December has got to be my favourite month of the year. Not only is it Christmas, which brings with it musical delights, the smell of gingerbread and trail of pine needles left by the tree. December is also the beginning of Tinseltown’s award season, culminating in the Oscars last month.
Glamorous dresses, expensive jewellery, and perfect makeup are enough to make anyone’s eyes pop with envy. And who could forget the antics? We all enjoy seeing the camaraderie amongst the industry’s best and finest. Who else was hoping for a repeat of Benedict Cumberbatch’s photobomb?
In and amongst the oft repetitive acceptance speeches and shameless promotion of the nominated awardees, there is one category that excites me to no end: Best Foreign Film.
The foreign film category is one assured to pass over many as the concept is exactly that – foreign – to a wider audience. But there is much to learn from these films.
Prior to moving abroad and partaking in the typical antipodean adventures, foreign films were a window to another world – both real and fantastical. Some were comical or philosophical while others portrayed the harsher realities existing within a particular community.
One could argue that to truly empathise with another, we need to live out their everyday joys and struggles on their own turf, enveloping ourselves in these daily realities. However, such films allow us to begin the journey of understanding and gaining a broader worldview.
Not only would we begin to see the world with a new cultural and historical viewpoint, we also come to realise the similarities that transcend culture as partakers of the same human race.
So… here are a few titles to add to your watch list the next time you are looking for something different:
France: To be and to have – A film set in a French rural school depicts the life of a teacher and his small class of primary aged students. We follow their larks and more serious concerns as Mr Lopez patiently guides them.
Russia: Russian Ark – Unique due its filming technique, this film was shot in one take over 90 minutes throughout the famed Winter Palace. It provides the viewer with a snapshot of the country’s history as they follow the narrator around the site.
United Kingdom: The Fall – While not technically a foreign film, being an English-language flick, it is directed by Indian native Tarsem Singh, and shot across 20 countries. Falling into hospital (almost literally), the audience discovers Alexandria and Roy’s newfound friendship by way of storytelling and the vividness of childhood imagination.
Italy: Life is Beautiful – One of the standout films of the last 20 years, typified by director Roberto Bernini’s victory dance at the ‘99 Oscars, Life is Beautiful traces the lives of a Jewish-Italian family during the second world war and a father’s desire to protect his young son from the true realities of the concentration camps.
Germany: Goodbye Lenin – Six months after the fall of the Berlin Wall, an East Berlin mother wakes up from a coma. To prevent further health issues, her son attempts to hide the rapid modernization of their city during her recovery.
India: Main Hoon Na – There is a wealth of Bollywood films to choose from, each as good as the next. In this film we chart an army officer who has gone undercover to protect his colleague’s daughter and locate his younger brother. Part comedy, part musical, this action packed drama has it all.
Japan: Spirited Away – Arguably Hayao Miyazaki’s most successful film, this is a coming of age story of a young girl. As she discovers her new neighbourhood, she becomes caught up in a fantastical world…or is this her new reality?
So…this extensive list may be overwhelming at first – and there are so many more films to delve in to! Perhaps start with the film that excites you the most. Happy watching!