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
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
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
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
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.