Ten of my favorite foreign films made within the last decade, listed in no particular order…
1 Life is Beautiful-La vita è bella (Italy, 1997)
I’ve read a lot of criticism about how this film flippantly deals with the Holocaust, but I disagree. The film speaks to the preservation of innocence and the human spirit, even in the darkest of times. I laughed; I cried. Life is beautiful. So is the movie. I recommend it without reservation.
2 The Castle (Australia, 1997)
A David vs. Goliath set up of Darryl Kerrigan, the story’s hero, against the airport that wants to take his home for expansion purposes. This movie is hilarious and you’ll be rooting for Darryl and his family all the way. With dialogue like, “He know friend, I know friend… My friend come to your house, put bomb under your car and BLOW YOU TO F***ING SKY!!!… I do not really have friend like this, but you know I’m Arab, and people think Arab have bomb” (-Darryl’s neighbor, Farouk) you can’t help but laugh out loud.
3 Mostly Martha Bella Martha (Germany, 2001)
A simple story well told. The real fun of this is the chemistry between the two leads- she’s a control freak and he’s…well, Italian. Lots of knock offs from this film, but none so well acted or told so beautifully as the original. If you liked No Reservations, A Taste of Romance, etc. (and maybe even if you didn’t) you will enjoy this movie.
4 Jab We Met (India, 2007)
Geet, a talkative free-spirit, and Aditya, an uptight depressed businessman, meet on a train (as any good story should start). Plenty of mishaps later, and the two are on a journey to solve each others problems. It’s fun, vibrant, and you’ll be tapping your feet to the music. What can be said, but- Nagada! Nagada!
5 Monsoon Wedding (India, 2001)
A wedding is always stressful business, but we find out just how stressful when the bride-to-be is sneaking around, the event planner is more focused on winning the affections of your house servant, and all your relatives take residence in your home. I was impressed with this film the first time I saw it in high school. I had the opportunity to see it and meet screenwriter Sabrina Dawahan, recently in 2011, and have a new appreciation for it all over again. This isn’t a typical Bollywood film. It offers a much deeper story than the usual fare.
6 Strictly Ballroom (Australia, 1993)
Before Romeo + Juliet, before Moulin Rouge, before The Great Gatsby, Baz Luhrmann wrote and directed this little gem. The over-the-top dance costumes and gaudy make-up, the dialogue (“A bit of musicality, please!”) and dancing are all great, with lots of humor and drama. At its heart, it’s a story about two people overcoming the fear of rejection for who they are, and finding acceptance in each other.
7 I Hate Luv Storys (India, 2010)
A LOT of people dislike this one for all the reasons I enjoyed it. It plays on *all* the clichés of romcoms (all of them, no joke) and uses them to tell Simran and Jay’s story, all while more specifically poking fun at Bollywood. If you’re unfamiliar with the storytelling conventions that this movie is playing with, you’ll miss what it is that they’re doing. There’s nothing genius at work here, to be sure, but it’s fun. If you’re looking for a film that takes itself seriously, you’ve got the wrong movie in your queue.
8 My Best Friend -Mon meilleur ami (France, 2006)
I thought this was a really endearing story. One man gets along with everyone, but has no one true friend. The other, so selfish, the closest thing he has to a friend is a business partner. Due to chance and a bet, the two are thrown together and explore what it means to be a “best friend.”
9Bend It Like Beckham (England, 2002)
A coming-of-age story about an Indian girl who longs to do nothing else except play English football, against her very traditional family’s wishes. I really commend writer/director Gurinder Chadha for not making traditional values or family the “bad guy” of this film, which would have been easy to do. Instead, the problem here is closed-minded people- Indian, English, and Irish alike. Anyone searching for an empowering feel-good story, with a female protagonist, look no further.
10Amelie – Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain (France, 2001)
A quirky story about a young woman living her life more fully after a sheltered childhood, while trying to help others live happier lives. France is magical and full of whimsy. Amélie is incorrigible. Apart from the story, this could have made my list solely because of the soundtrack by Yann Tiersan, which is in a word, *fantastic* (listen to a couple of my favorites here: comptine d’un autre ete l’apres midi, Le Moulin). An interesting view of life and Paris through Amélie’s eyes- check it out.