Can you really call yourself a film buff if you only limit yourself to movies told in your native tongue? In fact, some of greatest films and most memorable scenes actually come from foreign films. Diving into the world of movies you need subtitles for also open you up to a whole new universe of ideas and conversation, allowing you to truly enjoy what the world of film and storytelling has to offer.
As said by the director of Parasite, Bong Joon-Ho, “Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” And we couldn’t agree more, here are 10 of our favourite foreign language films that you can binge watch over the weekend – from the latest Academy Award winners, to timeless favourites.
Alfonso Cuaron’s film snagged multiple awards at the 91st Academy Awards and for good reason. This black-and-white film follows the life of Cleo, a housekeeper of a middle-class family, set in Mexico City in the 1970s. Cuaron infuses the film with elements from his upbringing in the Colonia Roma neighbourhood, resulting in a deeply intimate film that explores relationships, family dynamics, and even geopolitical themes.
J’ai perdu mon corps, France
J’ai perdu mon corps, or I Lost My Body, is a French animated drama offers a unique narrative of immigrant life in Paris. It is the first animated film to win the Nespresso Grand Prize, and was even nominated for Best Animated Feature at the 92nd Academy Awards. The film starts off with a mystery, as a severed hand escapes a laboratory to reunite with its body. The story is told in flashbacks, bringing the audience through a journey on unexpected roads detailing both physical and emotional loss.
Parasite, South Korea
If you haven’t seen this groundbreaking, award-winning film that explores social disparity, you’re truly lagging behind the times. Here, a poor family finds its way to living the good life by posing as highly-qualified employees of a wealthy household. This brilliantly produced film balances sinister schemes with socio-politics and comedy beautifully, with stunning shots that make each scene indelible. Parasite was lauded for its portrayal of social themes, moments of light-hearted entertainment, and haunting storytelling, and made history when it became the first South Korean film to receive Academy Award recognition.
In the case of Shoplifters, you get to choose your family – sort of. This 2018 Japanese drama revolves around an impoverished family who shoplifts for a living, and find themselves caring and unofficially ‘adopting’ an abused child from their neighbourhood. It’s a bittersweet story that juxtaposes socially correct behaviour with human warmth and happiness of a lower-class family. You’ll find your emotions pierced as the film describes the loneliness of not belonging, while bringing to light the chaos of staying together.
Taare Zameen Par, India
This Hindi-language film immerses you into the life and imagination of a dyslexic child who excels in art. Aamir Khan, who also directed and produced the film, plays the child’s art teacher, who becomes the only person aware and accepting of the former’s disability. This film is truly a work of art, with strong characters and a heartwarming story that will pierce the heart and stir up an ocean of emotions. You’ll want to get a box (or two) of tissues ready for this one.
8 1/2, Italy
Following Italian film legend Federico Fellini’s success with La Dolce Vita, il maestro dabbled in fantasy and surrealism in this 1963 comedy-drama. Starring Marcello Mastroianni, it explores a director’s struggles with a creative drought while attempting to shoot a science fiction film. Dubbed one of the greatest films of all time, it’s an avant-garde classic that brings to the screen morbid dreams, flailing fantasies, and a soundtrack by none other than the extraordinary composer Nino Rota.
The story of Atlantics take place in the outskirts of Dakar, Senegal. Two teenagers, Souleiman and Ada, find their love story taking a backseat when the former is forced to journey across the Atlantic in search of work. Director Mati Diop spotlights issues in the film such as loss, grief, refugee crisis, class, and responsibility. She implemented magic realism to produce this supernatural film, while using the Atlantic Ocean as a symbol and vessel for the stages we face in life.
Birds of Passage, Colombia
This astounding crime drama unfolds the origins of Colombia’s drug trade in the ‘60s and 70’s. It implements the use of magical realism, while narrating the rise and transformation of a Wayuu tribe family when they trade their traditions and way of life for the drug trade. You get beautifully shot scenes of rural Colombia, as themes of roots, culture, and revenge weave their way through this poetic epic.
Beautiful Boxer, Thailand
This 2003 Thai biopic explores the life and struggles of Parinya ‘Nong Toom’ Charoenphol, a famous trans Muay Thai fighter who is portrayed by male kickboxer Asanee Suwan. It details the journey of Nong Toom’s transformation, from her wearing makeup in the boxing ring to fighting her way through controversies and criticisms for being a kathoey (trans woman). Suwan brings Nong Toom character to life on screen, with strikingly poignant scenes and a glance into identity politics in Thailand.
Pan’s Labyrinth, Spanish
When it comes to dark, fantastical films, no one does it better than Guillermo del Toro. Set in 1944 Francoist Spain, the story intertwines the real world with a mythical realm centred on an abandoned labyrinth that’s guarded by an enigmatic faun. If you’re not captivated by fantasy stories, you’ll surely be struck in awe at the gorgeous visual effects in this film, made possible through makeup, animatronics, and CGI.