Why You Should Watch More Foreign Films
A case for foreign and independent films. Here are a few of my favorites.
Film has provided me an opportunity to grow more curious about, and sensitive to, other people’s experiences. I suppose it is film that has taught me empathy.
Hollywood is the world's oldest and largest national film industry. It brings in the biggest gross box office revenue year-round, globally. This is the industry I knew best, growing up I would look forward to each next Hollywood blockbuster and going to the theater to see it on the big screen. But it wasn’t until I began to watch more independent and foreign films I realized how the medium of film could be deeply personal and niche.
Watching foreign films allows us to better understand different cultures and “foreign” perspectives. These films provide a glimpse into diverse traditions, customs, and ways of life for people in different parts of the world. As we watch these films, we can develop a deeper appreciation for the diversity of human experience and become more empathetic and understanding of others and their experiences.
When we watch films from other areas of the world we are exposed to a unique artistic experience. These films often explore themes and tell stories in ways that are different from those found in mainstream Hollywood productions. They inspire creativity and new ways of thinking.
Watching foreign films can transport viewers to other places they may never have been able to visit in person. They have the potential to inspire curiosity and stir up a desire to learn more about the cultures and people represented on screen.
Here are a few of my favorite foreign films and a bit about them (no spoilers):
TAMPOPO (JAPAN, 1985)
This film is a Western movie set outside the West. Instead of guns, cowboys, and dusty horizons, it focuses on a woman's dream to run the best ramen shop in town and how one man came waltzing into town about to change everything before he leaves. This is a vision brought to us by Juzo Itami, one of the most renowned screenwriters and directors in Japanese cinema. He left us with 10 highly-acclaimed feature-length films that portray elements of Japanese culture through comedic satire before he was eventually murdered by the yakuza in 1997.
SOLARIS (RUSSIA, 1972)
Perhaps even more well-renowned is the Soviet filmmaker known for avoiding conventional film structure as he slowly builds worlds for his characters to be pulled into metaphysical themes along with his widely global audiences. Andrei Tarkovsky creates his films with such intense purpose, they are often shown to students of film to study and learn from. This film slowly sweeps you off your feet and takes you on a wondrous adventure which is mesmerizing and downright harrowing at the same time. The question I felt this film was asking was, “Would you rather experience an unending vastness through a window far off, or intimately know the water that rests beside you where you are?”
LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL (ITALY, 1997)
When Jenna and I sat down with the objective to watch a “good movie” this one came to mind as it had been on my watchlist for quite some time - but perhaps I had been putting it off because I knew it would hit hard and - it did. In this film, director Roberto Benigni brings to life the dark elements of the world he grew up in but he does it with such grace as he steps into the main role himself. A goofy, love-struck man does all he can to take care of those he loves in the midst of a violent occupation of their town. Bergnini, himself, knew these true events all too well as his father worked in a German forced-labor camp during World War II. And as you see in the GIF, this film won the Oscar for best foreign feature in 1999.
RAISING THE RED LANTERN (CHINA, 1991)
Zhang Yimou is most well-known for his vibrant visual style brought to every project he has been a part of and has even crossed paths with Hollywood once in his film, The Great Wall. But it’s one of his earlier films that I still think about often due to its historical context and cultural significance. The 1920s in China was a time of transformation and instability. The film by Yimou examines the themes of power, tradition, and gender in Chinese society during this era as the country attempted to modernize and find its way.
SHIRKERS (SINGAPORE/US/UK, 2018)
The unique documentary brought to us by the novelist, Sandi Tan, tells the story of two innocent girls chasing their dreams as they’re met with the reality that an older man they’re working with may really be an untrustworthy stranger. With its distinctive style reminiscent of Wes Anderson, this film dodges often dull elements of a true crime documentary and instead offers a fresh perspective on the importance of acknowledging and processing the emotions stemming from a traumatic experience during one's formative years, in order to fully embrace adulthood.
AKIRA (JAPAN, 1988)
Akira is a groundbreaking Japanese animated film that is considered a masterpiece not only for its technical achievements in hand-drawn animation, but also for its profound exploration of one of the most devastating events in human history: the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Throughout the film, the narrative delves into the themes of atomic power and historical change, making it an important and thought-provoking film that continues to resonate with global audiences to this day. Akira’s colorful, mesmerizing, and futuristic visual landscape as well as its fluid animation can be seen echoed in many films and tv today as it has been extremely influential.
DRIVE MY CAR (JAPAN, 2021)
When one of the most renowned modern Japanese filmmakers, Ryuske Hamaguchi, adapts the short story of one of the great Japanese novelists, Haruki Murakami, for film - you might expect a great success, and so it was when it received the Oscar for Best International Feature Film in 2022. This film is unique in that the actors and their characters often don’t speak the same language but must work together on a stage production in which their characters are in very dramatic scenes containing dialogue. This film explores the nature of relationships and communication and how we, at times, connect beyond language boundaries and, in contrast, how we can’t seem to connect despite speaking the same language.
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