“ONCE YOU OVERCOME THE ONE-INCH TALL BARRIER OF SUBTITLES, YOU WILL BE INTRODUCED TO SO MANY MORE AMAZING FILMS.” -BONG JOON-HO
After the South Korean film Parasite made history at the 2020 Oscars for being the first foreign language film to win Best Picture, along with taking home the awards for best International Feature Film, Original Screenplay and Director (Bong Joon-ho), the spotlight was placed on foreign films.
Did Parasite do anything ground-breaking in the film itself? Not necessarily. While the film is certainly praiseworthy and worth watching, it’s surely not the first film outside of the United States to leave a lasting impression on viewers. I will say, however, that Parasite remains the most important win in recent Oscars history, helping pave the way to a more inclusive and diverse mix of films taking home hardware in future ceremonies.
Parasite does a wonderful job of providing insight into income inequality and class differences while essentially being genre-less itself, as the film doesn’t quite fit the typical mold of a black comedy or thriller, yet also fits within those genres at the same time. That’s the hidden beauty that international films offer us: insight. They provide a glimpse into the very culture of the country itself, whether that be socioeconomic issues, political issues, social norms or even certain styles of humor.
The intention of this article certainty isn’t to downplay any of Parasite’s success from the academy. However, the intention is to provide readers with a few praiseworthy foreign films that demand attention for what they have to offer. Since the current national pandemic has been preventing extensive traveling, there’s no better time than now to sit back and throw on a foreign language flick to get a better understanding of a culture outside of our own. Below I’ve outlined five films from countries outside of the US that are well worth checking out for the unique and clever atmosphere they posses.
DELICATESSEN (1991) – FRANCE
Set in a post-apocalyptic future where food is scarce and used as a form of currency, centered around a butcher who keeps his customers fed with the remains of previous tenants, this clever gastronomically-infused dark comedy creates an airy and enjoyable 99 minute experience. Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, this surrealist and ambient film possesses tremendous cinematography by Darius Khondji, with a unique color pallet, camera angles and overall stylistic direction to take the film to greater heights and put viewers in a trance-like state. Visuals aside, the characters are memorable, the score both clever and whimsical, and the plot absurd and utterly enjoyable, with twisted humor and a love interest that viewers can truly sink their teeth into.
THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE (1972) – FRANCE/ITALY/SPAIN
Luis Buñuel was truly an iconic surrealist director, with The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie being a staple viewing experience in his filmography. With the plot being centered around a group of well-offs trying to sit down and enjoy a meal together, with the meal being constantly interrupted, the story unfolds like the happenings of a dream. A lot of the interactions and moments are absurd and random, but just like a dream, we accept it and roll with it as it’s happening. The line between dream and reality is often blurred throughout the film, with moments of conflicting tones splashed in, creating a unique viewing experience. The film is entertaining and ludicrous, with clever political and social undertones beneath its wacky exterior.
AUDITION (1999) – JAPAN
A massive and underrated staple in the Japanese horror (J-horror) genre, Audition is a shudder-inducing psych-thriller that will make viewer’s skin crawl. Following the loss of his wife to terminal illness, our protagonist Shigeharu Aoyama decides to hold a fictitious audition in search for a new partner, marketing the audition as being for a role in a film that will knowingly never be made. Director Quentin Tarantino holds Audition in high regard, which helped director Takashi Miike gain attention for his work outside of Japan. The less one knows about this film going into it, the better. All I’ll say is that the pacing is among one of it’s strongest points, and don’t be fooled by the film’s soft exterior in the beginning.
CLIMAX (2018) – FRANCE/BELGIUM
After a party’s sangria gets spiked, viewers are taken on a 96-minute nightmare of debauchery and chaos from a bad drug trip. While on the surface the film is a lot of dancing, escalated interactions and anxiety-inducing moments, there’s tremendous beauty in the undertones regarding the human spirit when there’s a loss of inhibitions. Being viewed through a sober lens, the night progressively gets more sloppy, inaudible, and disastrous, making dialogue in the beginning important to follow along with. The editing is clean-cut, giving an eerie birds-eye view of a cataclysmic string of events through a unique blend of overhead shots. Viewers aren’t able to see the hallucinations the dancers in the abandoned schoolhouse are experiencing, only their reaction to them, which gives off an unsettling and unpredictable atmosphere throughout the film’s duration.
TIMECRIMES (2007) – SPAIN
Time-bending films can be very difficult to properly execute. Any minor detail missed or subplot left half-baked can rip a hole right into the plot and make the entire experience subpar. However, Timecrimes does an excellent job of setting the standard for how this genre of film should be structured. With the plot brilliantly executed and paced, there are many ‘aha’ moments as the story unfolds and though at times can be predictable, a lot of satisfaction is felt in the moments that go exactly how one theorized. This time travel flick is a lot less technical than ones like Primer, which gives it a tremendous balance between sci-fi and surrealism to create a very enjoyable viewing.