The 25 Greatest Performances by English Speaking Actors in Non-English Speaking Films

18. Harvey Keitel in “Three Seasons” (Tony Buy, 1999)

THREE SEASONS, Harvey Keitel, 1999

The Film: “Three Seasons” is bitter-sweet poetic film about the past, the present and the future of Vietnam. The past is represented by a couple of young girls who, every morning, row their little boats into the lake and gather lotus flowers. The present comes across when the girls take their lotus flowers to the markets in town where they sell them to American tourists. The future is a bleak one as the Americanization of Vietnam is imminent: neon bright lights, Coca-Cola signs and many more.

As the name of the film there are three stories in the film that are somehow connected by the spirit of Vietnam. The first story is about cyclo driver who falls in love with a prostitute and wishes to redeem her from her profession. The second story is about a young innocent girl who works as a lotus picker and befriends her mysterious employer, who is slowly dying of leprosy.

The third story is about a five-year old that steals and resells in order to survive. One day he steals the briefcase of American James Hager (Harvey Keitel), a Vietnam veteran who came back to Ho Chi Min City to look for the daughter he left behind when the war was over. The film requires patience but rewards you through its poetry and musicality.

The Performance: Many consider Harvey Keitel’s character unnecessary but the fact is that in a movie about postwar Vietnam an American character is very much needed. Keitel may not have a lot of screen time but he represents America in this film. He represents the hundreds of soldiers involved in affairs with Vietnamese girls who were forced to leave them behind after the war. His face, his lines and his performance in general expresses the regret of the passing of time and the efforts put in to recover it.


19. Charlotte Rampling in “Sous le Sable” (Francois Ozon, 2000)

Charlotte Rampling in “Sous le Sable”

The Film: Viewed as a modern day retelling of “L’Avventura” “Sous le Sable“ beautifully captures the basic human emotions: happiness, sadness, despair, regret, denial. It begins with an older couple having a nice day at the beach. When the husband goes missing his wife begins a desperate search to find him and restore order in her life. After months of searching in vain the woman begins to slowly become delusional and her denial increases.

The Performance: Charlotte Rampling (who can speak fluent French) is absolutely fantastic as the desperate woman in search of her lost husband. Through the course of the film her face shows us all the emotions that someone in her state in going through. In the first scenes with her husband at the beach she seems at peace with herself and with the life she chose.

When her husband goes missing she goes very smoothly from a little worried to desperate. As the desperation takes hold of her body and mind she enters a denial stage refusing to cope with the tragic loss. Finally, towards the end of the film madness can clearly be seen on her expressive face.


20. Tim Roth in “The Beautiful Country” (Hans Petter Moland, 2004)

THE BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY, Tim Roth, 2004, (c) Sony Pictures Classics
THE BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY, Tim Roth, 2004, (c) Sony Pictures Classics

The Film: If there was ever a film that beautifully and effortlessly combines poetry and serenity with pain and regret that it is definitely this one. Directed by Norwegian director Hans Petter Moland the film features and international cast and locations.

It tells the story of a Vietnamese boy who heads to America to find his father (an American soldier who left his mother behind after the war). On the boat the boy must turn a blind eye to all the injustice that emerges between races and social classes. He learns this from his wise boat captain (played by Tim Roth).

On the boat he befriends a Chinese prostitute also heading to America. Arriving in New York the boy must adapt to the hectic lifestyle of the Big Apple and work very hard in order to escape poverty and deportation. There he parts ways with the girl on the boat, who chooses to remain in New York as a prostitute, after raising enough money to travel to the little town of his father.

The Performance: Tim Roth only appears in the boat sequences but his role is crucial to the development of the story as he teaches the Vietnamese boy about life and its injustices. Roth appears calm no matter the situation and has the face of a man who’s seen it all in life. Tim Roth’s performance in this film proves that it not the size of the part but what you do with it.


21. Viggo Mortensen in “Alatriste” (Agustin Diaz Yanes, 2006)

Viggo Mortensen in “Alatriste”

The Film: This is often viewed as the Spanish version of the adventures of the musketeers. In fact the subtitle for this film reads: The Spanish Musketeer. Based on the central character from the novels written by Arturo Perez-Reverte the film follows the adventures of Diego Alatriste (Viggo Mortesen), a soldier turned mercenary turned heroic figure in 17th century Spain.

The film tries to replicate Hollywood epic films using the resources of a European film: fine acting, carefully choreographed action scenes and a little romance.

The Performance: Fluent in Spanish, Viggo Mortensen has no problem in the becoming Spain’s heroic archetype; fighting the bad guys and loving beautiful women. Captain Alatriste is the kind of character men want to be and women want to be with. He is courageous, daring, funny, smart, resourceful and romantic at times. Mortensen pulls all of those things of with his precise and committed acting.


22. Armand Assante in “California Dreamin” (Cristian Nemescu, 2007)

CALIFORNIA DREAMIN' (NESFARSIT), Armand Assante (right), 2007.  ©Media Pro Film Distribution
CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’ (NESFARSIT), Armand Assante (right), 2007. ©Media Pro Film Distribution

The Film: This stellar film is based on a real incident that took place in a small Romanian village in 1999. During the N.A.T.O. bombing of Yugoslavia a train containing military equipment is halted from its mission in small village in the Romanian countryside because of some missing custom papers. Captain Doug Jones and his crew end up staying four days in this village until their custom situation can be resolved. The attitude towards the Americans takes many forms.

Most of villagers try to make their stay as pleasant as possible by organizing or inventing different festivities to keep them entertained. The young girls of the village jump at the opportunity to befriend the young soldiers, although they cannot speak English, in hope that they will be able to go with them to America.

The only one that seems to hate the Americans is Doiaru, the railway station master, who has been waiting for them since the Second World War when his father (a supporter of Germany in the war) was promised the help of the United States. We learn about Doiaru’s story through a series of flashbacks. “Califronia Dreamin’” has that Balkanic charm and humor but also that specific Eastern Europe nostalgia; both specific to Romania. Its blend of comedy, tragedy and the absurd cement its place among the best films of the Romanian New Wave.

Sadly this was Cristian Nemescu’s last film as he was killed in a car crash in Bucharest at the age of 27. The subtitle to this film reads: Endless; this is not a poetic add to the tile but refers to the fact that the film was not quite finished in editing and postproduction…it was completed after Nemescu’s death.

The Performance: Armand Assante plays N.A.T.O. captain Doug Jones as the American stereotype. Captain Doug Jones is portrayed exactly the way Americans are perceived in Romania (and Eastern Europe in general): arrogant, ignorant and always ready to make a deal.

Assante also plays him the American stereotype through the eyes of Americans themselves: heroic, vertical and unwilling to compromise his mission. This is a very hard thing to do within just one character but that is why Armand Assante is a great actor.


23. Kristin Scott Thomas in “Il y a Longtemps que Je T’aime” (Philippe Claudel, 2008)

Kristin Scott Thomas in “Il y a Longtemps que Je T'aime”

The Film: Juliette Fontaine (Kristin Scott Thomas) is released from prison and is invited by her younger sister to stay with her and her family. At first hesitant about this change in her life Juliette begins to grow found of her sister’s family: her husband, his mute father and her two adopted Vietnamese daughters. The hardest thing that Juliette must adapt to is freedom.

A former doctor Juliette must now struggle to find a job. The biggest struggles however is to finally come to terms with her past and try to build a new life for herself with new friends, new places and possibly a new family. As the film unfolds the audience gets more and more insight on Juliette’s haunting past.

The Performance: Although Kristin Scott Thomas speaks French (she is not dubbed) her character is said to have served prison in London, in order to explain her slightly noticeable English accent. Thomas does an excellent job in portraying the fears, the regrets and the joys of Juliette as she tries to fit in. In fact this film is an actor’s film; this if a film were acting is at its most exalting. Kristin Scott Thomas has a brutal honesty about her acting and doesn’t seem to let her character be redeemed that easily.


24. Adrien Brody in “Giallo” (Dario Argento, 2009)

Adrien Brody in “Giallo”

The Film: Destroyed by critics “Giallo” is still a very enjoyable film for the fans of the genre. Especially due to the fact that it comes from the master of horror and the inventor of the giallo genre: Dario Argento. The film is about detective Enzo Avolfi (Adrien Brody) who teams up with a woman named Linda whose sister has been kidnapped. Their worst fears come true when they find out that Linda’s sister is in the hands of a sadistic serial killer only know as Yellow (the English word for giallo).

The Performance: Unfortunately “Giallo” is mostly known because of the fact that Adrien Brody sued the film’s production company for lack of payment. But “Giallo” remains an entertaining film for horror fans and especially for Argento’s horror films fans. The film has the typical making of a Dario Argento horror film and Adrien Brody is very believable as an Italian detective; you wouldn’t have guessed it but he actually is.


25. Christian Bale in “The Flowers of War” (Zhang Yimou, 2011)

Christian Bale in “The Flowers of War”

The Film: The story takes place in 1937, during the Second Seno-Japanese War, in a catholic convent in China. It is here that American mortician John Miller (Christian Bale) arrives with the task of burying the head priest.

After being mistaken for a priest John Miller decides to keep this job in order to take girl of the young girls who seek refuge, from the bombings, inside the cathedral. Miller becomes the central figure in the small resistance movement created in the cathedral inspiring hope in everyone around him.

The Performance: Legendary Chinese director Zhang Yimou wanted to tell this real life story to the world and he wanted a Hollywood star for the lead role in order to get his film seen in as many places as possible. Christian Bale is an actor who likes to work outside of Hollywood from time to time (“Rescue Dawn” was made with German director Werner Herzog) so was this role came about he was very interested.

Bale is very good in following the path of enlightenment: that of a man who is at first only interested in money but then becomes sort off like a father figure to those around him. Christian Bale plays the character John Miller with the force and passion of a Hollywood leading man fitting perfectly with the heroic figure Zhang Yimou wanted to convey to the silver screen.

Author Bio: Horia Nilescu is a 30-year-old cinephile from Brasov, Romania. He works at a local bookstore as a multimedia & events manager (handling supplying issues in regards to cd’s and dvd’s and also organizing local events). He is passionate about film and fascinated by its diversity. He has created a local film club in Brasov (going of 3 years) in which he handles all aspects. He likes to talk and write about movies but most importantly he likes to watch them.