A Foreign Film Foray
Two of the last three years, the Oscar for Best Picture has gone to a film developed outside the United States, more specifically from Great Britain (The King’s Speech, Slumdog Millionaire). An advantage these films from England have over most of their other foreign counterparts is their ability to circumvent the most glaring barrier foreign films must overcome when attracting American audiences to the theaters; that being the public’s general aversion to subtitles.
Films are an escape for the mind and body, a place to relax, turn off your brain, and enjoy the show. The task of spending their movie going experience reading subtitles can be off putting especially with other options available, but, if audiences can overcome their aversion to the minor literary requirements involved, they would be exposed to an incredible collection of truly unique films from around the globe which they’ve up to this point let slip them by. Here are a few of selections which showcase the diverse nature of the global film industry and provide an enjoyably fresh perspective of artistic talent lurking beyond Hollywood’s borders.
City of God (Brazil)
One of my all time favorite films, City of God tells the story of two boys growing up in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the world, and the varying paths their lives take. One becomes a photographer, documenting the present dangers all around him, and the other a violent gang leader and drug dealer. Based on a true story, this brutally honest depiction of the lives of youth caught in the slums, and their increasing necessity of violence and ruthlessness to survive in a world that can end at any moment is both incredible and heart breaking to watch. Do not pass up the chance to see one of the best films you will ever see.
Pan’s Labyrinth (Spain)
From the visionary mind of Guillermo del Toro, this critically and commercially acclaimed film tells the story of a young girl caught between the harsh reality and dangers of the ongoing Spanish civil war all around her and an eerie world of fantasy where she is revealed to be the long lost princess of another realm. To return to her kingdom, she must complete three tasks laid before her, all the while keeping her family safe from her dangerous and brutal step father, a commanding officer in the Spanish military. Visually stunning, this adult fairy tale should not be missed.
The Lives of Others (Germany)
Set in East Germany during the waning years of the Cold War, George Orwell’s 1984 come to mind in this dramatic story of Agent Weisler, a member of the Berlin secret police commissioned to spy on a theatre director and his lover/muse by the Communist party. Secretly listening in on every moment, Weisler becomes increasingly enthralled by the couple’s lives and their love for one another, leading him to question everything he believes in. In today’s world of shrinking privacy due to the instantly available public displays of people’s lives and emotions through social networks and cellular technology, this story of control and secrecy carries with it an interesting relevance and warning.
Let the Right One In (Sweden)
Vampire films are nothing new, and, lately it seems we have been oversaturated in stories of the undead, but this film is worth taking a look. Stripping away the glamour and romanticism often associated with vampire legends, Let the Right One In presents the life of a vampire as a cold, lonely, and dangerous existence providing little security or pleasure. When a strange young girl named Eli moves in next door, Oscar, a bullied outcast, begins to befriend her until he starts to notice strange things about his new companion. Now Oscar must decide what to do after discovering his only friend is a vampire. Inspiring a recent American remake (Let Me In), it is well worth checking out the Swedish original beautifully shot and portrayed wonderfully by its young leading stars.
Oldboy (South Korea)
Deliciously twisted, this tale of revenge follows Oh Dae-Su on his quest for retribution after being locked away in a hotel room for fifteen years without explanation. Given five days to find who is responsible, Oh Dae-Su begins a violent journey to find his tormenting captors and their motives behind his imprisonment to finally claim his vengeance at any cost. Not for the squeamish, this film is Tarantino on steroids and will both shock you and keep you on the edge of your seat throughout.
Other suggestions: The Orphanage (Spain), Life is Beautiful (Italy), Y Tu Mama Tambien (Mexico), District 9 (South Africa)