By Guest Blogger: Rudrangshu Das
Over the last few years I have been watching quite a few international films. After a close friend of mine introduced me to the world of world cinema around 4 years back, I have been hooked. Now having watched quite a few of the world’s best movies I can say this much – a movie aficionado’s collection can never be complete if he has not watched movies from different corners of the globe. Although Hollywood has been the mainstay of the movie industry for long, after a while (a while could last well around a decade) of watching Hollywood movies, things can become boring and monotonous. With the amount of movies made every year in Hollywood, its natural that a lot of the focus is on making money at the Box Office than producing quality. Plus Hollywood’s love for cliched themes like – aliens, zombies, superheroes, vietnam war… there’s only so much of that one can digest. But variety is not the only thing that world cinema offers. Its biggest offering is a different cultural perspective on life. I know how most of my knowledge of America its history and culture is through the american movies I have watched over the years. Same is true for world cinema. Cinema provides a lens to view the whole world. Also over the years there have been great non-american directors who have redefined cinema with their style.
Without wasting any more time, I will list here some of the best world movies that I have seen. Feel free to comment and suggest more titles. The list is in no particular order, I have made no effort to rank the movies.
- Cinema Paradiso – This was one of the first foreign language movies I had seen and it is undoubtedly one of the best. No movie depicts the magic of cinema better than this movie. Its the story of a small boy who grows up watching cinema in a theater called Nuovo Cinema Paradiso in a small Italian town and his relationship with the projectionist of the theater. This is one of the more conventional movies with a linear plot told mostly in flashback. The film evokes a feeling of nostalgia in the viewer’s mind, of the days before the advent of digital cinema and surround sound. One of the most memorable scenes of this film is where – the local priest watches every movie in the theater before it is opened to general public, to check for objectionable clips in the movie. So every time he sees a kiss or a lady in a swimsuit he rings a bell that he holds in his hand and the projectionist marks the reel, to cut it out later. The music by Ennio Morricone is just sublime. Here is the IMDB link.
- Memories of Murder – I am a big fan of thriller movies and this one tops the list. Its a South Korean movie based on true events. 2 detectives looking for a serial killer. Doesn’t sound too original does it. Well from a plot perspective it probably isn’t. What sets this movie apart from other hollywood movies of the same genre is as I had earlier mentioned, the cultural aspect. A series of rapes & murders are committed in a small obscure town. The investigating detectives are not trained with the most up to date techniques to handle this kind of situation, their day to day work involves catching petty thieves and beating a confession out of them. And here they don’t have the luxury of calling FBI to their rescue. This movie captures this gap beautifully, at times the detectives seem utterly helpless in their quest to catch the criminal, but never do they look short of passion or intent. This is a must watch for all thriller movie fans. Here is the IMDB link.
- The Return – I can’t remember a more emotional and moving story told in such minimalistic fashion elsewhere. The Return is a Russian movie by debutante director Andrei Zviagintsev. The story is about 2 young boys (brothers) and their father who returns to them one day suddenly after 12 years. All they remember of him is an old photograph. The whole movie is the story of a trip the 3 of them take to an island and how that trip changes their lives forever. The movie deliberates on the complexities of human relationships – how difficult it is for an estranged father to ever have a normal relationship with his children. The movie is beautifully shot and very leisurely made, at times slow but never boring. The Return is one of my all time personal favorites. Here is the IMDB link.
- Oldboy – If ever evil could be presented with style and panache, it would come close to Park Chan-wook’s depiction in Oldboy. The evil here is not Satan or Antichrist or any such variant. Oldboy deals with the evil inside the human mind. This film was the second in a revenge trilogy by the South Korean filmmaker. The story shows how revenge consumes a man and turns him into a monster. The denouement makes you sick to the gut. But what stands out for me is the style with which even the most violent scenes of the movie were shot. One scene that comes to mind is a the corridor fight scene which took seventeen takes and 3 days to perfect. I quite like Choi Min-sik’s portayal of the lead character in the film. Over the years Oldboy has acquired a cult following. It set a new benchmark in extreme cinema which filmmakers have ever since tried to accomplish. Here is the imdb link.
- Children of Heaven – Children of heaven is an Iranian film by Majid Majidi. It is one of the sweetest films you will ever watch. The story revolves around 2 children (brother & sister) from a poor Iranian family and a pair of pink shoes. Saying anything more about the story would spoil the fun. The movie reminds us of the innocence of childhood. The movie earned an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film in 1998 but was beaten by the Italian world war 2 film Life is beautiful. Here is the IMDB link.
- All about my mother – This is one of the more complex films in this list and of all the movies I have watched. The movie deals with subjects like gender confusion, prostitution, drugs. This movie had quite a few passing references and undertones, all of which I confess I didn’t understand completely myself – like references to A Streetcar named Desire and All about Eve. But the central theme of the movie is the woman, of all the roles she has to play in her life, how she is tormented and betrayed and hurt by men at different times but she deals with all that and fights throughout her life to establish her identity. The film’s central character is a middle aged woman, a nurse who is a single mother of a teenage boy. The boy wants to become a writer when he grows up and is working on a project called – “All about my mother” for which he wants to learn about the father he never met and about whom he knows nothing. The son gets killed in a road accident on the eve of his seventeenth birthday, his mother then decides to embark on a journey to search for the boy’s father with whom she had long lost contact. In a way the movie tells us the story of the mother through her search for her son’s father. Pedro Almodovar received a Palme d’Or at Cannes for this movie and it also won an Oscar for the Best Foreign language Film. A brilliant movie and a must watch for any film buff. Here is the IMDB link.
- Cache (Hidden) – Michael Haneke’s Cache gives a new definition to the mystery genre. Like Haneke’s other films this one doesn’t provide any concrete answers to the questions it raises. The main plot goes like this – someone makes video recordings of a french family’s house entrance from the corner of one of the streets, and leaves the tapes everyday on their footsteps. Creepy isn’t it. The family gets scared and makes a complaint to the police, but they can’t do anything since no apparent threat has been made. Then with the videotapes comes drawings which remind the main protagonist of an unpleasant event from his childhood. The rest of the film is about the hero trying to recall these events and trying to find out who his tormentor might be, but if he will find an answer or not … well you will have to watch the movie for that. The movie deals with the subject of fear, the fear which is not palpable but buried deep beneath one’s hearts. True to the title, the subject of this fear doesn’t become very clear without a bit of a background. The movie indirectly relates to France’s repressed memory of an unfortunate event in its modern history, la nuit noire, the night of October 17 1961, when hundreds of Algerian demonstrators in Paris were beaten and killed by the police. How even after so many years the guilt and residual fear from that event still haunts its citizens. Cache belongs to the genre of thoughtful cinema, its a mystery without its usual characteristics, scary background music, unexpected climaxes etc. Again a must watch for any film connoisseur. Here is the IMDB link.
- The Bicycle Thieves & Rashomon –No list of world cinema can be complete without these 2 classics. So much has been said already about these 2 movies that I am not going to comment any more. Both movies are absolute classics and have inspired great filmmakers throughout the world. IMDB link for Bicycle Thieves and Rashomon.