Foreign language cinema is something that all too often gets overlooked in the UK or USA. I must admit that I’m certainly not an expert. But joining me this week is Matthew Pritchard who knows far more about this than I do. Before we get into the list I want to mention some other films that did’t quite make my list; Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Amelie, Let The Right One In, The Hunt, and many Akira Kurosawa films such as Rashomon or Seven Samurai. So here are our Top 5 foreign language films.
- Shuggie: Oldboy – A South Korean thriller Oldboy has remade into an English language version, but trust me, the original Korean one is far better. If you can’t deal with violence, then this isn’t the film for you. Oldboy contains one of the greatest action sequences ever filmed, and has hugely influenced the action scenes in Daredevil which have tried to replicate it. But it is more than just great action; it also keeps you engrossed to the end with a great, twisted story.
- Matt: The Secret In Their Eyes (El secreto de sus ojos) – This crime thriller involves a former detective and judge who buried their romance a quarter of a century earlier, they recount the events of that time, and especially an unsolved murder, which haunts them both to this day, as well as the husband of the victim, and the killer himself. A twisting and turning murder mystery, with some of the most finely crafted scenes put to camera (including an amazing scene involving a football match in the stadium of the Huracan football club in Buenos Aires), this film keeps you guessing until its unforgettable, climactic ending.
- Shuggie: The Raid – An Indonesian martial arts film made by a Welshman. The Raid has a rather simple premise; a team of elite policemen infiltrates an apartment block to capture a drug lord. The majority of the film is spent with this team trying to fight their way up the various floors of criminals trying to stop them. It is violent, action packed, full of great choreography, and so beautifully directed by Gareth Evans. I love that the simplicity allows for a great story to be told, and it has some of the best action scenes since the already mentioned Oldboy.
- Matt: Happiness (le Bonheur) – The French Nouvelle Vague, or New Wave, was responsible for the some of the best films ever made, and this one by Agnés Varda is my favourite of them all. A young carpenter, excessively happy with his life, happily married and a loving father, finds he has enough happiness to give some to another woman, and embarks on an affair, madly in love with both women. Needless to say this situation does not end up well. Heavily influenced by the feminist ideas of Simone de Beauvoir, the film comments on the position of women in French society at the time. Beautiful colours, cinematography and exciting cuts make this a film of great artistry as well as emotion and drama.
- Shuggie: Hero – Hero is one of those films that I saw when I was young and it really stayed with me. I love the story technique where it is essentially a film that has two characters sitting in a room and most of the film is told through flashback. Starring the legend that is Jet Li, along with several other well know Chinese martial artist actors, the film is very well acted. Almost most importantly the action scenes are so beautifully choreographed, and such an engaging watch. The whole film is so visually stunning, with such vibrant and striking colours, and beautifully scored that you cannot help but get drawn in and engaged by it.
- Matt: Audition (Ōdishon) – This isn’t entirely helpful, but the less said about this film, and the less known about it when you start watching it, the better. It is by controversial Japanese director Takashi Miike, who is known for pushing boundaries. My conscience won’t let me say anything else about this film. JUST. WATCH IT. You won’t regret it.
- Shuggie: Pan’s Labyrinth – I love Guillermo Del Toro’s film making, both in English and Spanish. Pan’s Labyrinth falls into the later, taking place in post civil war Spain. For me Del Toro managed to bring a perfect blend of a wonderfully creepy fantasy tale, and a very intense political war film. Sergi López’s portrayal of Captain Vidal is so intense, and as scary as any of the monsters in the film. While Doug Jones’ Pale Man is just iconic. I love the ambiguous nature of the ending of the film, that can spark debate amongst fans as to whether Ofelia dies or not.
- Matt: Wild Strawberries (Smultronstället) – The Swedish title of this film signifies a place of sentimental value, a significant place in ones’ life that is maybe not appreciated by others. An apt title for a film in which an aging man called Isak, on a road-trip to accept an honorary degree, begins to daydream about his childhood love who married his brother and their times together by the sea-side (including picking strawberries). These dreams, as well as nightmares, old age and the realisation that death is around the corner force Isak to re-evaluate his life. Philosophy, life and introspection are the themes of this powerful, brilliant and beautiful film; the best of the Swedish master Ingmar Bergman.
- Shuggie: Spirited Away – If you’re a regular reader of these top 5s then you’ll know what a fan I am of this film. I believe that the Japanese Studio Ghibli are the best animated film makers in the world, and Spirited Away is their masterpiece. It encapsulates everything that makes Ghibli films so special. It visually beautiful, has a moving emotional core, and leaves you with a sense of wonder. I have seen it both in Japanese with subtitles, and dubbed into English, and I’ve got to say there’s no competition, give me the original foreign language version anytime.
- Matt: Love Exposure (Ai no mukidashi) – A low-budget, four-hour epic masterpiece by maverick Japanese director Sion Sono. Covering such subjects as lust, religion, cult, family, the search for love, violence and turning up-skirt photography into a sport, this film is a full-on thrill-ride. It is hilarious, affecting and dramatic, it is a superbly written, multi-layered story, which is at times difficult to keep up with, but so rewarding to watch. Four hours is an incredibly large run-time, and the DVD does come with an interlude at an appropriate time, but I can’t recommend taking it all in in one go enough. It’ll leave you breathless, but it is truly the most amazing film I have ever seen.