With the amount of coverage that some of the major Hollywood films receive on social media, television adverts, even on the side of buses, it’s easy to forget that they are not the only producers of films in the world. Foreign language films rarely see the same kind of attention that their English counterparts do, something that is understandable but no less tragic when you consider the high levels of quality that many of them achieve. To right this wrong, we have amassed a collection of six foreign language films you need to see, each of them able to keep up with the best that Hollywood has to offer.
As the first foreign film to win the highly coveted best picture Oscar, Parasite has quite the reputation following it, but fortunately it is a reputation it certainly lives up to. Telling the story of a poor family in Korea as they struggle to make ends meet and their interactions with a wealthy family, the film offers a powerful social commentary about the class disparity in Korea. Parasite really benefits from a lack of foreknowledge when watching so, if this is the first you have heard of it, I’d recommend jumping straight into it without looking through any reviews or other possible spoiler filled content, you won’t be disappointed.
Memories of Murder
If Parasite has piqued your interest in Bong-Joon Ho’s back catalogue, then look no further than this detective drama from 2003. Telling the real-life story of the Hwaseong murders, Memories of Murder is one of the best written crime thrillers of the 20th century being equal parts engaging, suspenseful and shocking. The casting is perfection with each actor approaching their part with a delicate balance of intensity and subtlety and for those of you that have already seen Parasite, even includes a familiar face as Song Kang-Ho brilliant portrays Detective Park. If police thrillers are your thing, there is no excuse to avoid this Korean gem.
Shot entirely in black and white, Roma focuses on the life of Cleo, a maid working in Mexico during the seventies as she faces challenges with impending motherhood. Roma’s strongest attribute is its realism and how it uses this to evoke empathetic feelings in the viewer. Aided by the fact that the story is autobiographical of the upbringing of director Alfonso Cuarón and by the superb performances by all members of the cast, this realism excels in drawing in the viewer and fixating them on the reality it displays.
City of God
Set in the slums of Rio De Janeiro, City of God offers a gritty and violent take on the coming-of-age genre, telling the story of a young photographer and his troubles with love, money and organised crime. Recounting the real-life events of a gang war between two prominent gang leaders, the film offers an incredibly raw look at life in Rio’s poorest areas, never choosing to shy away from the violent reality. This sense of realism is one of the film’s strongest aspects, something that is only enhanced by its incredible cinematography as every shot is delivered through a shaky camera, a technique that never allows any sense of comfort and means the viewer is left continually on edge. Although it is not always an easy watch, its brilliant characters and sublime cinematography make it worthwhile all the same.
Minari is a masterclass in the power of acting and character work, creating an engaging and captivating film with a very basic plot. Starring Steven Yuen, one of the most underrated actors of the past couple of years, as a family patriarch working to start a vegetable farm, his own idea of the American dream, and the troubles he and his family encounter along the way. Though the plot may be slow, even stationary in some places, the strength of the characters alone is enough to prop up this picture, each of them smartly written and expertly developed, fundamentally human and extremely likable even in the most dire of circumstances.
Set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War, Guillermo del Toro’s fantasy drama tells the story of a teenage girl discovering a supernatural world whist fighting against the very human threats that surround her. Pan’s Labyrinth offers a very grounded fantasy story, managing to balance its fantastical elements with the gritty realism of the war surrounding it. Whilst fundamentally a fantasy film, Pan’s Labyrinth also offers many moments that can only be described as horror, using the fantastical nature of its story to create something genuinely scary in a more effective way than many mainstream horror films have managed. Worth watching alone for the sensational makeup and costume design, creating some of the most convincing magical creatures captured on film, able to stand the test of time 15 years after is initial release.
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