Everyone knows that America is the greatest country in the world at everything, including movie making. But at Primer we’d like to put our worldly sensibilities to use and recognize some kickass films from outside Hollywood.
13 Tzameti (2005)
This French thriller from 2005 takes the Russian roulette scene from Deer Hunter and ups the ante. A gritty black and white crime drama centering on a poor immigrant who becomes involved in an underground gambling ring where its competitors play a game of mass Russian roulette. The film is very tense and despite being a little predictable will no doubt keep you on the edge of your seat.
Battle Royale (2000)
This Japanese film (based on the novel by the same name) is probably the most fun movie on the list. In an alternate reality, a class of unruly high school kids are kidnapped and sent to a remote island where they are forced to kill each other until only one remains. If they refuse to play or try to escape, a remote collar detonates on their necks killing them, and spraying blood all over the place. This movie is very well known in Asian communities and is a franchise in its own right. American companies have been trying for years to get the rights to remake it, much to the chagrin of many fans. But regardless of what becomes of BR, the original will always be one bloody good time.
The Lives of Others (2006)
The Academy Award’s 2006 Best Foreign Film has so much voyeurism in it that it would make Alfred Hitchcock jealous. Coming out of Germany, The Lives of Others, dives into the invasive and manipulative world of the Soviet era East German secret police. A story of a lonely domestic spy who becomes emotionally attached to the people he is meant to be trying to put in prison. A great romantic thriller that will make you curse, smile, cry, and may make you wonder just what it is people do when they think no one else is watching.
City of God (2002)
If there is one movie on this list that you have already seen, it should be this one, and for good reason. Brazil’s City of God is certainly the most well known movie on this list and it just might be the most realistic gang-life crime film ever made. The based-on-true-events story of a group of kids growing into adulthood in the gang-ridden slums of Rio De Janeiro. They steal by necessity and kill for fun, some want to rule it all, most just want to get out. You are definitely going to want to watch this.
Old Boy (2003)
Intrigue and Mystery: check. Awesome fight scenes: check. Great story: check. South Korea’s Old Boy is one of the truly great neo-noirs of all time. A man wakes up from a night of heavy drinking to find himself locked in a hotel room. He stays stuck in that room for 15 years! When he finally gets out he is determined to find out who put him there and why. What he doesn’t realize is just how intricate and dark his captor’s plans truly are. Another film that Hollywood has been trying to get their hands on for years, Old Boy is a movie that is sure to stay with you long after the reel runs out.
Infernal Affairs (2002)
The movie on which The Departed is based, Infernal Affairs (coming out of Hong Kong), is in a lot of ways a much better crime drama than its American doppelganger. It has a much faster pace to it, the ending is way more palatable, The Matt Damon character isn’t a bitch, Jack Nicholson isn’t overacting all over the place, and it is a full 50 minutes shorter. Now, it isn’t better in every way; the characters aren’t quite as developed and there are some loose ends with the romantic story lines at the end but both of these problems make sense because it is actually part of a trilogy instead of a stand alone film. Oh and did I mention the ending is waaaay better? But don’t take my word for it, check it out for yourself.
Just in case you didn’t already think it would suck to live in Iran, France’s Persepolis really drives the point home. A black and white, animated semi-autobiographical story of a young woman growing up during the Iran Revolution and how a once hopeful future turned into an oppressive reality that slowly takes away every part of her individuality. Persepolis isn’t a happy tale, but it is an important one and it's one that everyone should see.
The 2nd movie on this list out of Hong Kong is a visual feast. This complex romance bounces between a jaded writer living in 1960s Hong Kong and the futuristic, erotic, science fiction he is writing. The lush cinematography, fantastic music, and unorthodox story telling make this movie a truly original experience. The plot can be a little tough to follow, so seeing its predecessor In the Mood For Love for some context is highly recommended.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)
This French film, based on the excellent memoirs of Jean-Dominique Bauby, tells his story of agony and struggle in dealing with lock-in syndrome. Bauby, a writer and also editor of ELLE magazine, suffered a stroke in 1995 leaving him unable to communicate for the rest of his life… save for being able to blink in one eye. It is a triumphant and inspiring story of the human spirit overcoming the most extreme in limitations to live and be heard. Diving Bell is a gorgeous film told in mesmerizing fashion that shows the truly amazing things a person is capable of.
Other Funky Foreign Films
A Very Long Engagement (France, 2004) – Engaging romance/mystery tale of a young woman searching for her lost love after WWI.
Tsotsi (South Africa, 2005) – A moving coming of age drama about a young thief that learns the value of life and responsibility after he inadvertently kidnaps a newborn in a carjacking.
Shiri (South Korea, 1999) – This exciting action film about North Korean sleeper cells planning an assassination attempt is fast paced and a great popcorn rollercoaster ride.
The Vanishing (Netherlands, 1988) – Mystery/Suspense about a man who becomes obsessed with the disappearance of his girlfriend leads him on a twisting turning story that will shock and unsettle you.