Foreign Film Recommendations
At the most recent Golden Globes, Parasite director Bong Joon-ho called for Western filmgoers to ‘overcome the 1 inch tall barrier of subtitles [because] you will be introduced to so many more amazing films’ (translated from Korean by Sharon Choi). His words not only call for the diversification of our filmgoing experiences, and a conscious effort to find media rather than passively accepting our comfort zones, but seems to also call for the deconstruction of movie award categories – in the future, no longer will foreign language movies be relegated to a separate category at major award events, but hopefully integrated with the major ‘best feature’ nominees.
So, where do we start?
The Way He Looks (2014, dir: Daniel Ribeiro)
A Brazilian coming of age drama about first love and friendship, The Way He Looks is a sweet story that evokes the endless feeling of Summer. We follow Leo, a blind high-school student, struggling for independence and eager to embrace romance. When a new boy called Gabriel arrives, and they strike up a friendship, Leo is suddenly presented with the opportunity to follow his heart. Discussing disability, sexuality, and the nuances of friendship, this film is adorable and an amazing watch for people who love summer teen romances as it follows all of those familiar beats under the lush haze of adolescence.
CW: Bullying, homophobia
Persepolis (2007, dir: Marjane Satrapi & Vincent Paronnaud)
Marjane Satrapi’s acclaimed graphic novel memoir is adapted to the cinema screen with all the grace and harrowing gravity of the original. The story follows Marjane herself from her childhood in Tehran during the 1979 Iranian revolution, to the years she spends in an Austrian secondary school, to her departure to Paris. The story is packed with critique of war, indoctrination, and discussions regarding family loyalty and the loss of innocence, all seen through Marji’s stubborn, rebellious perspective. It is a gorgeous film that brings Satrapi’s original artwork to life, and despite the seemingly simplistic style it does not shy away from the brutality of conflict. An important and engaging film that will stun and encourage you to be kind, confident, and strong throughout hardship.
Lagaan (2001, dir: Ashutosh Gowariker)
Believe me when I tell you that this four hour long film about cricket manages to be simultaneously the funniest and most intense movie I think I’ve seen. This Bollywood epic is set during the time of the British Raj, and follows the inhabitants of a small village who must learn how to beat the English at a game of cricket or face immeasurable taxes that could destroy their livelihoods. It’s packed with musical numbers, an amazing cast of characters, political and colonial commentary, and a nail-biting final sequence that will have you suddenly desperate to be an expert on cricket. It’s a story about destiny, hard work, and hope – so get a load of snacks and drinks, you’ll be hooked.
CW: Racism, Islamophobia
The Farewell (2019, dir: Lulu Wang)
A heartbreaking and bittersweet tale of family loyalty, this movie follows Billi and her relationship with elderly Nai Nai, who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. However, everybody in the family knows about the illness except Nai Nai herself, and they hope to keep it that way. Under the guise of a wedding, Billi and her parents travel back to China from New York City to spend time with Nai Nai and the rest of their extended family, encountering cultural clashes, emotional decisions, and the cost of keeping others close. This movie is tender, relatable and funny despite its intense, serious context, with a masterful script and cast of talent. The film does have English scenes during the parts set in America, however the majority of the film’s dialogue is in Mandarin.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006, dir: Mamoru Hosoda)
An animated science fiction romance film about a girl who suddenly possesses the ability to literally jump through time after coming into contact with a piece of strange technology and getting hit by a train. Despite this dramatic opening, the film is a thoughtful and fun meditation on how we can create our futures, how that could change the world around us, or if we’re left up to fate. The animation and narrative are fantastic, and I think that the film’s great and relatable protagonist keeps the audience engaged despite a potentially flustering timeline situation. This film is great for all ages, and hopefully a welcome introduction to international animated cinema.