I absolutely love traveling. It exposes me to different people, languages, cultures, perspectives, and way of doing things. It helps me to think OUTSIDE of the box and helps me to look at things from a more worldly perspective. But when I can't travel, I expose myself to different people, languages, cultures, perspectives, and way of doing things by watching foreign films.
Do you ever get sick and tired of the same old Hollywood predictable plot lines? Bank robberies, fast cars, and over-the-top special effects? The good guy always winning? The main character always getting the girl?
Think about it. English is just one language. There are up to 7,000 different languages spoken around the world. Why limit yourself to watching movies in English when there are so many other options? Most people don’t realize that India producesmore films per year than the United States. Japan, China, France, Italy, Spain, and Germany also produce a healthy number of films per year, along with many other countries. There is so much amazing talent out there that most English-speakers haven’t been exposed to.
Watching a movie in a foreign language might sound more like torture than pleasure, but reading subtitles gets easier and easier over time. When I find a truly great movie I often forget that I’m even reading subtitles. And I get the added satisfaction that I got to watch something truly remarkable, that most of my friends have never even heard of. Please watch the movies in their original languages! Watching a foreign movie dubbed in English takes so much away from it.
Here is a list of ten of my favorite foreign language films and why I think you will fall in love with them.
2 Life is Beautiful (1997) – Languages: Italian, German – IMDB Rating: 8.6 – If you feel like watching something that teaches you to always look on the bright side, no matter how difficult the situation, Life is Beautiful is the film for you. This movie is the most heartwarming but heart wrenchingly sad movie I’ve ever seen. A family is victim of the Holocaust and gets put into a concentration camp during World War II. Determined to shelter their young son from the horrors of reality, they convince him that they are merely playing an elaborate game. This movie takes one of the most horrible events of world history and turns it into one of positivity, love, and hope. You will feel more compassion for the characters in this film than you ever have before. You will find yourself wondering what you would do in this situation. You are guaranteed to laugh and cry as you watch possibly the most beautiful movie ever made.
5 PK (2014) – Languages: Hindi, Urdu, English – IMDB Rating: 8.3 - This film is a goofy and wonderful gem. It’s a tale of love, friendship, and life lessons. If you’ve never seen a Bollywood film before, this one will get you hooked on the Bollywood film industry. It’s colorful, musical, and just the right amount of cheesy. The main character’s innocence and oddities will win you over instantly. He looks at the world in a way no one else does, and makes others rethink their lives. Social issues are looked at through this movie, but from a humorous angle. It will have you laughing out loud and maybe even crying at some points. You will be swept away to beautiful places on this adventure, and will get to experience the vibrant color and complexity of Indian society. It’s an absolute masterpiece, and you will get to meet some of India’s best actors through it.
6 Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) – Language: Spanish – IMDB Rating: 8.2 – This film is extremely creepy and magical at the same time. Although some people may describe Pan’s Labyrinth as a fairy tale, it’s definitely not for kids. It’s a dark fairy tale full of violence and brutality, but also hope. It is set in Spain at the end of the Spanish civil war under the regime of Francisco Franco. The main character, an innocent young girl, escapes the horrors of reality and finds herself on a desperate mission in a dark fantasy world. Some of the characters in the fantasy world of Pan’s Labyrinth would surely make little kids cry. The quality of storytelling and seamless overlapping of fantasy and reality is what makes this movie so brilliant. And as an added plus for people not used to foreign films, it doesn’t require an excessive reading of subtitles because it is more visual than dialogue driven.
7 Ida (2013) – Language: Polish – IMDB Rating: 7.4 - Set in 1960’s post World War II Poland, this movie makes you believe that it was truly filmed during that era. It is visually stunning, and the black and white images and choice of music are perfectly fit to the story. The story is told in a very calm, quiet way. The main character was raised in a Catholic orphanage. She is about to take her vows to become a nun, but before she does that she has to go on a journey to meet aunt, her only living relative, and learn who she really is. Ida is pious and innocent, and her aunt is a gruff alcoholic. Ida learns that she is really Jewish, and that her parents hid her at the orphanage at the end of the war to save her from the Holocaust. Ida goes on a quest to find her parents’ grave, and her experience outside of the nunnery make her question everything she thought she knew.
8 Good Bye Lenin! (2003) – Language: German – IMDB Rating: 7.7 - The story line of this movie is extremely creative, tackling social issues in a humorous, satirical way. It takes place around the time of the Cold War in East Germany, around the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall. A mother who has dedicated her life to supporting the communist party ideals has a heart attack and falls into a coma when she sees her son on TV getting arrested in an anti-communist protest. When she awakens, Germany has been reunited and western ideals and goods have poured in. Everything is dramatically different. Her son fears that his mother will fall back into a coma if she learns the truth. To protect his mother, he creates a false reality and goes out of his way to trick his mother into believing that everything is as it was before the fall of the wall. You won’t believe the things he has to do to keep this illusion up!
9 Like Stars on Earth (2007) – Languages: Hindi & English – IMDB Rating: 8.5 – This film is uplifting, heartwarming, and inspiring. It sends us the very powerful message that every child is special, and is especially powerful for parents and educators. What each child needs to be successful may not be the same. The little boy in this movie is always misbehaving and failing in school and his parents and teachers don’t know what to do with him. He gets sent away to a boarding school because his parents and teachers think that strict discipline is the only thing that can straighten him out. Boarding school starts out horribly for him, and he becomes severely depressed. No matter how hard he tries, he still fails. When his usual art teacher gets replaced by a highly unconventional teacher, things start to look up for him. You will feel an overwhelming sense of joy when you see the little boy’s world start to turn around. Like Stars on Earth will make you look at “difficult children” in a whole new light.
10 My name is Khan (2010) – Languages: Hindu, Urdu, English – IMDB Rating: 7.9 - This film will introduce you to a beautiful way of looking at the world. “There are only two kinds of people in this world. Good people who do good deeds. And bad people who do bad.” The main character’s mother taught him this when he was a child, and he lives by it. You will grow emotionally attached to this Indian Muslim boy with Asperger’s syndrome because of his innocence, blunt honesty, and good heart. As a child in Mumbai, India he faces the challenges of being different than all the other children. When he is older, he moves to the United States where he falls in love with a Hindu woman. His open heart leads him to many new experiences, both good and bad, and helps him to make friends and enemies of different backgrounds. This movie will help you to look past race, religion, and social class and see people for who they truly are.
Give these films a try! They will open up your world. Nowadays it is easy to find great foreign films. You can even find many of these films on Netflix.
What are your favorite foreign films? Please post in the comments below!