Saturday, 29 May 2010

Five Foreign Language Films You Really Should Watch

It's funny the way memory works, because I distinctly remember that when I published my list of five obscure albums you all fell over yourselves clamouring for more of the same thing.

So here we are, back by lack of popular demand, with a list of Five Obscure (and subtitled) Movies.

And yes, I know, foreign language films are hard going - I mean: who wants to go to the cinema and read, right? Wrong.

OK so there is a very high percentage of French road movies about the meaningless of existence (as parodied nicely by Monty Python with their exploading cabbage sketch) and Ukranian films where people get chased by buildings - but watching a foreign language does two things for you:

Firstly - it opens your eyes to a way of thinking, a way of life and a way of film making utterly different from anything you have previously seen

Secondly - it makes you realise what utter shite Hollywood has been dumping on your plate for you to devour and how much of it is ripped off from other cultures. Their influence on Hollywood is immense: films like The Ring, The Magnificent Seven, Star Wars and Reservior Dogs (to name just a few) could not exist without a wider world of film making.

So: here are five films you might have missed and, most likely, won't be able to buy (try the internet, bound to be there)

#1: Battle Royale (Japan)
The Japanese are not known for their sensative and thoughtful films. They are, however, known for their innovation. B.R. is set in the near future in a society where the young generation are completely out of control and are constantly disrespectful of the older generation. In order to control the children the government introduce the BR Law - where one failing class per year are gassed and taken to a deserted island where they have to fight to the death until only one of them remains.

Sounds grim? Yes, it is highly violent and more than a few people get their heads blown off by exploading collars, but at the heart of this film there's a dark sense of humour - as with the scene of the relentlessly cheerful lady in the video explaining they're all going to die and the recurring joke with the teacher on the phone to his wife. Not for the faint hearted, and it's a shame about the rubbish sequel, but definately worth the effort.

#2: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (China/Hong Kong/Taiwan/USA)
OK so the purists out there might argue with the inclusion of this film because a) It's available in a dubbed version, b) it's the most commercial and c) any film by the Director of The Hulk and Sense And Sensibility has to be a bit suspect on the foreign film list

Having said this it is highly recommended that anyone who DOES chose to watch this film does so in the original Mandarin soundtrack with subtitles as it really does add to the sense of immersion in a world totally different to our own.

Effectively this is a story of love and revenge: a young girl is kidnapped by a bandit and eventually released back to her own world after they have fallen in love. She is tricked into stealing a sacred sword by an old and bitter woman and as a result an old sword master is forced out of retirement.

What's most impressive about this film is the cinematography - especially the tree-top fights where the camera comes close to producing poetry.

#3: Lagaan (India)
OK - so quick question here: which country has the largest film industry and produces the most films? If you said USA think again.

The Indian, or Bollywood, film industry is huge and although the western influence is beginning to take hold it still manages to produce unique films like this.

Set in the time of the British occupation of India it follows a true story of how the British bet the local villagers that if they won a game of cricket then they wouldn't have to pay taxes for three years.

As with many Bollywood films there is much breaking into song, a young couple facing an obstacle to their love, commentary on social exclusion and a portrayal of us Brits as complete rotters (to be fair, we probably were), but at the heart of this three-hour film (split over two disks to avoid Numb-Bum Syndrome) is a story that not only moves you, not only makes you enjoy watching an otherwise completely boring sport, but makes you want to get up and dance.

#4: Pan's Labrynth (Spain)
Anyone who has seen Hellboy, Hellboy 2 and is looking forward to The Hobbit will probably know the name of this film from Director Guillermo Del Toro.

Set in the time of the first world war it follows a young girl and her pregnant mother as they are transferred to the site where the father of the new child, a young and ruthless Captain, is fighting off some resistance fighters in the woods. He is interested in the mother only as a vessel for his unborn child.

Meanwhile the young girl encounters a fawn who tells her that she is a lost princess and sets her three tasks to complete in order to return to her kingdom.

Not a film for late night viewing as some of the effects are downright creepy, but this dark fantasy will linger in your mind long after the film has ended.

#5: The Motorcycle Diaries (Spain)
I mad a bit of a mistake when I went to see this film at the local Arthouse Cinema (IE non-multiplex), because I daftly assumed that no one else would have heard of the film and I'd have free choice of seat - as it was I ended up with my head two-inches from the screen and having to keep turning so I could read the subtitles.

It was worth the effort.

The Motorcycle Diaries is based on the published diaries of Alberto Granado and his more famous friend Ernesto "Che" Guevara and follows the pre-revolutionary Ernesto as he takes a gap year from his studies as a doctor to travel across south america. Along the way the poverty and hardship that he sees changes the man he is and by the time they reach the leper colony (where they have promised to help as doctors) he is a very different person.

OK so you could argue that this movie indulges in too much cannonisation of a man who would go on to create concentration camps for homosexuals and put Fidel Castro into power, but the documentary style of the film really makes you feel that the people they meet and the troubles they face are real and makes you wonder if anything has changed today.

Again this is a beautifully shot film and the two leads have great chemistry. There's even a brief shot of the real Alberto Granado at the very end.

So - there's another list of fives. Anyone who has a film they think I should watch please let me know.


Argent said...

An interesting list. I have to say I find subbies REALLY hard going as my eyesight ain't up to it. BUT, having said that, I would definitely add Cimema Paradiso. We watched this immediately before Dead Poets Society one afternoon. Big mistake as it was soo very much better that the latter it ruined it for us. Yep - deinitely add that one.

The Clandestine Samurai said...'s my response.....

1) I. Loved. "Battle Royale". It takes place in a future "Socialist" Japan, to be precise, and I absolutely loved it from beginning to end, almost being compelled to read the novel on which it is based. I concur with you there. You should also check out "Versus", not the same in quality and depth, but has the fun.

2) I cannot say I concur with you on Ang Lee. "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" is one of my all time top 5 favorite films, but I like him as a director. I liked "The Hulk" and I loved "Brokeback Mountain", although his last effort, "Lust, Caution" left some things to be desired.

3) On the flip side, I think Guillermo Del Toro is quite possibly one of the WORST things to ever come out of Hollywood. He tried to be a substantial director with "Pan's Labrynth", a fantasy that takes place in Spain 5 years after the Spanish Civil War focusing on a sadistic captain of the Fascist regime hunting down communist rebels, but the Post-Civil War plot was the most interesting thing there. The little girl was nothing short of annoying and stupid. I'll just say there was something very satisfactory about the ending. Both "Hellboy"s are the most terribly written things I've ever seen, and I think it was a misjudgment to hand him "The Hobbit", but we'll see I guess. "Blade 2" is the best thing he's ever done, and that was only good in relation to the other "Blade" films.

4) I will put "The Motorcycle Diaries" on my Netflix list. I've been meaning to get a biography on Che.

The Clandestine Samurai said...

Once again, just my opinion. Not trying to enforce beliefs or viewpoints of any kind.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Argent - yes, Cinema Paradiso is a fantastic film and much worth watching. Also "Tsotsi", an african film which is brilliant

Samurai - the point i was making about Ang Lee is because his work is mostly mainstream and not foreign language I don't know whether you can really class Crouching Tiger as a foreign film. It is brilliant - but The Hulk left me cold. I have never seen Brokeback Mountain, so can't comment

I liked Pan's Labrynth a lot but it's the only Del Toro film I've actually seen. I quite liked the idea of the horror in the alternate world reflected in the real world

You should definately watch Motorcycle Diaries, also there are two films about Che - Che part one and two (oddly) - i haven't seen them, but hear that they are overly worthy.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

oh - and for the record: DEad Poets Society is rubbish - one of the worst films i've ever seen

the watercats said...

must keep my eye out for motorcycle diaries.. have seen pan's labyrinth (excellent).. and crouching tiger (which was a much of a muchness I thought)... I know it's predictable, but Amelie should be on there (I'm a sucker for feel good).. and check out a thing called 'House Of Fools'.. It's got Brian Adams in it.. and his appearance actually made me think he's quite an excellent bloke
(I know.. but trust me!)

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

watercats - about the worst thing i can say about Brian Adams is apparently he bought the local pub in chelsea and shut it down to stop people weeing on his doorstep. And besides - the kids wanna rock, right?

Lydia said...

I have actually seen three from your list! #2, #4, and #5 - with Motorcycle Diaries being my favorite among them. Great reviews here.

I suggest Russian Ark - review here. I've seen it three times and really need to just buy the thing!