Inspired by last month’s BFI London Film Festival, we have put together a list of some of the best foreign-language films from around the world. Grab the popcorn, and enjoy!
City of God (Cidade de Deus)
This is a fast-paced action Brazilian Portuguese film not for the faint-hearted. It tells the story of a Rio de Janeiro favela called Cidade de Deus (City of God). The image of Rio most of us have at the back of our minds – beaches, sun, carnival, happiness – is light years away from what is depicted in this film. There are some scenes at the world famous and glamorous carioca beach, but most of the action is set in the sun-baked favela of Rio.
The film’s story is narrated by Rocket, a boy who grew up in the City of God in the 60’s. While still a child, he witnessed crime, barbarity and ruthless gang war. His dream of becoming a photographer coupled with his self-preservation instinct keeps him away from the dangerous gangster life. Whilst Rocket is on the straight and narrow, Li’l Zé portrays a brutal and demented killer, brought to the world of crime as just a kid.
The depiction of poverty, outrageous violence and social inequality brought to us is scarily real, and the result is a film that makes us feel intoxicated with adrenaline.
This Italian film, winner of two highly-respected awards, the Grand Prix in Cannes and the best foreign film Oscar in 1989, was not a big hit when it was first released in Italy. However, it became hugely popular after receiving its first award and now can be considered one of the most successful foreign films in the world.
The film tells the story of a little boy, Salvatore, in the post-war Sicily of the 1940’s, who makes ‘Cinema Paradiso’ – the local cinema in a Sicilian village – his second home. Alfredo, the projectionist, does not like Salvatore’s presence at the beginning but ends up not only accepting the boy’s help in the cinema booth but also develops strong ties with him.
The greatness of this film lies in the nostalgic feeling it evokes, and the memory of a place where our imagination can run freely – the cinema.
Set in Mexico City, this original and dynamic film begins with a car crash. It all happens very quickly and the images are confusing. One of the main characters, Octavio, is driving to save his beloved fighting dog who is on the back seat of the car, bleeding and severely injured.
The film is divided into three plots. Three different stories with different characters who will all at some point in the film relate to one other.
To reveal more than this would mean spoiling the plot of the film which has a surprising twist at the end.
The film highlights how people’s actions in society trigger a domino effect, influencing and impacting other people’s lives.
Amores Perros is rich in character development, and atmosphere. Definitely one to watch.
Amelie (Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amelie Poulain)
Amelie, in contrast, is a “sugar-rush” of a romantic comedy, released in 2001. It tells the story of the eponymous character who was raised by eccentric parents and developed a keen desire to help those around her. Her practical jokes show her most unconventional ways of helping people.
The soundtrack by Yann Tiersen, a French composer and multi-instrumentalist is beautiful, the kind of music that makes you feel like getting up off the sofa and learning how to play the piano, the violin, the accordion – you name it…
The Wave (Die Welle)
Released in 2008, The Wave is based on the of an experiment carried out by a history teacher at a school in California in 1967.
The experiment took just over one week but day by day, students were exposed to methods of manipulation to make them feel like they were part of a movement strongly influenced by the teacher. Things start to go wrong when the experiment gets out of control.
Although the real story happened in the USA, Germany was the country chosen to set the film in. More contemporary elements were added to the plot which contributed to making the film a great success, and a piece of art to be reflected upon since its political content presents an inside look into fascism, how Hitler’s rhetoric was followed by so many people and the likelihood of something similar catastrophically happen again in modern society.
Gripping and very tense, this film feels almost real.
Watching foreign-language films can widen our horizons as we are exposed not only to different languages, but other cultures and perspectives on life.
Thanks to the work of skilled professionals in the translation industry, these films and many others are accessible to millions of people worldwide.
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