Too many great movies, too little time. That’s the universal problem for all cinephiles all around the world. There is no shortcut in terms of picking good movies to watch, but one thing you can do is to avoid Hollywood major productions, keep your mind open, set your eyes on other parts of the world and most of all, not be afraid of subtitles.
The sole purpose of this list is to help you find world cinema gems you otherwise won’t know exist. So here we are, and let’s take a look at these carefully chosen movies by the author.
1. The Fool (Yuri Bykovm, 2014, Russia)
The Locarno Film Festival held in Locarno, Switzerland every year is the perfect place to find great small indie movies from around the world. You can find familiar names like Jim Jarmusch, Lav Diaz and Hong Sangsoo on their list of Golden Leopard Award winners (the highest award of the film festival).
This Russian film we are going to introduce today won the Best Actor award at the Locarno Film Festival in 2014, and it is so much more than just good acting. It tells the story of a plumber who discovers a building is going to collapse in 24 hours when he is out there for his daily task of checking pipelines. So he seeks the help of the town leader, who’s having a party celebrating her work achievements over the past few years. Of course, the endeavor proves to be futile, even dangerous, since every government officer had one piece of the pie from the construction of that building.
“The Fool” is a great social realism film that not only satirizes the dark side of the corrupted government, but also sings the praises of human courage in pursuit of social justice. The most precious thing about the movie is how it values human lives from the perspective of the protagonists. In the government officials’ eyes, the people living in the building are just some lowlives who have criminal records, but our hero doesn’t think so. He values human lives more than anything else, and that’s the light of humanism shining through the dark skies throughout the film.
2. Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem (Ronit Elkabetz & Shlomi Elkabetz, 2014, Israel)
The cinema about women in the Middle East is always fascinating, since women from those countries still have a much lower social status compared to men. This movie, “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem”, is co-written and co-directed by Israeli female filmmaker Ronit Elkabetz, who’s also the star of the movie.
The story of the film is really simple; you can almost sum it up in one sentence. A woman goes to a religious court to asks for a divorce after 20 years of marriage while the husband refuses so and forces her to come back. Under the strict religious laws of Israel and other strange circumstances, it takes five years for the woman to finally have the permission of divorce from her husband.
The story takes place in a courtroom almost throughout the entire film. While it’s not as intense as classics like “12 Angry Men”, it manages to keep your attention by making you laugh at the ridiculous law, sympathizing with the wife, and thinking about the true nature of love and marriage.
We are not given the backstory of the couple, so we really have little idea what happened to the couple that made the wife want a divorce. We get some clues from the witnesses, but that’s still not enough to judge the case. You can view this film as a mystery of love: When does it go? What causes the cracks between the couple? What makes matter worse? Maybe only the couple has the answer – maybe even they don’t know.
3. The Hidden Face (Andrés Baiz, 2011, Colombia)
If you only watch the first half of Colombian director Andrés Baiz’s thriller, you might want to give up as it looks so much like a mediocre supernatural thriller that plays with the cliched concepts of ghosts and a haunted house. But keep on with your enthusiasm and you will be paid off by a first class psychological thriller that will clear up all your doubts during the first half.
The story is about a young orchestra conductor who has recently broken up with his girlfriend, who suddenly disappears after the breakup. After several days of remorse, the man finds another girl at a bar and brings her back, and soon the girl becomes his new girlfriend. Then weird things happen; when the girl is alone at home while her boyfriend is out working, she hears a strange sound from the pipeline, and sees small waves in the bathtub. Sounds like a supernatural thriller, right? You will have to go on, as the end result is rather rewarding.
“The Hidden Face” is full of twists and turns that will keep you on the edge of your seat all the way to the end. If you are looking for an erotic thriller with young adults in the lead roles, this is a nice choice.
4. Chinese Roulette (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1976, Germany)
Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s career lasted less than 15 years, the shortest among the famous auteurs of the New German Wave, yet he was the most prolific, having completed 40 feature length movies and two television film series. Highly influenced by the melodramas of legendary Hollywood director Douglas Sirk, Fassbinder’s movies often have great stories and magnificent mise-en-scene.
“Chinese Roulette” has a very interesting story. Ariane and Gerhard Christ tell each other that they are going to spend the weekend abroad; however, things do not turn out that way. Gerhard picked up his lover at the airport and brings her to his private castle, only to find his wife is having an affair with his assistant there. Strangely, they deal with this awkward situation peacefully and decide to spend the time together.
Things get worse with the arrival of their crippled daughter Angela, who finds it the perfect time to avenge her parents by proposing a game called Chinese Roulette. Like many Fassbinder movies, tragedy is inevitable at the end of the film.
“Chinese Roulette” might be the most complex Fassbinder movie in terms of camera movement, and it offers a great study of the Brechtian alienation effect in the cinema of Fassbinder. It has a great ensemble cast featuring all the Fassbinder regulars including Ulli Lommel, Brigitte Mira and Macha Méril, you will also be surprised to find a Fassbinder outsider, Anna Katrina, who is the face of The French New Wave.
5. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne (Walerian Borowczyk, 1981, France)
Polish filmmaker Walerian Borowczyk was once described by film critics as a “genius who also happened to be a pornographer.” Some of his most famous movies like “Immoral Tales” and “The Beast” have many bold, even shocking sex scenes, but from another angle, you can see how he managed to express human desire in the most honest way possible.
This movie, as you can see from the title, is a variation on Robert Louis Stevenson’s story “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”. The story takes place at the engagement party of Dr. Henry Jekyll and Miss Fanny Osborne. After a meal, Henry Jekyll transforms to his alter ego, Mr. Hyde, and sexually attacks some of the guests, men and women.
When you watch a Borowczyk movie, you know it would be highly sexually charged, and this one is no exception. It’s a visually stunning horror movie that opens the gate of imagination. Even if you have watched the classic Universal version of the movie, it is highly possible that you will like this one because it feels so different, and so unique in its own.