally reunited, years later, nothing is the same for them.

Fatih Akin’s movie is a tale of solitude, love and the tragedy depicted in the most raw and realistic ways. Throughout the movie there are glimpses of life in both Turkey and Germany. Immigration is shown as it really is. Viewers see the character’s cosmopolitan way of life, as well as their obstacles and difficulties. Blending modern with traditional, this movie is a true masterpiece which speaks to the soul and stays with the viewer.


2. Blind (2014, Eskil Vogt)

Country: Norway, Netherlands


The focus of Eskil Vogt’s first feature is an exploration of the life of a young woman named Ingrid, who after losing her sight, secludes herself in her apartment in Norway. The only person she socializes with is her husband, a successful businessman who gradually becomes alienated from his wife. Ingrid tries to see life in a different way.This glimpse into Vogt’s cinematic universe is likely to confuse the viewer.

Blind is a strong, wittily structured drama which explores the claustrophobic atmosphere created in the apartment, as well as the life of blind Ingrid. Solitude and loneliness take a toll on Ingrid and she finds a way to keep her mind busy by fabricating her own reality. The film gives the impression of a dream which is mind-blowing and moving.


3. The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012, Felix van Groeningen)

Country: Belgium, Netherlands

Broken Circle Breakdown

Elise is a strongly religious tattoo artist. Didier is an atheist playing in a bluegrass band. These two people fall madly in love, united by a love of American culture. Their happiness is put to the test when their young daughter gets very ill. Is their love strong enough for them to pull through?

Felix van Groeningen’s romantic melodrama is well made in every sense of the term. The tale of two polar opposites falling in love is originally depicted. The cinematography is breathtaking. The viewer is set on an emotional roller-coaster which climaxes at one of the most moving endings in the history of melodramatic movies. There is no happy ending for this movie as it is realistic in its complexity.


4. Magical Girl (2014, Carlos Vermut)

Country: Spain, France

Magical Girl 2014

Luis is an unemployed, middle-aged Spanish single father. His daughter Alicia has terminal cancer and asks for a costume like that of anime character Yukiko the Magical Girl. Luis is determined to honor his daughter’s wish for the expensive costume. He meets Barbara, a troubled young woman, whom he blackmails. His blackmail leads him to Barbara’s old teacher, Damian, which sets in motion the very complicated story.

Vermut’s film is in the neo-noir style, which starts by examining the everyday life of a Spanish family then evolves into another type of film. The financial crisis depicted in the film’s opening helps viewers to identify with the characters. Strong paternal love gives Luis the drive to do whatever it takes to satisfy what is possibly his daughter’s last wish. He gets into serious legal trouble in doing what he deems the right thing.


5. Two Lives (2012, Georg Maas, Judith Kaufmann)

Country: Germany, Norway

Two Lives

Katrine lives in Norway with her loving family, which consists of her mother, her Norwegian husband, her daughter, and her granddaughter. Their peace is shattered when a lawyer asks her to testify in court for her fellow “war children” and she refuses to do so. A plethora of unraveling questions and secrets come to light and Katrine is forced to face the consequences of her actions.

This film makes unusual use of its World War II theme. It takes place in Norway and Germany, alternating the 1990s and 1960s with the aid of precise to costumes and settings. The lebensborn children were born of European mothers who engaged in extramarital relationships with German soldiers during the World War II.

The whole movie has a fragmented structure and numerous flashbacks. The film centers around Katrine and her double life, which gradually emerges. The pointed dialogue and scenes of family confrontation are exceptional.


6. Chicken and Plums (2011, Vincent Paronnaud & Marjane Satrapi)

Country: France, Belgium, Germany

Chicken and Plums

Nasser Ali is a young man who falls for beautiful Irane, a wealthy girl whose father doesn’t approve of him. As the years go past, Nasser becomes a famous violinist and gets married to a woman he’s not in love with and fathers two children. His life with his wife is angry.

During one fight his wife breaks his favorite violin and Nasser searches for a replacement. When his efforts prove fruitless, he decides to lie in bed and await for death. On his death bed Nasser has flashbacks and flash forwards of his past life and his family’s future.

Chicken and Plums is a lyrical allegory about life and it raises a number of existential questions and features humor blended with melancholy. The scenery, the fragmented structure and excellent performances combine in a fairy tale for adult viewers.


7. About Elly (2009, Asghar Farhadi)

Country: Iran, France


Three married Iranian couples and their newly divorced friend, Ahmad from Germany, decide to take a two day seaside vacation. One of the women plays matchmaker and invites shy Elly, her daughter’s teacher along in an attempt to match her with Ahmad. Everything goes smoothly until one of the kids almost drowns and Elly disappears. They initially assume she drown but as time goes by they consider the possibility that she might have fled. A man in Elly’s life arrives and things get complicated.

Asghar Farhadi creates a haunting psychological drama which challenges the viewer’s mind throughout the film. The depiction of strict patriarchal society is shown in the most delicate way through Elly’s story. The linear narrative without flashbacks puzzles the viewer with its complexity and red herrings.



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  • DeBill Cosm Dred

    What about Apocalipto ??? 😮

    • Ricardo Lazaro

      AAre you talknig about the Mel Gibson one? I couldn’t find another with the name in IMDB

  • Ken-Lyle R. Rafiñan

    No Asian or South American films? Wtf.

  • Rudi

    For anyone that hasn’t seen The Broken Circle Breakdown because the plot description sounds a bit meh; please do! Not often has a movie surprised me in such a positive way. The way the beautiful music, images and even articulation complements each other is simply phenomenal.

    – SPOILER – The scene where they’re spontaniously start to sing at the child’s funeral had me crying like a little girl.

  • Dimitrije Stojanovic

    Who might missed Gegen die wand? It is one of the best films of the century so far, not a hidden gem at all.

    • Aygul Jafarova

      “Head on” is “Gegen die wand”. It’s the first movie in the list

      • Dimitrije Stojanovic

        Thank you, but I’ve already knew that. 🙂 It is very well known, it can’t go under “you might missed”. The other films on the list are not that famous nor important. It doesn’t belong in this list.

  • Jeff Williams

    Wow, what about Dogtooth? Or The Lives of Others? Both are not only two of the best Non-English films I’ve ever seen but two of the best films I’ve ever seen, bar none.

    • marcel

      But those movies were already mentioned so many times. Better recommend something yourself then getting stucked at some titles.

    • glebsky

      The Lives of Others is not a film anyone missed. Everyone knows it. It is also a quite typical Oscar-bait, films that Taste of Cinema generally avoids. I’m glad it does.

  • Carsten Nilsson

    No danish movie? lol

    • glebsky

      Is there any?

  • marcel

    Massive thanks! I’ve only heard of few and this is what I’m looking for.
    I also recommend “Castaway on the moon”.

  • Harri Iivonen

    Aki Kaurismäki and “The man without a past”?

  • Andre Troesch

    Nothing from Japan, Korea, China, Hong Kong, India, Russia, South America ?????

  • durgesh

    I hate the fact that you guys completely ignore Indian films and Indian directors.
    1. Devdas
    2. D-day
    3. Court
    4. gangs of wasseypur
    5. Fandry
    The list is endless.
    Start including Indian films in your lists as well so that people come to know about the 21st Century Indian cinema.

  • Polaczek-Ciebulaczek

    Poooooooolska rozpier..lila listeeeeeeeeeeeeeee UAUAUAUAU

  • glebsky

    A bit of a boring and aesthetically limited list.

  • glebsky

    Definitely worth mentioning are the Hungarian Gyorgy Palfi and Bela Tarr films. Especially Palfi’s Taxidermia. Also, do check out Estonian film Autumn Ball.

  • Elmame

    There is at least three of the most recognized and celebrated filmmakers of contemporary cinema in the list: Nuri Bilge-Ceylan, Fatih Akin and Asghar Farhadi. If you’re into films and “might have missed” them, you have no idea what’s going on in cinema in these days.

  • Robert Segedy

    Goodnight Mommy is a great film.

  • marekhamsik

    there are films in the list that had an academy award nomination (broken circle breakdown), or are top 3 films of well known filmmakers (fatih akin, nuri bilge ceylan, fahradi). most cinephiles have either seen them or know their existence. others were awarded in the EFA like goodnight mommy (but, ok, I give the author that she/he might didn’t know that). most cinephiles have either seen them or know their existence.

    a touch of spice is an average mainstream Greek production that holds the record of the highest grossing Greek film of the last decades. but, ok, I accept that the author might not know that.

    finally, as said by other ppl here, there is a huge lack of films coming from Asia, South and Central America or other non-english speaking European countries.