If your excuse for not watching foreign films is that your eyes get tired reading the subtitles, please stop.
Odds are, you’ll happily sit there in the pitch black scrolling through your Instagram/Facebook until you’re severely dehydrated, so lend me your ear for a moment.
The minuscule selection of English language films nominated for Best Picture at the Golden Globe/Oscars get so much hype—oftentimes, unfairly—that some of the best in the world (see also: the “foreign” films) are robbed of the glory. But, we’d like to right that wrong.
If your foreign films repertoire consists solely of City of God and Life is Beautiful, good start, but let’s get you up to speed for 2018. Here are the six best foreign language films of 2017 (deemed by the “Hollywood Foreign Press”, so as with everything, take it with a grain of salt). If these trailers don’t sell you, I don’t know what will.
In The Fade (Germany) – Winner of Best Foreign Film
If you recognise the title of the film then you’d be onto something—it’s the same name as a Queens of the Stone Age track. Fittingly, Josh Homme also wrote the film’s score. Directed by Fatih Akin and starring Diane Kruger, the film is set in Hamburg, Germany. When Katja’s (Kruger) husband and son are killed in a bomb attack by two neo-Nazis, she must seek justice through a murder trial of the two accused. In The Fade is based on killings that occurred between 2001 and 2009 in Germany, and were allegedly carried out by the National Socialist Underground. Nine migrant men were killed across the country by right-wing terrorists, but the connection between the murders was only discovered years down the track. I’m not sure if I’m more disturbed by the plotline itself, or its relevance to the current state of affairs.
First They Killed My Father (Cambodia)
First They Killed My Father, directed by Angelina Jolie and Loung Ung, is based on Ung’s memoir of the same name. This harrowing film follows Ung’s childhood in Cambodia during the murderous Khmer Rouge Regime, during which an estimated one and a half to three million Cambodians were killed in one of the worst genocides in modern history. The film follows Ung between the ages of five and nine, after she was separated from her siblings, given weapons, and forced to train as a child soldier on Pol Pot’s Killing Fields. Jolie first came to learn Ung’s story when she was travelling in Cambodia in her 20s and picked up her memoir from a local street corner. Given that an entire generation of Cambodian artists and musicians were murdered, a Cambodian production involving local cast, crew, and set designers getting an Oscar nomination is a pretty big deal. Not an easy watch, but the best ones usually aren’t. It was released in September of last year on Netflix, so you can go watch it right now.
The Square (Sweden)
“If you place an place an object in a museum… would that make it art?” It’s a question you’ve no doubt asked yourself regarding suspiciously functional objects in art galleries in the past, and a question which Swedish museum curator Christian (played by Claes Bang) asks without irony in the trailer. Directed by Ruben Östlund and winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes last year, the story behind The Square was first cooked up when Östlund and producer Kalle Boman entered an installation into a museum four years prior accompanied with the following artist’s statement: “The Square is a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within it we all share equal rights and obligations.” Nothing is safe from ridicule in this satirical drama, but any film that takes pot shots at the snobbery of the high brow art world is more than ok by us.
Directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev, Loveless follows two separated parents who are brought together when their only child goes missing, after witnessing one of their fights. Filmed solely in Moscow, Loveless was intended to be a piece that reflects Russian life, society and anguish, or as Zvyagintsev said in an interview with Deadline, “The feeling that there is no hope for positive changes, the atmosphere of aggression and the militarization of society, and the feeling that they are surrounded by enemies.” Russia’s is not the friendliest government in the world when it comes to their own citizens. And, given the sentiments of this film, it was financed not by the national government, but by select wealthy Russians and foreign companies. The Ministry of Culture in Russia has had it in for Zvyagintsev since his 2014 film Leviathan which took aim at corruption in the national government, but seeing as though this film won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes and got a Golden Globes and an Oscar nom, it looks like they can get by without just fine without the backing of the powers that be.
A Fantastic Woman (Chile)
Marina—a waitress and nightclub singer—is in love with an older man who has left his family for her. When he dies suddenly from a heart attack, she is confronted with his hostile and angry family, who not only suspect her of playing a part in his death, but despise her as a transgender woman. Chilean director Sebastián Lelio originally brought Daniela Vega, a known transgender actress and singer in Chile, onto the project as cultural consultant, but after working together on the script, it was decided that Vega had to play the starring role herself.