There are countless hidden gems out there, but here are four of my favourite international films that are worth checking out.
As any film school hipster will be only too happy to tell you, the movies coming out of Hollywood have dominated the global entertainment scene for nearly a century, even though they only represent something like 35 per cent of worldwide commercial film releases each year. You’d almost be forgiven for completely forgetting that other countries have their own film industries.
Even so, occasionally a foreign movie will capture the imagination of audiences across the world…
Pan’s Labyrinth (Mexico, 2006)
With Guillermo del Toro in the director’s chair, this was always going to be one crazy, terrifying ride. Set in fascist Spain during WW2, it follows a young girl as she becomes lost in a dark fairy tale kingdom, guided by the eponymous satyr, Pan.
Pan’s Labyrinth scooped an armful of Oscars, BAFTAs and Golden Globes. In spite of some truly monstrous creature effects and uncomfortable scenes of domestic abuse, it has become popular with a slightly younger audience than it was probably intended for.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (China/Taiwan, 2000)
Following hot on the heels of The Matrix, and satisfying our newfound desire for outrageous martial arts scenes, this was a breakout western release for the traditional ‘wuxia’ hero movies. In an almost mythical China, warrior monks and desert nomads bend the laws of physics in ever-more elaborate fight sequences, set over a dramatic plot of revenge and personal empowerment.
In spite of the entire film being presented in Mandarin, it became the single highest grossing foreign film in American cinema history, introduced mainstream moviegoers to Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh, and won more awards than you can shake a mystical green sword at.
Downfall (Germany, 2004)
One of the most depressing films of the last 10 years saw Bruno Ganz portraying Adolf Hitler in the final days of the war, before his inevitable suicide. Based largely on the memoirs of the Fuhrer’s own secretary, it gives a guilt-ridden and distinctly German angle on events that have traditionally been told from the Allies’ perspective.
This film truly entered our wider cultural awareness when online videos of Hitler’s infamous enraged outburst were re-subtitled and went viral – hilariously inconsequential rants about everything from the price of video games to the final episode of The Sopranos are a mere YouTube search away…
Oldboy (South Korea, 2003)
A particularly brutal thriller with some darkly comic elements, this movie is renowned for its particularly intricate one-take fight sequence in which the protagonist takes on dozens of brawlers single-handedly in a narrow corridor. While only 165 seconds long, the scene depicts violent assaults with a hammer, planks of wood and other improvised weapons, and even a clearly visible stabbing, which was reportedly one of the few instances of CGI in the whole film.
While ‘extreme Asia’ movies are known for athletic combat, this upped the expectations for the genre and remains a firm favourite of the connoisseur.