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Your Favourite Foreign Language Films


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The Wife Killer  (1974)  Greece/Dir: Kostas Karagiannis  -  A philandering dilettante plots to have his older, wealthy wife killed so that he can inherit her money and run away with his young mistress. However, his choice of assassin is a serial rapist and murderer who ends up being even more trouble. With Lakis Komninos, Dorothy Moore, Vagelis Seilinos, Fragoulis Fragoulis, and Jane Paterson. This sleazy crime thriller features a lot of violence against women, so much so that even my jaded sensibilities were a bit unnerved. The performances were decent, and stylistically the film resembles many of the Italian gialli of the period. Also released as Death KissThe Rape Killer, and He Murdered His Wife.    (5/10)

  

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The Wolf Girl  (1974)  Taiwan/Dir: Tung-Min Chen & Kuang Hui  -  Fantasy/horror madness about an evil wizard who promises to help a nobleman create a "ghost child", a mystical being with great magic powers that will do the bidding of its creator. However, it requires the nobleman to sacrifice his unborn child, which the mother is reluctant to do. She runs away, and gives birth to twin girls who get separated soon after. One grows up in a small village as a nice serving girl, while her twin grows up in the forest, becoming a feral "wolf girl". Everyone gets tangled up with the evil wizard again. This unusual, silly and cheap action fantasy was a Taiwan-Thailand co-production. There is less martial arts fighting than in many films of the type, and more sex. On the whole it's pretty awful.   (4/10)

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Belladonna of Sadness  (1973)  Japan/Dir: Eiichi Yamamoto  -  Psychedelic animated film based on a French novel in which a peasant girl is raped by a feudal lord and then outcast from her village. She makes a pact with a demon in order to get revenge. I can see this being very popular with headshop-stoner crowd. It's both visually dated and unusual, particularly for Japanese animation. It's fairly sexually explicit, with a lot of nudity and bizarre sexual motifs. The artwork ranges from brief snippets of standard 2D animation stuff to still watercolors, mixed with strobing effects and rapid-fire montages. There are also a few songs, and lengthy acid-jazz ramblings on the soundtrack. It wasn't my cup of tea, but I can see why it's a cult favorite to many.   (5/10)

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6 hours ago, LawrenceA said:

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Belladonna of Sadness  (1973)  Japan/Dir: Eiichi Yamamoto  -  Psychedelic animated film based on a French novel in which a peasant girl is raped by a feudal lord and then outcast from her village. She makes a pact with a demon in order to get revenge. I can see this being very popular with headshop-stoner crowd. It's both visually dated and unusual, particularly for Japanese animation. It's fairly sexually explicit, with a lot of nudity and bizarre sexual motifs. The artwork ranges from brief snippets of standard 2D animation stuff to still watercolors, mixed with strobing effects and rapid-fire montages. There are also a few songs, and lengthy acid-jazz ramblings on the soundtrack. It wasn't my cup of tea, but I can see why it's a cult favorite to many.   (5/10)

Yeah, I didn't like it much either.  But it does have the voice of Tatsuya Nakadai for fans of his work.

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Son of the White Mare  (1981)  Hungary/Dir: Marcell Jankovics  -  Animated fantasy steeped in Hungarian folklore that follows a trio of mystical brothers that unite to save a trio of princesses from a trio of dragons. The very unique art style is eye-popping, and it adds immeasurably to the ambience. The many psychedelic touches add to the story rather than distract, creating recurring motifs and visuals cues without descending in self-indulgence. This was a flop in its home country at the time of release. Since then it has been heralded as an underrated masterpiece by animation fans.  (7/10)

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1934

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4.  Madame Bovary (1934) Jean Renoir, France

Number 4 out of only 5 FF’s that I’ve seen from this year.  It could have been much better.  IMO it suffered with the casting of Valentine Tessier as the lead.

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Faust  (1994)  Czech Republic/Dir: Jan Svankmajer  -  Retelling of the Faust legend, this time mixing live action with stop-motion animation. A lonely everyman (Petr Cepek) follows a mysterious map to a puppet theater where he embarks on a surreal journey through the Faust story. Claymation and old-fashioned stringed marionettes are combined to interesting effect. The narrative is hazy at best, and one would be advised to just sit back and take it in. Not really my type of experience, but it was unusual.   (6/10)

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Millennium Actress  (2001)  Japan/Dir: Satoshi Kon  -  Animated film about an aged actress who is prompted by interviewers to reminisce about her long and turbulent life through the 20th century. In an inventive narrative twist, the two interviewers are transported through time to the different eras of the actress's life to witness firsthand her experiences. Well written and worth checking out.   (7/10)

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The Wolf House  (2018)  Chile/Dir: Joaquin Cocina & Cristobal Leon  -  Another very bizarre animated film, this time a surrealist fable concerning a young woman who is exiled from her cult-like religious community after allowing two pigs to escape their pen. She hides out with the pigs in a strange house that begins to have a transformative effect on everyone. Based loosely on the real isolationist community known as Colonia Dignidad, an agrarian religious commune led by a former Nazi and convicted child molester who also worked with the Pinochet government to incarcerate, torture and murder dissidents during the Chilean political upheaval of the 20th century. The film, presented as a production created by the Colonia members themselves, is surreal to the point of indecipherability, at least for me. It's unique, purposefully low-tech animation techniques will appeal to fans of fringe animation. As with so many of these avant-garde animated features, it wasn't my cup of tea.   (5/10)

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1935

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5.  The Count of the Old Town (1935) Edvin Adolphson, Sweden

Quite enjoyable comedy about the people inhabiting a small hotel who come under suspicion when a series of local robberies occur.  Tremendous Criterion restoration of this film that boasts some very good location shooting.  Ingrid Bergman is radiant in this early work and actually gets to sing.  It was recently on TCM celebrating Ingrid Bergman’s SOTM.

 

and I’ve also seen …

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Aerograd aka Frontier (1935) Aleksandr Dovzhenko, Russia

Well shot but downright comical at times by today’s standards.  Apparently the tale of Russians in Siberia fending off patrols by the Japanese.  I found it hard to follow and with the version that I watched you couldn’t do a better job of cryptically mangling a subtitle translation if you tried.  IMO for film history lovers only.

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Red Dot (2021)  Sweden/Dir: Alain Darborg  -  Grisly thriller about a young couple (Nanna Blondell & Anastasios Soulis) who take a trip to the remote north of Sweden to try and rekindle their troubled marriage. However, they are soon set upon by a mysterious killer or killers, armed with high-powered rifles sporting laser sights (the "red dot" of the title), who terrorize the duo in the frigid wilderness. Also featuring Johannes Kuhnke, Thomas Hanzon, Anna Azcarate, and Kalled Mustonen. Nothing very original here, although the story takes some not-entirely-unexpected turns in the last act. I was really put off by some violence against dogs, and my interest was lukewarm at best for the rest of the duration.   (4/10)

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1936

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1. Mayerling (1936) Anatole Litvak, France

I finally got around to seeing this Charles Boyer, Danielle Darrieux film that won the NY Film Critics Best Foreign Film of 1937 Award.    I loved it.  It was obviously done on a budget.  No huge crowd scenes but it was all done with such intelligence and good acting.

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The Hand of God  (2021)  Italy/Dir: Paolo Sorrentino  - Semi-autobiographical  coming-of-age tale set in Naples about a 16-year-old boy (Filippo Scotti) who dreams of being a film director. He tries to navigate his large family's many trials and tribulations, some minor and some major, all the while gathering inspiration for future storytelling. Sorrentino (The Consequences of LoveIl DivoThe Great Beauty) is a hit-or-miss filmmaker for me, although he's usually a critical darling. I thought this was perhaps his best film, even if it's a bit too similar to other films of the type (Alfonso Cuaron's Roma and Fellini's Amarcord come to mind). The large cast is good, with standout work by Sorrentino regular Toni Servillo as the protagonist's father, Luisa Ranieri as a beautiful yet troubled aunt, and Betti Pedrazzi as an eccentric neighbor. The film may be a bit to meandering and ultimately inconsequential, but I liked it a lot, and I appreciated the more straightforward filmmaking on display rather than Sorrentino's usual overload. Recommended.   (8/10)

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The Medium  (2021)  Thailand/Dir: Banjong Pisanthanakun  -  Presented as a documentary, the story concerns Nim (Sawanee Utoomma), an unmarried middle-aged seamstress and shaman. Local villagers come to her for minor supernatural ailments and afflictions, for which she intercedes with the local deity. Things get complicated when Nim's niece Mink (Narilya Gulmongkolpech) begins to show signs of illness, which may indicate that she is inheriting the familial obligation to serve the deity, or perhaps something worse.

From the director of Shutter and the writer of The Wailing, there's a lot to like in this complex horror tale. The lead is unusual, for one, a very non-glamorous, stocky, middle-aged lady with a weathered face. She's very believable, and her performance perfectly natural. I'm not a big fan of the faux-documentary format, and the film also runs a bit too long (it's well over two hours). That aside, I enjoyed the in-depth look at the regional beliefs and superstition.  (7/10)

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Titane  (2021)  France/Dir: Julia Ducournau  -  Bizarre fantasy/character drama/thriller (?) starring Agathe Rousselle as a disturbed young woman with a plate in her head from a childhood accident. She works as a dancer at auto trade shows, as well as moonlighting as a serial killer. She gets pregnant after having sex with a car (really), then is forced to go on the run. To reveal more would be too much, as this only scratches the initial surface of the film, and being uncertain of where it is going is part of the charm, if that's the right word. This baffling oddity from the director of the excellent Raw (2016) won the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes film festival.   (7/10)

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Gente en Sitios ( People in Places). 2013. Directed by Juan Cavestany. Spain.

A series of unrelated and very brief segments of people in comic, dramatic, or surreal situations that represent daily life in Spain.

Cavestany uses both rehearsed and improvised scenes to great effect; the editing weaves the unconnected vignettes seamlessly into a colorful whole.

The large cast includes Antonio de la Torre, Tristán Ulloa, Maribel Verdú, David Luque, and many more.

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I saw a lot of annoyance from foreign film fans on Twitter today at the announcement of the Oscar shortlist for Best International Film, and that odds-on favorite Titane was left off the list. Here is what's on it:

  • Compartment No. 6, Finland
  • Drive My Car, Japan
  • Flee, Denmark
  • The Good Boss, Spain
  • Great Freedom, Austria
  • The Hand of God, Italy
  • A Hero, Iran
  • Hive, Kosovo
  • I'm Your Man, Germany
  • Lamb, Iceland
  • Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom, Bhutan
  • Playground, Belgium
  • Plaza Catedral, Panama
  • Prayers for the Stolen, Mexico
  • The Worst Person in the World, Norway

I've heard a lot of positive things about the films from Japan, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, and Norway.

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1937

Of the 7 FF films I have seen from this year

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5.  Lady Killer (1937) Jean Gremillion, France

Playboy Jean Gabin meets femme fatale Mirielle Balin.  A lesser Pepe le Moko but the cinematography by Gunther Rittau (Metropolis 1927) is very good

 

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7.  The Straits of Love and Hate (1937) Kenji Mizoguchi, Japan

Interesting story of a doomed rich/poor love affair where the girl has a baby out of wedlock.  It has a few twists that you don’t see coming.  But the print that I saw was in bad shape and the subtitle translation was very mangled.  The film is mostly comprised of master shots which makes it all the more difficult with such a bad print.  Unfortunately this is typical of films made prior to and during WWII as most of the film laboratories went up in flames when the Allies bombed Tokyo which resulted in huge fire storms.

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1938

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7.  Covered Tracks (1938) Veit Harlan, Germany

Later remade as So Long at the Fair (1950) with Jean Simmons.  A young woman travels with her mother to Paris for an exposition.  When she awakens in her hotel room there is no trace of her mother and everyone denies ever seeing her.  Interesting but for me there was too many flaws in its logic and the audience is ten steps ahead of the lead character which is a problem.  Philip Dorn, who was soon to flee to America plays the love interest.  Director Harlan, uncle of Stanley Kubrick’s wife, Christina was soon to become infamous as a Nazi propagandist.

 

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8.  Quadrille (1938) Sacha Guitry, France

Light drawing room comedy about a love quadrille in the vein of Noel Coward but missing his wit.  So so.

 

and I’ve also seen …

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Let’s Go Up the Champs-Elysees (1938) Sacha Guitry, Robert Bible, France

Intended to be a light amusing anthology of tales chronicling the history of Paris’ most famous avenue with Guity playing multiple roles.  Perhaps this was of its time but I happened to find it much too long and quite boring.

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