The Unmissable Foreign Language Films To Add To Your Watchlist
When Korean director Bong Joon Ho won the Golden Globe for Best Picture in 2020 for the critically-acclaimed Parasite, he remarked: “Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” Streaming sites have since invited audiences to access an inventory of foreign language films that boast a new perspective on filmmaking whilst shining a light on different cultures and landscapes. Providing a refreshing intellectual and visual experience, these films are just some of our favourites from around the world that you need to add to your watchlist.
‘About Elly’ 2009, directed by Asghar Farhadi (Iran)
About Elly follows a group of professional couples from Tehran on a weekend break by the Caspian Sea. With them is Elly, a young school teacher who’s joined them to look after their children, but whilst enjoying a picnic on the beach, she goes missing. Tensions rise amongst the families as they second guess their involvement in what happened to Elly and who may be at fault for her disappearance. As Farhad immerses us in the centre of a tense situation, he provides a window into the troubling power dynamics at play between men and women both in modern Iranian society, as well as that around the world.
‘My Life As Courgette’ 2016, directed by Claude Barras (France)
Tender, charming and beautifully expressive, My Life As Courgette is a stop-motion animation that’s as compelling for adults as it is for children. Nine-year-old Icare, nicknamed Courgette, is sent to an orphanage after the death of his mother. Here, he learns to make friends and understand what it means to trust someone. The film follows a group of children surviving abuse and abandonment in a beautifully empathetic and sincerely heartwarming tale of resilience and healing.
‘The Handmaiden’ 2016, directed by Park Chan-Wook (South Korea)
Korean cinema was catapulted into the limelight in 2020 after Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite took home a host of awards at ceremonies across the globe. But before that came the thrilling story of The Handmaiden. Loosely based on a Victorian crime novel, The Handmaiden depicts a Korean con-man devising a plan with the help of an orphaned pickpocket to seduce and trick a Japanese woman out of her inheritance. With compelling characters, an intriguing storyline and impeccable cinematography, Park Chan-Wook’s masterpiece is yet another testament to the excellence of Korean cinema.
‘Atlantics’ 2019, directed by Mati Diop (Senegal)
Atlantics is set against the backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean – a symbol of freedom and escape for those living in poverty in Senegal, where the film takes place. Souleiman, a poverty-stricken labourer working off the coast of Dakar, is deeply in love with Ada, who’s been promised to a wealthy suitor. One day, Souleiman and his co-workers disappear at sea whilst on a journey to migrate to Europe. Their spirits return to Dakar to haunt the employers that mistreated them, whilst Souleiman reunites with Ada once more. Poetic and unforgettable, Mati Diop’s debut film blends a love story with supernatural elements. Its stunning scenic stills, powerful sentiments and melodic score by Fatima Al Qadiri reinforce this poignant tale that will stay with you long after the credits have rolled.
‘City of God’ 2002, directed by Fernando Meirelles, Kátia Lund (Brazil)
In the poverty-stricken favelas of Rio de Janeiro in the 1970s, two young men choose different paths. Rocket is a budding photographer who documents the increasing drug-related violence in his neighbourhood, while José “Zé” Pequeno is an ambitious drug dealer. A shocking and profoundly compelling study of the vibrant yet equally terrifying life in the favela, City of God is a film that leaves you with no time to stop and think as the story unfolds. Filled with iconic moments, this thought-provoking coming-of-age film is one to watch.