50 Greatest Foreign Language Films

Jean De Florette (1986)

Language: French

The Movie:
Singlehandedly responsible for selling rural French getaways to the masses, Claude Berri’s beautifully picturesque film sees Gerard Depardieu’s city-dweller upping sticks to the country, only to find his arrival less than welcomed by the locals. Berri makes a shameless grab for the heartstrings in this lavish ode to the simple life.

A Bit Like:
The Darling Buds Of May . No? Too obscure?

Also See: The second part of Berri’s rural odyssey, Manon Des Sources . It’s a duology you see.

Das Boot (1981)

Language: German

The Movie: Wolfgang Petersen’s submarine-set drama is a masterclass in claustrophobia as the crew of German vessel U-96 grow increasingly susceptible to cabin fever whilst waiting for Allied ships to sink. Underwater tedium has never been more tense!

A Bit Like:
U-571 . Although not in terms of quality you understand…

Also See:
The Consequence , Petersen’s provocative tale of forbidden love between a prison warden’s son and one of the inmates.

Suspiria (1977)

Language: Italian

The Movie: Whilst Italian cinema has been responsible for a glut of superlative horror films, Dario Argento’s terrifying masterpiece stands head and shoulders above the rest. Telling the tale of a young girl who accidentally uncovers a coven of witches, Argento’s trademark splatter is duly present correct, alongside an atmosphere of unparalleled eeriness that refuses to let up until the final credits roll.

A Bit Like: Black Swan , only a little less coherent, and a little more batshit-crazy.

Also See: City Of The Living Dead , Lucio Fulci’s gorefest that borrow heavily from Suspiria.

Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000)

Language: Mandarin

The Movie:
Although purists might dismiss it as derivative, Ang Lee’s superlative action film brought the Wuxia genre to the masses and breathed new life into martial-arts-based films in the process. You will believe that a Chinese man can fly!

A Bit Like: The Matrix , in terms of the gravity defying chop-socky on display. Thankfully however, that film’s constipated naval-gazing is nowhere to be found.

Also See: Burning Of The Red Lotus Monastery , a Wuxia classic from 1928 that explores similar themes of female empowerment.

Akira (1988)

Language: Japanese

The Movie: Katsuhiro Otomo adapts his manga of the same name in this seminal anime tale of disaffected youth in dystopian Neo Tokyo. By exploring the paranoia of the Japanese psyche (a culture scarred by atomic warfare and living under the constant threat of natural disaster) and linking it to the typical stresses and strains of adolescence, Otomo created an action film that had a lot more to it than guns and explosions. Although of course, it had those too.

A Bit Like:
The Matrix again, which drew heavily on its combination of future-shock paranoia and bruising, stylised action.

Also See:
Ghost In The Shell , a similarly accomplished manga adaptation.

Hard Boiled (1992)

Language: Cantonese

The Movie: One of the greatest action films to emerge from Hong Kong, John Woo’s orgy of gunplay sees Chow-Yun Fat blast his way through a series of hyper-kinetic shootouts as he attempts to bring down a Triad crime syndicate. As blast-em-ups go, it’s pretty hard to beat.

A Bit Like:
Shoot ‘Em Up , without the knowing, post-modern excess.

Also See:
The Killer , another OTT action-fest which served as Woo’s calling card on his way to cracking the Hollywood mainstream.

The White Ribbon (2009)

Language: German

The Movie: Having indulged himself in a rather pointless English-language remake of own film Funny Games , Michael Haneke returned to form with this terrifying tale of grisly murder in a small German village circa 1913. Peppered with half-seen violence and boasting a mystery within which everyone is a subject, it’s a compelling if profoundly disturbing watch.

A Bit Like: The Village Of The Damned . There are no aliens at work this time though…the murders are very human indeed.

Also See:
The original Funny Games , Haneke’s probing exploration of violence as entertainment.

Amelie (2001)

Language: French

The Movie:
It might contain more sugar than your average dentist’s nightmare, but that doesn’t make Amelie any less irresistible. A charming central performance from Audrey Tautou brings this modern-day fairytale to life, as does Bruno Delbonnel’s beautifully shot Paris backdrop, but at the end of the day, it’s the old fashioned message of the power of love that will win over even the hardest of critics.

A Bit Like: Emma , if Jane Austen’s matchmaker were a little darker in her craft.

Also See: Delicatessen , a more macabre offering from director Jean-Pierre Jeunet.

Jules Et Jim (1962)

Language: French

The Movie:
Truffaut’s New Wave classic busies itself with the new sexual politics of the age, casting the voluptuous Jeanne Moreau as the man-eater emblematic of this new dawn of promiscuity. Filmed in luxuriant widescreen, it’s a film that’s in love with being in love.

A Bit Like:
Pearl Harbor . Set in wartime, concerned with a love-triangle…there’s hardly any difference. Michael Bay is the natural successor to Francois Truffaut…you heard it here first.

Also See:
Willie & Phil , the homage to Jules Et Jim from director Paul Mazursky. It’s nothing like as good, obviously, but it remains an interesting exercise.

Infernal Affairs (2002)

Language: Cantonese

The Movie:
This gloriously twisty-turny tale of backstabbing and double-crosses boasts the perfect blend of compelling story and slick, choreographed action. A hi-octane blast from start to finish.

A Bit Like: The Departed , Scorsese’s superlative English-language remake.

Also See: House Of Flying Daggers , in which star Andy Lau shows off his high-kicking skills to spectacular effect.