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Article – Top Five Foreign Language Films


Posted May 17, 2016 by

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Top Five Foreign Language Films

In 2012 I joined a film group formed by a friend of my mum and I, in which we would watch artsy films of a type I had never considered before. Some are beautiful, some are quirky, and some are frankly weird. It opened my eyes to a large number of undiscovered films, many of which are foreign. It’s an unfortunate fact that films get a lot less recognition if they are not released in English. You can imagine it being difficult for a young, European filmmaker to gain wide recognition in the industry without moving to a dominant country and conforming to their style. But to miss out on these films is to miss out on some of the best stories.

Here is a list of some of my favourite foreign language films, most of which I discovered through the film group. I would include The Seventh Seal, but since I discussed that in my previous list of pre-millennial films I’ll give its space to another great film.

The Apu Trilogy (India)

Top Five Foreign Language Films

This story was released in three parts between 1955 and 1959. The trilogy chronicles the life of the protagonist, Apu, who grew up in an impoverished village in India. The first film covers until the age of 5. When tragedy strikes, he and his family abandon their secluded ancestral home for the hustle of the city where the second film follows the remainder of his childhood to adolescence and pursuit of studies. The third film joins him as an unemployed graduate trying to move on from his recent losses. In this final instalment he is encouraged by a college friend to attend a wedding, but an unexpected turn in events results in him marrying the bride himself. When what we can only hope is the final tragedy hits, it seems to be one too many and we watch events take their toll in a relatable manner, though luckily the ending is very uplifting!

The trilogy is beautifully filmed with natural performances. You come to feel protective over Apu, having watched him grow from infancy. The film is very sympathetic. The description may sound depressing, though it’s really not – rather, it’s dreamlike as Apu and his father drift about in an idealistic, naïve manner, and his mother’s left dealing with hard reality.

I would especially recommend this if you love the sound of the sitar. If not you’ll have to accept it for the duration of the films because it features very heavily. The traditional Indian soundtrack draws you into the ambiance of India, which is the main selling point. This is not a traditional plot, but a taste of life in India.

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not (France)

he loves me he loves me not

Audrey Tautou is a bit of a standard in our film club. I think we’d seen three films in which she stars when I last attended. She has a talent for being beguiling and yet undeniably quirky or unnerving when she chooses to be. She displayed this wonderfully in the film, ‘Amelie’, which I also highly recommend for fans of quirky films.

At first this seems to be a familiar story of betrayal within a relationship – but don’t be fooled! In a turn from the ultimate unreliable narrator, this film becomes pretty terrifying. The story is told twice, each time from a different perspective, and the second viewing completely turns your perceptions on their head. It is not your typical romantic flick. This is a story that would rather make you look over your shoulder and think twice before ever assuming things are what they seem. To give it away now would spoil the film, but do not be mislead by the innocent appearance of the poster. If you want something a little different with a twist that will leave you reeling, I definitely recommend this.

The Intouchables (France)


‘The Intouchables’ (or ‘Untouchable’ as it’s variably known) is ironically a touching comedy about two very unlikely friends – a quadriplegic aristocrat, Phillipe, and his caregiver, Driss, fresh from seeking unemployment benefits with no desire to gain a job. It is based on the true story of Phillipe Di Pozzo Borgo and his Arabic caregiver, Abdel Sellou, whose nationality was changed for the film only for the sake of casting comedian Omar Sy in the role.

I actually discovered this film when I heard a piece of music from one of my favourite composers, Ludovico Einaudi, was used in this film. I looked into it and was drawn in by the trailer and reviews. The soundtrack is as stunning as expected, but also very varied. Expect sounds ranging from the classics of Vivaldi, to electronic funk of Earth, Wind & Fire. Such disparity but strange cohesiveness is representative of the unexpected but funny bond between the two characters. This is a great feel-good movie that seems popular with audiences beyond the arts house niche, and it definitely deserves that!

Ida (Poland)

Ida poster

This is a visually beautiful black and white film shot in the 4:3 aspect ratio as opposed to the widescreen 16:9 or 2.35:1 that we’re used to. It was made in 2013 but has the feel of a far older classic film. The story follows a young nun who, on the verge of taking her vows in 1960s Poland, starts to have second thoughts about her decision whilst discovering a dark family secret dating back to the days of Nazi occupation.

It’s silent, but not silent. Such a large amount of time passes without any dialogue or notable atmospheric noise that you wouldn’t be blamed for believing there’s a problem with your television or DVD. Several shots are so unusually framed you find yourself staring at them thinking ‘there must be some deep meaning behind this’ and it certainly makes you think deeper about how the movie makes you feel. The cinematography is worthy of a coffee table book all of its own and can tell the story without dialogue.

It’s a film experience unlike many I’ve had, besides the 1993 film ‘Anchoress’ starring Christopher Eccleston, which has much the same feel, although spoken in English. Like a lot of arts house films it has a niche market, but it’s worth exploring if you’re looking for a story that is moving, unnerving and contemplative.

Run Lola Run (Germany)

Run Lola Run

This was the first film we saw in the film club and set the standard for eccentric films to follow. It works with the premise ‘how fast would you run to stop your boyfriend robbing a bank?’. Lola receives a call from her boyfriend, Manni, informing her that he’s lost 100,000 deutschmarks he had been carrying for his criminal boss, and Lola takes it upon herself to raise the required money in 20 minutes before he has the chance to rob the store. As in ‘He Loves Me, He loves Me Not’, the events of the story are repeated, this time through a series of alternate scenarios each stemming off different key moments along her run that you wouldn’t guess could hold so much significance. It’s an extremely original and high concept plot, and I think the filmmakers pulled it off. It wasn’t predictable at all, despite the repetitive sequences. The scenarios were as much affected by fortitude as they were by Lola’s own decisions. It really makes you question the extent to which cause and effect dictate our lives.

The protagonist’s red hair and clothes in block primary colours emphasise the video game vibe. If only we all had three chances to reach a desirable outcome like Lola does!

The film is an extremely fun experience with its mixture of live action, animation and experimental editing techniques, and it pushes the boundaries of what can be done with cinema.

Do you have a favourite foreign language film? Anything you would recommend to others? One film I think looks fantastic is the Swedish vampire flick, ‘Let the Right One In’, though I couldn’t seriously include it here as I haven’t seen the whole thing.

If you have any thoughts or suggestions, do share them below.


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Abigail Robinson
Work Experience Contributor

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    A very helpful and informative survey of these 5 films. I like the fact that your comments are down-to-earth and engaging, without being too abstruse. This is an ideal summary to encourage new people to watch the films.

    Meg Harper

    I’d forgotten how many films we’d watched! Thanks so much for your comments, Abigail – they’ve reminded me of some excellent evenings and discussions – though I didn’t got on with ‘Apu’! Now can I recommend the Three Colours trilogy, expecially ‘Blue’ and the Kurosawa classic ‘Rashomon’ – I so often find myself thinking of that!

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