The case has been made that foreign films are essential to increasing a person’s ability to empathize, and therefore everyone, not just lovers of cinema should watch them. Seeing somebody completely different from you experiencing something completely human is important, since understanding is what brings the people of the world together.
This sentiment though can only be true if films do their job by being well-made and telling important stories. In a way, it is also the job of movie lovers to spread these movies to others, so that there is a better understanding of the world around them. This list hopes to get started on that and continue what other cinephiles have done so well. Enjoy.
15. Before The Rain (Pred doždot) – Macedonia, France (1994)
There have been countless war films, but there are very few like Before The Rain. Rather than sending its audience to the war itself, it shows the effect of a conflict in the local area and throughout the world.
A daunting task, Before The Rain evokes a haunting image of war through clever use of circular plot structure. The film is separated into three parts, each following the other in a horrible cycle. Racism, division, and terrorism are not only the effects of war according to Before The Rain, but also its cause.
14. Mommy – Canada (2014)
With an unusual aspect ratio of 1:1, Mommy is a completely unique film right from the get-go. The audience is boxed in with these sometimes explosive characters and it makes for an intense viewing experience.
The material is intense as it is following the relationship between a violent son with ADHD and a mother who can’t help but love him. The way the film is presented makes all the crazy moments that much more explosive.
The aspect ratio does an excellent job bringing everything in for close moments between the mother and son, and the audience can get a better sense of the bond that is there as strange as it is. Beyond the aspect ratio, however, this film is well-written and performed very well by its actors including Antoine-Olivier Pilon and Anne Dorval.
13. The Syrian Bride (הכלה הסורית) – Israel, France, Germany (2004)
Foreign films are important to not only entertain, but to spread ideas and awareness of problems around the world. A great example of a film that does this is The Syrian Bride. This political drama follows a Druze woman who is to be married to a Syrian actor, but in order to be married, she must cross the border between Israel and Syria and when she does, she can never go back to see her family again.
This film has a number of moving parts to the plot mixing political tension with familial tension, and it all works really well. The performances are great, and the movie sheds light on a difficult situation that many Americans never have and never will have to face in their lifetime.
12. Head On (Gegen die Wand) – Germany, Turkey (2004)
Gegen die Wand is a painful 2004 German-Turkish drama about a man who’s given up on life and agrees to marry an unstable girl to please her Turkish parents. This makes for a painful relationship that many will relate to, and as the title suggests, Gegen die Wand, or Head-On, is extremely blunt with its material.
The flaws in its characters and the problems that are manifested through their relationship are laid bare, but the director and the actors’ performances successfully express the sentiment that love often comes from a painful place.
It’s themes are dark, and it’s portrayal of romance can be bitter, but it feels real to its audience and that’s what is admirable about this film. Also, it’s easy to wonder what happens at the end of the movie as the main characters are often unpredictable as a result of their instability. Many cinephiles nowadays don’t focus on that as much as regular moviegoers do, but this movie has everyone wondering where their relationship will go next.
11. Yossi And Jagger – Israel (2002)
Films with LGBT themes have been increasing in number internationally in the past two decades, but one of the first international LGBT films to be successful is Yossi and Jagger.
What gives this movie its charm, like many of the other films on this list with extremely low budgets, is its honesty. The actors give such powerful performances that carry the story and give it the human aspect that is vital to the film. The movie follows two soldiers that have fallen in love while in fear of persecution and war-like danger.
This movie has no catch; it’s just a good story with good performances and good directing. The dangers that come with a situation like that are highlighted, but the fun and happiness is represented just as much which makes for a genuinely good time watching Yossi and Jagger.
10. Gomorrah – Italy (2008)
Since films focused on organized crime such as The Godfather and The Departed have been a staple of American cinema for a long time, there tends to be certain expectations with these types of films. Though Gomorrah satisfies many of these expectations, it goes an entirely different direction with the style. Rather than a Scorsese-style clean-cut look, Gomorrah is messy and dirty and plays similarly to an artistic documentary like this year’s Oscar-contender Fire At Sea.
In Gomorrah, there are five stories following the effects that organized crime have on the nearby people and their surroundings. Each story is brutal in its own way, and rather than split it up into chapters, the director Matteo Garrone and his other writers interwove these stories into each other to represent how fast far-reaching the dangers of organized crime are.
It affects the innocent, guilty, families, workers, the young, the old, everyone – and it’s all in this movie. Gomorrah is brutal and tough, but it enlightens its audience to the problem that is organized crime, rather than making it cool.
9. The Tribe (Plemya) – Ukraine, Netherlands (2014)
Performed in Ukrainian Sign Language with absolutely no subtitles, The Tribe boldly challenges its viewers to get sucked into a story without hearing or understanding what is being said. This makes for one of the most unique film-viewing experiences a fan of cinema will ever have. It’s difficult at first, but once the viewer is hooked within the first fifteen minutes, it’s hard to stop watching.
Extreme focus is needed for The Tribe, as the story isn’t simplified at all. It’s a complicated tale of a new student at a school for the deaf who gets caught up with the school gang, eventually becoming a member and doing some of the dirty work for the higher-ups such as pimping.
As certain events complicate his job, he must adapt to the new dangers that stand in the way of the life he’s gotten used to. It’s a tough story told in a tough way, but it makes for a fantastic viewing experience that should be had by lovers of foreign film.