One of the greatest moments of being a cinephile is discovering that so many great movies were made outside Hollywood, films with as many uncommon flavors as food from around the world.
And it’s worth talking about some of the best films that each country has to offer the world, especially when those films encapsulate the values and lifestyle of their countries.
Brazil – “City of God” (2002) – I’ve only ever seen one movie from Brazil, and it is an experience I will always cherish. “City of God” tells the story of a group of children growing up in a suburb of Rio de Janeiro where organized crime is the only life they know. Told over the course of 20 years, the film has an intoxicating energy to it as it depicts a life in the slums and what that depravity can do to a man’s soul.
China – “In the Mood for Love” (2000) – While mostly known for kung fu movies like “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” China has produced a large number of profound, honest portrayals of love. And no one does that better than Wong Kar-wai with his tale of unrequited love between two neighbors whose respective spouses are having an affair. The film relishes in its quieter moments, almost in a poetic way, giving moments of reflection and loss.
France – “Beauty and the Beast” (1946) – If only one film version of “Beauty and the Beast” could survive, I would pick this 1946 French version. Somehow, the visual style is even more appealing than the animated film that was made 45 years later. But the most impressive fact about this version is that it was created entirely under Nazi occupation, in a tale about the beauty and wonder in the world.
Germany – “Metropolis” (1927) – While Germany has given us many great directors, none of them captured their country quite like Fritz Lang. I was tempted to go with another of Lang’s masterpieces – “M” – but then I realized that “Metropolis” is the quintessential science-fiction movie. Nearly every popular sci-fi story, like “Star Wars,” “Superman” and “Blade Runner,” owe everything to possibly the greatest silent film ever made.
India – “Pather Panchali” (1955) – Much like “City of God,” there is a quiet honesty in “Pather Panchali” that you don’t get in other forms of cinema. Even today’s Bollywood films rarely have the same sense of realism as Satyajit Ray’s brutal yet heartwarming tale of a poor family struggling to create a life for their children with all the ups and downs that come with that.
Italy – “8 ½” (1963) – Italian films are usually great at two things – honesty and surrealism. And, somehow, Federico Fellini captures both of those aspects brilliantly and often at the same time. And his best work is “8 ½,” a film about nothing and yet everything. The story follows a big-name movie director, built around Fellini’s personality, suffering from a creativity block in the middle of his biggest film yet.
Iran – “A Separation” (2011) – In the last decade, no other foreign film has hit quite as hard as Asghar Farhadi’s “A Separation.” It is even more impressive considering the censorship of the Iranian government that rarely allows filmmakers to express themselves in meaningful ways. And yet Farhadi’s tale of family is both complex and honest in its depiction of life in Iran.
Japan – “Throne of Blood” (1957) – When it comes to the greatest filmmakers outside Hollywood, two names usually come to mind. The first is Japan’s greatest cinematic mind, Akira Kurosawa. I could have filled this entire list with his movies and still leave out many greats. But “Throne of Blood” is Kurosawa at his most authentic, a reimagining of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” set in feudal Japan, and most deliciously thrilling.
Sweden – “The Seventh Seal” (1957) – The other foreign filmmaker to give Kurosawa a run for his money would be Sweden’s Ingmar Bergman, a master of the reflective and the closest to ever making film poetry. At the same time Kurosawa was making “Throne of Blood,” Bergman was making his masterpiece, namely the tale of a knight challenging death itself to a game of chess. This is one of the few films you can watch without subtitles and still understand every moment of the movie simply through acting and cinematography.
United Kingdom – “The Third Man” (1949) – Often regarded as the greatest British movie ever made, this post-World War II film noir is dripping with atmosphere as we learn about an underworld of deception and characters who live in a world of gray. Carol Reed’s take on a mystery is both subtle and ingenious, rivaling any one of Alfred Hitchcock’s thrillers. All while having brilliant camera work and a one-of-a-kind score.