I gained a love and appreciation for foreign films when I was in high school, after watching the 2007 biopic “La Vie en Rose.” When my French teacher brought this film up in class one day, I was the only student who knew what he was talking about. I remember some of my classmates looking at me like I was weird, probably wondering why a 17-year-old American would watch a foreign, art-house film.
Foreign films are a beautiful experience because you have the chance to see a real, accurate representation of a different country and culture, while hearing dialogue in that country’s native language. It’s like visiting another country from the comfort of your living room, no passport or expensive plane ticket required. Contrary to popular belief, foreign language films are not boring, overly-artsy, or a niche genre reserved for intellectuals and snooty film aficionados. Just like English-speaking films, foreign films can be scary, funny and exciting.
Here are six of my favorite foreign-language films:
“The Hunt” (“Jagten”) Denmark, 2012 Director: Thomas Vinterberg Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) is a lonely teacher fighting for custody of his son in a close-knit Danish community. When things finally start to turn around for him, a small, innocent lie told by one of the children in his class shatters everything—threatening to destroy his life forever.
“Amelie” (“Le fabuleux destin d’Amelie Poulain”) France, 2001 Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet Sweet, naïve Amelie Poulain (Audrey Tatou) sees the world differently than everyone else. We follow her throughout Paris on her quest to make others happy, which in turn, leads her to find love and happiness herself.
“Pan’s Labyrinth” (“El laberinto del fauno”) Spain/Mexico, 2006 Director: Guillermo del Toro This fantastical masterpiece is set in 1944 Francoist-Spain and follows the studious yet fanciful Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) who lives with her pregnant, sickly mother and new stepfather, a sadistic army officer. To escape her terrible stepfather and the violence of Franco’s regime, Ofelia runs away to a strange and enchanted fantasy world.
“Bread and Tulips” (“Pane e tulipani”) Italy, 2000 Director: Silvio Soldini Rosabla (Licia Magiletta) is a sad housewife. When she is abandoned on a bus tour of Venice, she decides to stay there and start a new life of love and excitement.
“A Royal Affair” (“En kongelig affære”) Denmark, 2012 Director: Nikolaj Arcel Young Queen Caroline Mathilde (Alicia Vikander) is married to the insane King Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard,) who abuses and torments her daily. When a politically liberal physician (Mads Mikkelsen) is hired to take care of the royal couple, he and the young queen fall in love. Through their secret affair, they start a revolution which changes Denmark forever.
“La Vie en Rose” (“La môme”) France, 2007 Director: Olivier Dahan In an Oscar-winning performance, Marion Cotillard portrays world-renowned cabaret singer, Edith Piaf, in this biopic which exposes the tragic and dangerous life Piaf lead before and after she achieved stardom.