The title of this piece appears quite authoritative, but it should be noted that it was not too long ago that I started exploring these films myself. Throughout my younger years, my interests were deeply rooted in popular cinema. I loved superhero films, crime films, and the action movies of the ’80s. Sure, my father had introduced me to international features like House of Flying Daggers (2004) and Ghost in the Shell (1995), but my interests were somewhat limited.
So, what was my reason for beginning to explore foreign film? I was seventeen and decided to take an A-level in film studies. I had some time on my hands before the September start-date and decided it would be wise to look into different types of film. So, I started rifling through the foreign film library on Netflix. My eyes were opened to a world I had never seen before…
I began to see different ways of telling a story through the camera. Violent tales of power and corruption. Somber character dramas looking at the meaning of life. Brutal depictions of romance in films like Love (2015). Seeing these movies opened my mind to many new concepts and helped me articulate my own ideas to the point of deciding that I wanted to write as a career.
Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that everyone should be watching foreign-language films.
Part One: Foreign Film Pushes the Boundary
It has become apparent to me that exclusively watching certain types of films can have the consequence of locking one into a state of comfort. A comfort than can become an alienating experience, at least in terms of the wealth of content one could be consuming.
When you go to the cinema, what you often see is the same story repeated. The Hollywood formula uses traditional scriptwriting elements to tell the story of the hero and how they overcome evil. Think of the films you’ve seen in the cinema. It could be a superhero film, an action movie, or even an animated feature like The Incredibles 2 (2018). They all form around a goal-oriented plot that is easy to slip into as we all know the outcome but love the experience nonetheless.
Now, I should note that I am not against this escapist storytelling; it works for a reason. To able to escape from reality for a short time and align ourselves, the protagonist is a beautiful thing. But, it is easy to see when one steps outside the box that this can be limiting with the plethora of other experiences that are out there.
Why is it Limiting?
The reason it is so limiting is that you begin to see film only as a form of escapism. There are no boundaries to be pushed when you stay in that bubble and, therefore, it is such a joyous thing to be able to step outside of it. We see a window into a new culture, a country, a unique perspective. We begin to learn that film can be an expression as well as an escape.
The expressions we see open our eyes to new elements of the human condition; to allow us to see ways of thinking that may not have been apparent to us before. Then we begin to understand that films are not just stories; they are fragments of humanity. We learn that there can be more to a movie than simple fun.
Part Two: Foreign Film Recommendations
Going into the world of foreign language film can be a daunting experience. Once you take that step, you realize that your scope has opened up to the rest of the world and the beginning can be a confusing place. Because of this, I want to recommend four films that helped me at the start. I have curated these recommendations to give you a general view of what you are getting into. At this point is when you can decide if it’s for you.
The first recommendation is Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund’s City of God (2002). The narrative for this film will please fans of Tarantino as it progresses in a non-linear fashion. I suggest this film as an excellent jumping-off point because it has the feel of a Scorsese gangster feature that has shifted location to the Favela of Rio De Janeiro. Here you will find experimental editing and the use of handheld cameras that give it the appearance of a documentary film. These techniques cradle a socio-political core to the film that will be a great introduction to those unfamiliar with these types of narratives.
The next film to check out is Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Our Little Sister (2015). This is an excellent introduction to Japanese drama from a man who has been making waves in the scene, being comparable to Yasujiro Ozu. The story is presented at a slow, almost plot-less, pace that explores themes of family and accepting one’s past and identity. I suggest this one because it will prepare you for the limited plot these films can have.
The third film to look at is Zhang Yimou’s Hero (2002). I choose this film because, while the plot is rather thin, the action scenes are incredible with its use of color, cinematography, and choreography. Any fan of action movies should feel at home here.
Finally, I recommend Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie (2001). This will prepare you for the quirkiness that can from international films and what better place to start than in France. The film is a charming experience that has many moments of hilarity.
These four films will be helpful in getting you started on your film journey.
To the Future:
It should be noted that all of the films I have chosen are modern films. Reaching a contemporary audience is a priority for this article. However, I do recommend going back in time to explore works of greats like Andrei Tarkovsky and Ingmar Bergman.
To conclude, I hope that this article has given you the motivation and means to explore foreign language film, and I wish you all the very best on your journey!
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From Swindon, England. Jacob loves all nerdy pursuits like movies, games, science, history, etc. His favourite game is Jade Empire. For any inquiries, you can shoot him an email at [email protected]