11. Black (Adil El Arbi & Bilal Fallah, 2015)
El Arbi and Fallah collaborated again for what proved to be a film about violence amongst immigrant groups in Brussels. The film pitches the Bronx gang in direct competition against a gang of Moroccan youths, the conflict brought about when a young black girl, Mavela, gets into a relationship with a Moroccan boy.
The film demonstrates the disconnect that these young people feel to their surroundings. It’s a film that holds nothing back, explicitly depicting the raw events of tribal gang warfare and all of the fallout. Definitely not an easy watch, and the controversy it spurned in Belgium regarding the negative depiction of groups not withstanding, it is a gripping and fast-paced film and one that simply demands your attention for its 95 minute runtime.
12. Wildlike (Frank Hall Green, 2014)
For those who were wowed by the performance of Ella Purnell as the gravity-defying Emma Bloom in the recent Tim Burton film, Miss Peregrine’s home for Peculiar Children, she starred in a little-known film two years previously that is definitely worth your attention. Playing a teenage girl running away from a difficult situation, her desperation turns to trust as she ends up on something of a quest with an aging widower played by the seasoned performer Brian Geraghty.
Purnell’s performance is the one that keeps you gripped though, as she shows both the adaptability and naivety of youth throughout the journey. Some of the scenes in the wilds of Alaska are truly breathtaking and provide the perfect backdrop for what is at times a bleak journey with two characters that are struggling to find their place in life for very different reasons.
13. The Treatment / De Behandeling (Hans Herbots, 2014)
A film version of Mo Hayder’s novel the Treatment set in rural Belgium. Geert Van Rampelberg is superb as hardened detective Nick Cafmeyer, who harbours a dark tragedy from his past, one that he has never really got over.
As the film progresses, we learn that Nick’s brother was abducted at the age of 9 and no evidence or body was ever found. As the case is re-opened it becomes a tale of obsession and clouded judgement and one that brings Van Rampelberg’s character to his knees. At 2 hours and 11 minutes, the runtime is long but the story is drawn out superbly by Director Hans Herbots, with several twists and surprises along the way.
14. The Kings Of Summer (Jordan Vogt-Roberts, 2013)
A wonderful coming-of-age tale about a group of teenagers bored with city life and their over-bearing parents who decide to leave and set up home in the woods, thus becoming masters of their own destiny.
The first part of the film takes a while to get going as it sets the scene of dull family life and rebellious teenagers. But from the moment the move to the forest takes place, this film comes alive. It’s packed full of comedy and misadventure, while also dealing with real issues such as strength of friendship and leadership dynamics. For any fans of the recent Captain Fantastic or Sean Penn’s Into The Wild, this is a must-watch.
15. Breathe / Respire (Melanie Laurent, 2014)
Melanie Laurent is a superb actress with a number of impressive credits to her name, who truly came to the world’s attention with her role as the devious Shosanna in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds. Her directorial debut, Les Adoptes, showed potential but it was with this, her second film, that she showed what a true force she can be behind the camera. Charlie and Sarah are two girls who develop a bond at High School. Charlie the sensible one, gets swept away with the wild nature of her friendship with Sarah, the risk-taking newcomer.
It is Sarah, played with reckless abandon by Lou de Laage (who is currently earning rave reviews for her leading role in Anne Fontaine’s the Innocents) who is the star turn, at various times evoking our sympathy with her challenging home life and our scorn with her selfish actions towards her friend Charlie. The scene in Charlie’s bedroom where it all comes to a head is a cinematic treasure of true dramatic tension.
16. Mommy (Xavier Dolan, 2014)
Whlist Xavier Dolan can hardly be considered an undiscovered Director, the amount of people who have watched his films seems to be far less in number than those who know about him by reputation. Mommy is such an interesting character study that it is quite easily possible to forgive the usual Dolan indulgences such as the unusual 1:1 screen ratio and the tendency to portray a lot of shouting and screaming within the dialogue.
It’s one of those films that make it a challenge for you to like and ‘root for’ any of the characters, but once Dolan reveals the complexity of their obnoxiousness, there is true viewer empathy there if you are prepared to invest. Watching the lives of mother and son Die (played by Dolan regular Anne Dorval) and Steve (very extrovertly portrayed by Antione Pilon) unravel in front of your eyes just as they were starting to seem like they were getting somewhere is an uncomfortable voyeuristic experience, but one which it is difficult to take your eyes away from all the same.
17. Outside The Law / Hors La Loi (Rachid Bouchareb, 2010)
The Director is better known for his war story Days of Glory/Indigenes but Rachid Bouchareb’s sprawling epic tale of three brothers from the 1920s to 1960s is the superior film in so many ways. The brothers are split up as we follow them through the battlefields of war, a refugee camp in Paris, low-level gangster enterprises and many other escapades.
However, they remain united in one cause – their desire for Algerian independence from French rule. There’s a lot of battle scenes, both literally on the battlefield and figuratively on the streets of Paris, yet the plethora of bloodshed never seems out of place in what were undoubtedly brutal times for those in the Algerian resistance.
18. Kon-Tiki (Joachim Ronning & Espen Sandberg, 2012)
When told well, a true to life story of adventure can make a great film, and that is the case here with Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg’s tale of the adventurer Thor Heyerdahl. They stay painstakingly true to the real-life happenings as they take us on a voyage of discovery across the vast Pacific Ocean.
The cinematography is immense and some of the wide shots of the ocean are breathtaking. Fans of Vikings will recognise Floki (Gustaf Skarsgard) who plays Bengt, one of the explorers. The true beauty of the film lies in the immensity of the task attempted by Heyerdahl and his shipmates, attempting to cross the Pacific on a balsawood raft, and the conflicts within the relationships between the explorers themselves, as they face unimaginable hardships and travails along the way.
19. As I Open My Eyes (Leyla Bouzid, 2015)
Director Leyla Bouzid comes from good directing stock, being the daughter of prolific Tunisian film-maker Nouri Bouzid. In her debut feature, she tackles the free-thinking and rebellious Tunisian youth just before the uprising of the Arab Spring. Through the eyes of Farah, a young lead singer in a band, played with great panache by Baya Medhaffer, we see the corruption and harsh reality of life under the old regime.
The film is heavy on music and there are numerous scenes of this type of ‘Arabic Indie’ music throughout, showcasing the wonderful vocal talents of Farah. The older characters in the film, such as Farah’s Mum, Fayet, played by the experienced actress Ghalia Benali, seem tired and resigned to the life they have, whereas the youth maintain a hope for change. It’s a tale of hope for the future but with the caveat of said hope being so frequently crushed by the oppression of the ruling regime.
20. The Broken Circle Breakdown (Felix Van Groeningen, 2012)
Belgian Director Felix Van Groeningen showed us his potential for great storytelling with the Misfortunates in 2009, but it was three years later when he released The Broken Circle Breakdown that the world realised what a true talent he really was. It’s another film infused with music, this time the sound of blue grass and country blues, cleverly juxtaposed with the Flemish countryside.
At its heart is a love story between Elise (superbly played by the stunning Veerle Baetens) and Didier (Johan Heldenbergh). The two are opposites in so many ways but play off each other so well until events intervene. The challenge for them is to preserve their love in the face of the challenges that life throws their way and they use music as a tool to help them try to achieve this.
Author Bio: Now in his late 30’s, Matt first fell in love with the world of film, when he was taken to the cinema as a 15 year old to see Luc Besson’s masterpiece, Leon: the Professional. A lover of independent movies, with a passion for raising awareness of foreign films, Matt first started writing reviews for his University newspaper in the late 90’s.