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Wednesday, October 4, 2023


Foreign films hold familiar beauty

Most Americans scoff at the very idea of watching a foreign film and avoid doing so at any cost. Foreign films are such a rarity for mainstream American movie-watchers it’s easy to forget that the motion picture today is not entirely our invention.

When Auguste and Louis LumiÈre presented the first motion picture projection at Paris’ Grand Cafe in December 1895, cinema as we know it was born. That’s right: the first movie ever screened publicly was a foreign film. Since that time, foreign-made movies have kept pace with their U.S. contemporaries and have, at many times, been light years ahead of them in terms of creativity and subject matter.

American cinema is indebted to the innovations of these global pioneers, yet to many these films remain largely overlooked. For this reason I’ve compiled a list of must-see foreign gems, and because the only thing worse than a foreign film to most people is an old foreign film, none of these is more than 20 years old.

S’oacute;lo con tu pareja (1991, Mexico).

Directed by Alfonso Cuar’oacute;n, of Children of Men fame, this farcical sex comedy about a womanizing businessman led to believe he has tested positive for HIV is credited with ushering in a new wave of Mexican cinema, paving the way for films like Y tu mam’aacute; tambi’eacute;n and Amores Perros.

Delicatessen (1991, France).

Before making this generation’s best-known foreign film, Am’eacute;lie, director Jean-Pierre Jeunet helmed this tale of famine in a bizarre apartment building in which humans are the only things left to eat.

Man Bites Dog (1992, Belgium). A hilarious but often sickening mockumentary, Man Bites Dog follows a charming serial killer who makes no qualms about sadistically murdering innocent people and openly discussing his "craft."

The Celebration (1998, Denmark).

The first in a no-frills cinematic movement called Dogme 95, The Celebration depicts a father’s disastrous 60th birthday party in which his son publicly presents partygoers with his dark past.

Central Station (1998, Brazil).

An aging former teacher befriends a poor boy after his mother is tragically killed and sets out on a journey with him to find the father he’s never known.

All About My Mother (1999, Spain).

World-renowned director Pedro Almod’oacute;var tells the tragicomic story of a woman who must seek out her transvestite former lover to inform him of the death of their son, whom he had never met.

In the Mood for Love (2001, Hong Kong).

A beautiful and heartbreaking masterpiece of unrequited love, director Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love centers around a man and woman who bond when they both suspect their spouses of cheating.

Russian Ark (2002, Russia).

Spanning hundreds of years of Russian history, Russian Ark is more of a technological feat than anything else – it remains the only film in history to be made using a single continuous camera shot.

Goodbye, Lenin! (2003, Germany).

Set in East Berlin following the fall of the Berlin Wall, a teenage boy must convince his frail mother that all is well in East Germany after she wakes from a coma.

Paradise Now (2005, Palestine).

This poignant and controversial film follows a pair of Palestinian suicide bombers through their emotion-filled final days before setting off for their grim mission in Israel, exploring the motives for their actions.

Countless foreign films deserve to be seen, and this list barely scratches the surface. Many people question the value of these movies, but they can be important guides to different cultures. They can be both passport and time machine, but you may find, in the end, they’re not that "foreign" after all.

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