Foreign Films Are Cool...

...And sometimes they're down right exceptional.

Paging Mr. Schlichter…paging Mr. Kurt Schlichter. You see, while reading the recent article, “Top 10: Lead Performances of the Last 25 Years” I stumbled across these words: "And you film snobs out there are out of luck. This list completely ignores foreign language films…”

cinema-paradiso



Film snobs? WTF!? Movie lovers who enjoy foreign language films are artistic snoots in the eyes of Mr. KS? Nah, I don’t think so. Not me.

While I could appreciate the article and some of the choices of lead performances by actors over the past 25 years, I do believe KS missed out when he decided to exclude performances by actors in foreign films.

As reader J.B. stated in the comment section:
“I would nominate the late Ulrich Muhe in THE LIVES OF OTHERS, which is probably the best new film I've seen in the last 25 years. Muhe gives a remarkable performance as an East German Stasi agent who has a gradual awakening of conscience…”

I agree.

Then again, as so-called film snobs, what do we know?

Look, the point I wish to make is that there are all kinds of films for us to enjoy in life. Whether or not they’re English language or foreign language should not be an issue. If they’re good, they’re good. Or as John Nolte so nicely put it in a recent article:
“A good film is one that casts a spell and doesn’t break it.”

Works for me.

If KS, in writing his article, chose to exclude performances by actors in foreign films from his list, well then, that’s his call. However, I didn’t think it was necessary to take such a cheap shot at those of us who dig a good foreign flick every now and then.

Which is why, in my article, I would like to add to the mix, a few of my favorite foreign films from the last 25 years and give a well deserved nod to the filmmakers, other artists and actors who made these works so memorable.

Beginning with, the aforementioned, The Lives of Others.” The Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Film (2007) from Germany. The feature film debut of writer/director, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, takes place in 1984 East Germany, as Stasi Captain, Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Muhe) is assigned to spy on a local playwright. The performance by the late actor is one for the ages. Watching his character and the various transformations which he goes through, is film acting at its highest level. A brave, nuanced depiction that will stay with you long after the movie has ended. A truly great work by all who were involved in the making.

A very different film, also from Germany is Wim Wenders, “Wings of Desire” (1987). A magical little drama of a love story, set in West Berlin during the 80s, the film follows two angels (the ever so very fine, Bruno Ganz and Otto Sander), as they keep watch over various individuals throughout the city. Also in the cast is Peter Falk, playing an actor on location shooting a movie, who at one time was an angel himself. The cinematography, by the great Henri Alekan, was shot in both black/white and color. (It has to do with the angels and the human beings points of view but it all works beautifully, trust me.) A unique mood piece which I would highly recommend.

The love of movies, as a subject, is in fine form with Guiseppe Tornatores “Cinema Paradiso,” which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film (1989) from Italy. Told in flashback, it’s the story of a young boy, Salvatore, nicknamed “Toto” (Salvatore Cascio) and how his life has been shaped by his experiences at the Cinema Paradiso, where he learns about life and love through the magic of movies from his wise, old friend, Alfredo (Philippe Noiret). Upon receiving the news that his friend, has died, the adult Salvatore (Jacques Perrin), returns home for the funeral. With music from the legendary, Ennio Morricone, “Cinema Paradiso” remains a treat for movie lovers everywhere.

180 degrees from “Cinema Paradiso” and next on my list, is a powerful film, from New Zealand, Once Were Warriors (1994) directed by Lee Tamahori. The movie paints a riveting picture of domestic family violence, along with issues pertaining to the Maori culture and stars Rena Owen as Beth and Temuera Morrison, as her husband Jake “the Muss” Heke.

When I reflect back on seeing this film for the first time, I remember being stunned. The performances by the two leads left me awestruck. Their work so raw, so brutally honest in their portrayals; to this day I can’t shake them from my head. The fine supporting cast includes the fantastic Cliff Curtis, who as Uncle Bully, is one truly twisted soul. Not an easy film to watch, I would highly recommend, “Once Were Warriors” if only to experience the brave, gutsy performance of Rena Owen, as a woman determined to save herself and her children from a living hell.

Switching gears there’sLife is Beautiful starring/written/directed by Roberto Benigni, which won the 1998 Academy Award Best Foreign Film from Italy. Benigni also took home the Best Actor Award in one of the most memorable acceptance speeches in the history of the Academy.

After Guido (Benigni) meets and falls in love with schoolteacher Dora (Nicoletta Braschi, real life wife of Roberto Benigni) they marry and have a son, Joshua (Giorgio Cantarini). Years later, when the war breaks out, they are sent to a Nazi prison camp, where Guido’s spirit, love and imagination are key ingredients to keeping his family safe.

The film is proof that despite a dark subject matter, in the hands of the right talent certain material can soar. A wonderful movie.

Finally, from director Gavin Hood, Tsotsi which took home the 2005 Oscar for Best Foreign Film from South Africa. The story revolves around a young man named Tsotsi (Presley Chweneyagae) who is the leader of Soweto street gang. Things go from bad to worse as Tsotsi, who is involved in a murder and up to his eyeballs in trouble, ends up stealing a car, which unbeknownst to him has a three month old baby in the back seat.

Faced with a difficult decision, he realizes he is unable to care for the child and finds a young mother Miriam (Terry Pheto) to take the baby in. The end result finds Tsotsi confronting his own violent past while facing himself in the process.

“Tsotsi” is a movie that will move you with its energy and story of hope. It has a fantastic score, including music by the artist, Zola, who also stars in the film.

So there you have it. A few good foreign films. All different, in their own special ways but each sharing the constant thread of a well told tale, brought to the screen by passionate artists and filmmakers who we, the audience, are made a bit richer for having gone along for the cinematic ride.

The performances in this handful of films, I believe can stand with the best of them. If you’re not familiar with the work, I do hope you’ll check them out.

For what makes a good movie has little to do with language or the country from which it originates, what makes a good movie is…
“one that casts a spell, doesn’t break it, that you dig, in any ol' language”

Finis.

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