As certain of my friends and/or roommates can vouch, I watched a lot of foreign films this year. A lot.
From the start of the year, I knew I wanted to widen the scope of my knowledge of cinema, so I tackled some of the classics that crop up in "Best of All Time" lists on a regular basis. Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal kicked things off, followed by François Truffaut's semi-autobiographical contribution to the French New Wave, The 400 Blows. The Spirit of the Beehive, one of the few Spanish films in my repertoire, was a surprise discovery that I only happened upon because my favorite working film critic chanced to highlight it in an article at the beginning of the year. This same critic also pointed me to Claire Denis' spiky White Material, an unusual tale about a French planation owner in modern Africa that almost defies explanation—certainly not my favorite film I watched this year, but one that I'm glad I saw anyway just for the experience.
Over the summer I caught up on some modern movies from around the world. Chile's Oscar entry No was, essentially, a South American Argo; Cate Shortland's Lore (a joint production of her native Australia and Germany) put a spin on the old World War II story by following—with stunningly assured direction—a family of German children whose lives all but collapse with the death of the Fürher they had lionized from birth. Raul Ruìz's epic, 4 1/2 hour-long period piece/soap opera Mysteries of Lisbon holds the honor of being the longest single movie I've yet to watch.
Then with the start of the fall semester, I made a commitment to myself that would come to define the second half of the year: to watch one foreign film every week. It ended up being a mostly positive experience, with some standouts—Bicycle Thieves, Sansho the Bailiffˆ—making their way onto my list of personal all-time favorites (which, if you're lucky, I might actually commit to paper in a future blog post). Other films, while technically and/or narratively impressive, failed to garner much enthusiasm (here's looking at you, Charulata) and put me in the difficult position of figuring out what exactly to make of them. When a movie is so clearly well-made and considered worthy enough of preservation and continued distribution decades after its initial release, appreciation tends to come much more easily than adoration. Thankfully, I only ran into one dud, Jean-Luc Godard's audiovisual essay 2 or 3 Things I Know about Her.
Though I tried to sample movies from as many countries as possible, my viewings inevitably skewed somewhat unsurprisingly towards France, Italy, Japan, countries who not only have (or had) burgeoning film industries but who turned out films and directors that went on to become distinguished and influential worldwide. Going forward, I'd love to see what my less-frequented countries have to offer.
Below: THE FULL LIST!
- No (2012, Pablo Larrain)
- Madame de... (1953, Max Ophüls)
- The 400 Blows (1959, François Truffaut)
- Zazie dans le métro (1960, Louis Malle)
- 2 or 3 Things I Know about Her (1967, Jean-Luc Godard)
- Z (1969, Costa-Gavras)
- Army of Shadows (1969, Jean-Pierre Melville)
- The Discrete Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972, Luis Buñuel)
- White Material (2009, Claire Denis) [also: Cameroon]
- Amour (2012, Michael Haneke) [also: Austria]
- Holy Motors (2012, Leos Carax)
- Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974, Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
- Lore (2012, Cate Shortland)
- Charulata (1964, Satyajit Ray)
- Taste of Cherry (1997, Abbas Kiarostami)
- Fill the Void (2012, Rama Burshtein)
- Bicycle Thieves (1949, Vittorio de Sica)
- The Flowers of St. Francis (1950, Roberto Rossellini)
- L'Avventura (1960, Michelangelo Antonioni)
- I am Love (2009, Luca Guadagnino)
- Certified Copy (2010, Abbas Kiarostami) [also: France, Iran]
- Late Spring (1949, Yasujiro Ozu)
- Stray Dog (1949, Akira Kurosawa)
- Gate of Hell (1953, Teinosuke Kinugasa)
- Tokyo Story (1953, Yasujiro Ozu)
- Sansho the Bailiff (1954, Kenji Mizoguchi)
- High and Low (1963, Akira Kurosawa)
- Howl's Moving Castle (2004, Hayao Miyazaki)
- The Double Life of Véronique (1991, Krzysztof Kíeslowski) [also: France]
- Mysteries of Lisbon (2010, Raúl Ruiz)
- Wadjda (2012, Haifaa al-Mansour)
- The Spirit of the Beehive (1975, Víctor Erice)
- The Seventh Seal (1957, Ingmar Bergman)
- Distant (2002, Nuri Bilge Ceylan)