Want to watch more foreign-language films but don’t know where to start? We’ve got eight fantastic Netflix picks to get you started, from the international and supernatural Atlantics to South Korean thriller The Call…
If you don’t already, what’s stopped you from watching foreign-language films? If the answer is “I’ve been reading emails, texts and documents on screens all day and I literally can’t be bothered to read subtitles. Back off!” then we’ll back away slowly.
If, however, the answer is that you just don’t know where to start, this one’s for you…
This writer was delighted to see Parasite pick up the Best Picture Oscar a couple of years ago, because it’s always seemed a little bonkers that the entire world’s cinema, outside of the US and UK, has to be reduced to a single Academy Award category. But that’s for another time.
Progress is finally being made, and this increased visibility and promotion of international films to western audiences has, naturally, got many of us hungry for more. But where to begin?
Do you start with the best Afghan cinema and just work your way through the alphabet? Do you take pot luck on the streaming services? Or what about a retrospective of every single Palme d’Or winner since time began?
OK, maybe that’s A LOT. Instead, we’ve put together a list of the eight best foreign-language films on Netflix. Who said so? This writer said so. Oh, and Rotten Tomatoes gives them an average rating of 91% too, in case you had any reason not to trust us…
Mati Diop’s ghostly love story takes place in the Senegalese capital of Dakar and, in documentary-like fashion, tells the stories of the young men who leave their homelands to find a better life – and the women they leave behind. At the heart of our story is Ada (Mama Bineta Sane), a young woman who is arranged to marry a wealthy man but in love with another, who then goes missing at sea. Gorgeously shot with a stunning score, you’ll remember this genre-defying film about the migrant crisis and first loves long after you’ve finished it.
Blue Is The Warmest Colour
Full disclosure: you’ll want to set aside three hours-plus and then emotionally write off the rest of your evening. But, trust us, it’ll be worth it and you won’t be watching the clock. This incredibly powerful French film and Palme D’Or winner from 2013 is another moving story of first love, following a teen who embarks on her first relationship with another woman. You might have heard about it for its graphic sex scenes but the real talking points are the outstanding performances from leads Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux.
First They Killed My Father
Based on activist Loung Ung’s incredible memoir, and directed by Angelina Jolie, First You Killed My Father is a difficult but important watch. Set in 1975 Cambodia, during Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror that caused the deaths of over 2 million Cambodians, the film shows the horrors of war through the eyes of 7-year-old child soldier Loung (Sreymoch Sareum) and the Ung family. While harrowing, Jolie handles the brutal subject matter with skill and sensitivity, with critics called it her “best work as a director yet.”
My Happy Family
This captivating Georgian drama from 2017 follows Manana (Ia Shughliashvili), a teacher who lives with her husband, parents, two children and son-in-law in a bustling three-bed flat in Tbilisi. On the eve of her 52nd birthday, she suddenly announces to her family that she is leaving them. Wonderfully acted and sharply observant (oh, and with a 100% RT rating to boot), My Happy Family deftly debates the self vs. the family unit as one woman searches for independence in a patriarchal society.
How’s this for a premise? You wake up in a large prison cell, in a randomly assigned level of a tower block. There’s a huge hole in the floor and ceiling. Each day, a platform of food is slowly lowered from the top floor, stopping at each prison cell along the way. Food becomes sparser and sparser. Do you eat all you can get or do you spare a thought and a crumb for those below you? Spanish director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia might not tiptoe around this disturbing sci-fi thriller’s capitalist analogy, but executes it with enough suspense, pace and shocking twists to make it permissible.
If you’re interested in South Korean cinema, remember the name Park Chan-wook. You might already know the director’s work, from Oldboy to Stoker to BBC’s The Little Drummer Girl, but 2016’s BAFTA-winning The Handmaiden is considered by many to be his masterpiece. Inspired by the Welsh novel Fingersmith, with the action moved from Victorian Britain to Korea under Japanese rule, this visually stunning psychological thriller spins a silken tale of an orphaned pickpocket, a lonely heiress and a plot to fleece the latter of her inheritance. Erotic, lush, darkly comic and packed with melodrama, it’s a real must-watch for foreign-language film fans.
Divines is a film that is unafraid and unashamed to get in your face. French director Houda Benjamina’s punchy debut depicts the harsh reality of growing up in poverty, following two teenage best friends who start working for a local drug dealer to make ends meet. Thrilling and energetic, it’s a powerful social commentary that’ll leave you breathless… and a female buddy movie that’ll leave you with a broken heart.
This time-bending 2020 thriller from South Korea connects two women in the same home, but 20 years apart. After moving back home Seo-yeon (Park Shin-hye) starts receiving phone calls from Young-Soon (Jeon Jong-seo), a troubled young woman who also happens to be calling from 1999. While they initially form an alliance, things soon turn deeply sinister. Prepare for shocks, twists, turns and time-travelling in abundance – and horror fans won’t fail to spot a few homages to some all-time classics along the way.