It’s no secret that we tend to get caught up in our own little bubbles as we meander through this crazy little thing called life; that’s why we here at Goliath try and make concerted efforts to seek out new experiences and media to help broaden our horizons and gather insight into other cultures and peoples. With that in mind, we’ve done some research and pulled together 10 stellar foreign language films (anything but English, people) that you can watch right now that’ll teach you something about how life operates in other areas of the world. We’ve got some pretty famous ones in here, so settle in and fire up your Netflix account and get ready for some subtitles.
10. The Lunchbox (2013)
This charming little Indian film was directed by Ritesh Batra and stars Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur and Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Told through a series of letters (an ingenious storytelling device that works quite well in the film), it chronicles the budding relationship between a young housewife named Ila and a soon-to-be retired accountant named Saajan. Ila, whose husband is having an affair, is surprised when her husband’s lunchbox is returned clean with a note; Saajan is equally surprised when his regular mail-order meal transforms into delicious, home cooked eats when the famous mailbox delivery service of India makes a mistake. It’s a serendipitous turn of events that leads the two characters together, and sets the stage for an impending romance that remains untold at the film’s conclusion. The Lunchbox received excellent reviews upon its release, with critics highlighting its well developed characters and unique plot device.
9. Let the Right One In (2008)
It’s not often that child actors are capable of carrying a film meant solely for adults; however, that’s just what happened with Swedish director Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In. The story, which follows a lonely and oft-bullied young boy as he befriends a vampire, does away with traditional tropes and conventions of the horror genre, focusing not on scares (although there’s still plenty) and instead taking a closer look at the relationship that develops between two young people who are incredibly lonely. It’s a strangely touching film that received extremely positive reviews upon its release; critics were quick to laud the film’s art house sensibilities and its commitment to character development. Moreover, praise was directed at the film’s two young leads for doing some truly incredible work, imbuing their characters with a true sense of desperation and isolation. It’s a truly scary film that received a poorly reviewed American remake; skip that version, and go ahead and check out this original, as it’s a work of art.
8. Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001)
Written and directed by the renowned Alfsonso Cuaron (of Children of Men and Gravity fame), Y Tu Mama Tambien is a Mexican film that follows two young boys on a road trip with an older woman. Starring Diego Luna, Gael Garcia Bernal and Maribel Verdu, Y Tu Mama Tambien is best remembered for its explicit portrayal of sex and drugs, which caused significant controversy when the film was being marketed to Western audiences. Don’t let that controversy fool you, though; it’s an excellent film that tells a coming of age tale set against the social and political strife of late 1990s Mexico. Nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards, Y Tu Mama Tambien was well received by critics in spite of its incendiary content, with praise being directed towards the chemistry between the three leads and the film’s excellent script.
7. The Host (2007)
The third highest grossing film in the history of South Korean cinema, The Host has everything you’d want in a creature flick; it’s got heaps of scares, the requisite comedy, strong performances and impressive visual effects which help to elevate it above your standard horror/monster films. Directed by the acclaimed South Korean Bong Joon-ho and starring Song Kang-ho (he’s a big deal in Korean cinema) The Host plot is as follows: when a hideous, fish-like monster emerges from the Han River in Seoul, Korea, and kidnaps a man’s daughter, he must go on a search to combat the creature and rescue her from the sewers in which she’s being kept. It’s a pretty standard plot, but it works well in doing what a plot should do in a film like this; it provides a framework for the appearance and scares relating to the monster, which is both very cool and very scary. Loved by critics for its originality and different approach, The Host is one of the best horror films of its generation, regardless of language.
6. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
One of the most truly original works in the history of cinema, Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth is an astounding film that is absolutely gorgeous to watch and frightening to think on. The film that brought Del Toro into the Hollywood spotlight (while he’d honed his monster chops on films like Blade II and Hellboy, it was this film that brought him significant critical acclaim), Pan’s Labyrinth plays like a fairy tale on a bad acid trip and features some of the most awe-inspiring visual effects ever seen. Employing both makeup and animatronics along with computer generated imagery, Del Toro is able to bring some extremely strange creatures to life, while telling a story about a young girl who manages to slip between the war-torn Spain of the early 20th century and a mysterious, abandoned labyrinth filled with mystical creatures. A cinematic experience unlike any other, Pan’s Labyrinth won three Academy Awards (it received six nominations total) and is consistently hailed as a masterpiece and one of the best foreign language films of all time.
5. The Lives of Others (2006)
A German film directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (what a name!), The Lives of Others holds the distinction of being one of the best reviewed foreign films of all time. Released to near universal critical acclaim, The Lives of Others takes place in Berlin several years before the fall of the Berlin Wall. There, an agent for the secret police responsible for spying on residents of East Berlin finds himself increasingly entangled in the lives of his subjects; hence, the film’s title. It’s a quietly moving thriller that’s a great watch for anyone who is a fan of the slow burn, and has even been called one of the greatest films ever, regardless of language. Critics were quick to point out how little action the film requires in order to create suspense and drama, a welcome relief in an age filled with jump-out scares, massive explosions and intricately choreographed fight scenes.
4. Oldboy (2003)
A South Korean neo-noir film directed by Park Chan-Wook (also a big deal in South Korean cinema), Oldboy is a movie with one thing on its mind: vengeance. When Oh Dae-Su (Played by Choi Min-Sik) is released from an unspecified captivity after fifteen years spent in a hotel room, he dedicates the remainder of his life to finding and punishing the individuals responsible for his imprisonment. Armed with nothing but a trusty hammer, the protagonist works his way through a web of conspiracies as he attempts to discover the truth behind his captivity. It’s a brutal film that features some of the most spectacular fight choreography you’ll ever see, including one infamous hallway fight sequence that’s filmed in a single shot (trust us, you’ll know it when you see it). Well received by critics, who drew attention to the way the film used violence not to entertain, but rather to send a message, Oldboy is a must-watch for any action movie fans.
3. Yojimbo (1961)
We didn’t want to go and put something as obvious as Akira Kirosawa’s Seven Samurai on here, so we thought we’d take the opportunity to highlight another classic film from the legendary director, 1961’s Yojimbo. The story of a singular ronin (a samurai without a master) who is courted for service by duelling crime lords, Yojimbo is a stellar film that would eventually be remade for Western audiences by Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood, who would go on to call it A Fistful of Dollars. A legendary film whose influences stretches far beyond the Western genre (Kirosawa’s editing techniques alone changed filmmaking forever, and they’re on display in this film), Yojimbo is a great watch for anyone looking to soak up the techniques of a master auteur. Just make sure you get the original Japanese version, and nothing that’s been dubbed over.
2. Amelie (2001)
The whimsical tale of a lonely waitress who attempts to better the lives of those around her, Amelie is a beautiful little movie that holds the distinction of being the highest grossing French film in Western cinema history. Set in Montmatre, Paris, Amelie was directed by Jean Pierre Jeunet and stars Audrey Tatou in the title role. Critically beloved and commercially successful, Amelie finds itself at #2 on this esteemed list due to the overwhelming charm the film emits; we’re pretty convinced it’s impossible to watch this movie and not adore it when it’s over. Nominated for five Academy Awards (including Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography and Best Foreign Language Film), Amelie is a fundamentally human experience that will warm the hearts of even the coldest audiences.
1. City of God (2003)
If you run, the beast catches you. If you stay, the beast eats you. So reads the tagline of 2002’s City of God, co-directed by Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund and chronicling the vicious rise of organized crime in the Cidade de Deus district in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Consistently cited as a necessary film to view in your lifetime, City of God is a terrifying examination of the depths of corruption and the effects it can have on all those around it, both guilty and innocent. Electric in its stylistic devices and surprisingly affective in its development and treatment of characters, City of God exists as one of the truly disrupting experiences in cinema history. Released to near universal acclaim, it was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Director and Best Cinematography (rightfully so, as it’s a beautiful movie that uses its setting almost like a character, it’s incredible).