1. Sin Nombre (Mexico, 2009)
Director: Cary Fukunaga
Willy begins to have second thoughts about his loyalty to his gang when his gang leader accidentally kills his girlfriend, but when they attempt to rob illegal immigrants stowing away on a train to gain passage to the U.S., things turn even more sour. To protect a young girl that his gang leader tries to rape, Willy takes a machete to his neck; from there on, he tries to help the girl and her family make it across the border undetected whilst trying to stay one step ahead of his angry former “homies” who want atonement for their leader’s death.
2. After The Wedding (Denmark, 2006)
Director: Susanne Bier
In an attempt to save his Indian orphanage, Jacob accepts a donation offer from a Danish corporation only to be told that he has to fly to Denmark to meet the CEO, Jorgen, as a condition of the donation. Once he arrives, Jorgen invites Jacob to his daughter’s wedding, and Jacob discovers that (whoa!) Jorgen’s wife is one of his ex-girlfriends and that (whoa!) Jorgen inviting him to the wedding may have been less coincidental and more finely orchestrated than he had thought.
3. Cache (France, 2005)
Director: Michael Haneke
A married couple start anonymously receiving surveillance tapes that capture them going about their everyday life, and they desperately try to discover where these tapes are coming from and why someone is sending them to them. This film is truly tres bizarro, but it approaches the topics of burying the past, forgiveness, and the unknown with real grace and style.
4. All About My Mother (Spain, 1999)
Director: Pedro Almodovar
After witnessing her son’s accidental death, Manuela flees Madrid and travels to Barcelona to seek out her son’s father that he never knew. On her quest she befriends an aging actress and a pregnant nun (played by Penelope Cruz!), and reconnects with an old friend who is a transsexual prostitute. All About My Mother is a beautiful portrait of women, from all walks of life, in community with one another.
5. Goodbye, Lenin! (Germany, 2003)
Director: Wolfgang Becker
Alex’s mother, a staunch supporter of the Socialist Party in East Berlin, suffers a heart attack and falls into a coma after she sees Alex participate in an anti-government demonstration on television. While she’s in a coma, the Berlin Wall falls and Germany begins to unify. When she awakes from her coma, the doctor tells Alex and his sister that their mother’s heart can’t handle any kind of shock, so, along with his sister and nurse that has helped care for his mother, Alex goes to elaborate and often hilarious lengths to recreate and maintain a pre-unification Germany for his mother to inhabit.
6. Dancer In The Dark (Denmark, 2003)
Director: Lars von Trier
Selma, a Czech immigrant who is slowly losing her sight because of a hereditary disease, works long and hard in a factory to save money for an operation that will prevent her son Gene from suffering her same fate. She daydreams that her life is part of a musical, and as the conditions of her world worsen, her daydreams become more vivid and elaborate. When her landlord tries to steal the money she’s saved for Gene, she goes Mama Bear on him with devastating results. NOTE: This is by far the saddest film I have ever seen. It’s sadder than American History X and Precious combined, if you can imagine such a thing. Have a box of tissues (or several) on the ready when you watch it.
7. I’ve Loved You So Long (France, 2008)
Director: Phillipe Claudel
After serving a fifteen-year prison sentence, Juliette is released and goes to live with her sister Lea and her family. Everyone feels kind of uncomfortable around her because the circumstances of her sentence are a mystery and she refuses to talk about it. A really fascinating story about re-assimilating into a society that has become foreign to you, and the disconnect between following the rules and doing the right thing.
Read about 7 more of my favorite foreign films here!