Hollywood is the filmmaking capital of the world and this has been the case for a long time. The majority of the films we see are either from Hollywood or Hollywood-influenced. This is certainly to be expected because Hollywood is where the cinema big boys operate, where the biggest film awards are, where the great portion of film’s money flows from. The sheer number of films that come out of America makes it near forgivable to overlook other foreign-made films—and I do not mean Bollywood, even though they have made quite excellent films too.
There are great foreign directors who are the forerunners of cinema and who have rightly influenced most of the contemporary directors in Hollywood, whose films stand out in brilliance. An example is the Polish director, Krzysztof Kieslowski, whose ten-part Dekalog series explores the nuances and feelings of being human. But Krzysztof is a grain amongst the sands of great directors, his films an addition to an impressive cinematic oeuvre. To explore a fraction, here are five excellent foreign films.
5. THE RAID 2 (2014)
The Raid 2 is a film for the action junkies. It is an adrenaline fueled 2-hour plus experience. Unlike the first installment, the second entry has more story for the viewer to bite into but that doesn’t reduce the intensity of the action scenes and the violence perpetuated in such scenes. The Indonesian film explores corruption in the police force and what happens to undercover cops who must fight their way back to redemption—literally.
4. TEN (2002)
Directed by Abbas Kiarostami, Ten is cinema in transit. Shot with what deceptively looks like a dash-cam, Ten explores the life of a woman and, by extension, the lives of women in Iran through the conversation one woman has throughout her day, first with her estranged son, then her sister, then a stranger, and so forth. The strength of the film is its true-to-life nature, how unfiltered it looks and feels, and it’s unflinching truth about the nature of being a woman in Iran, particularly in relation to the male gender (sons, fathers, husbands).
3. THE PLEASURES OF LOVE IN IRAN (1976)
While Agnes Varda is known for her documentaries more than her actual films, there are a number great films she has made over time. Varda is known for her experimental approach to filmmaking. Ulysse (1983), for example, explores the real and imaginary through photography. Varda’s The Pleasures of Love in Iran discusses love, architecture, and sex through Pomme and Ali Darius, lovers from very different parts of the world. The viewer will always find the unexpected in an Agnes Varda.
2. DONA FLOR AND HER TWO HUSBANDS (1976)
Dona Flor (Sonia Braga) is widowed after her husband drops dead in the street while dancing. She marries a new man afterwards but he is not what she thinks him to be, and to compensate for this lack, the ghost of her dead husband returns to her. Dona and Her Two Husbands is a magic realist film, bending what is real and otherwise through dark comedy and female sensuality. It is written and directed by the Brazilian, Bruno Barreto.
1. THE SACRIFICE (1986)
Andrei Tarkovsky is one of the greatest filmmakers in the entire history of the craft; definitely the most popular amongst Russian filmmakers. The Sacrifice, like most of Tarkovsky’s, questions human nature in times of great tragedy or emotional turmoil. During drama critic Alexander’s birthday festivities, the news of WWII breaks out. And with resigned nature, he turns to God and vows to renounce everything if the war is averted. The Sacrifice is simply gorgeous to watch; with its elaborate poetic shots which are signatory to Tarkovsky, and the brooding lines on the dark nature of humanity, the film deserves to sit here at the top of the pile.
The innumerability of materials makes it impossible to cover all the great films. Some might argue that Wong Kar-wai’s IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE should have made the list, but it makes so many lists and there is a need to explore other masterpieces. There are more recent great films that went unmentioned, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s 2020 film, WIFE OF A SPY, for example, but sadly, this is the nature of lists.
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