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Your Favourite Foreign Language Films


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Kino Eye  (1924)  USSR/Dir: Dziga Vertov  -  Propaganda documentary depicting life in a Soviet village. The content is pure political indoctrination, but the form is noteworthy, as Vertov and his crew use every cinematic style available to tell their story. The editing and camera placements are extraordinary.  (7/10)

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Mother  (1926)  USSR/Dir: Vsevolod Pudovkin  -  Landmark Soviet propaganda film, an adaptation of the novel by Maxim Gorky about a family torn apart by the 1905 worker's uprising. The highlight here, as in so many of the Soviet films of this period, is the groundbreaking editing and camerawork. The editing in particular seems very modern, at times almost frenetic.  Recommended.   (8/10)

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Berlin: Symphony of a Great City  (1927)  Germany/Dir: Walter Ruttmann  -  A day in the life of a city, told without words (no intertitles). The imagery is striking, and seeing how it was made on the eve of WWII and that Berlin would soon be changed forever, it's of great historical value. Excellent visual documentary.  (8/10)

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Arsenal  (1929)  USSR/Dir: Aleksandr Dovzhenko  -  More Soviet propaganda, this time telling the story of a Ukrainian soldier who returns home after fighting in the war, only to get embroiled in the Revolution. Some iconic imagery and more excellent editing result in a worthwhile exercise in political cinema.   (7/10)

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Red Heroine  (1929)  China/Dir: Yi-Min Wen  -  One of the earliest surviving wuxia (martial arts period piece) films. A young woman (Xuepeng Fan) embarks on a quest for revenge against an evil warlord after her grandmother is killed. This is the oldest Chinese film that I've seen, so I'm not sure how to measure it against others from the time. Much of the technique is very dated even for 1929, with many of the sequences looking like something from a French short of the 1900's. The quality of the print I watched was also rather poor, but I suppose one should be happy this is available at all. While running just over 90 minutes, some sources list this as just one part of a 13-chapter serial, with this being the only fragment to survive.   (5/10) 

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1954

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6.  Senso aka The Wanton Contessa (1954) Luchino Visconti, Italy

I first saw this film at the BFI in London in Italian with English subtitles.  Not long after I purchased a used Criterion copy from a rental store that was going out of business.  Disc Two had the English language version of the film called, The Wanton Contessa.

As explained by Farley Granger in the notes, during production he and Alida Valli originally performed all of their scenes in English so it was interesting to see a print with their own voices.  Though early in the film and later in spots there was obviously a need for some dialogue replacement and that is not Granger’s voice doing that work as he was unavailable during post production.   During production Valli originally did her other scenes with the German actors in German and the Italian actors in Italian.  It was also interesting to watch this film in English as Tennessee Williams and Paul Bowles are credited with writing the dialogue.  I don’t think this is one of Visconti’s best, but the costumes and the photography are fantastic.  Giuseppe Rotunno was the operator.

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The Feast  (2021)  UK/Dir: Lee Haven Jones  -  A Welsh politician's family gathers for a fancy dinner party, joined by a mining executive and a neighbor that the others hope to talk into a business deal. The family's usual household help is unavailable, so she sends eccentric barmaid Cadi (Annes Elway) in her place. As the night progresses, things go more and more off the rails. 

This plays like a low-key Bunuel takeoff with supernatural edges. The film gets gory, and it's a little too obscure for its own good. I'm not sure, but I think this may have been the first film that I've seen that was entirely in Welsh.   (5/10)

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Prey  (2016)  Netherlands/Dir: Dick Maas  -  A huge man-eating lion is loose in the streets of Amsterdam, and it's up to a zoo veterinarian (Sophie van Winden) and some big game hunters to stop it. Maas (AmsterdamnedThe Lift) makes what amounts to a better, glossier SyFy channel nature-gone-wild movie, with a lot of humor (of which only about a third lands) and a fair amount of gore. When an English hunter arrives on the scene for the film's final third act, a lot of the dialogue is in English, but the majority of the film is in Dutch. Also released as Uncaged.   (5/10)

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The winner of the 2020 Lumiere Best Film Award was …

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The Things We Say, The Things We Do (2020) Emmanuel Muret, France

 

The winner of the 2020 Lumiere Best International Co-production Award was …

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The Man Who Sold His Skin (2020) Kaouther Ben Hania, Tunisia

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The winner of the 2020 Lumiere Best Film Award was …

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Happening (2021) Audrey Diwan, France

 

The winner of the 2020 Lumiere Best International Co-production Award was …

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The Worst Person In the World (2021) Joachim Trier, Germany

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Don't Kill Me  (2021)  Italy/Dir: Andrea De Sica  -  Mirta (Alice Pagani) is a lovestruck young woman who dies from a drug overdose along with her boyfriend. She wakes up buried in a mausoleum a few days later, and stumbles out into the world once again. Is she a miraculous survivor, a ghost, or something else? 

This was based on a book, and it comes across as the first in a Young Adult series, despite being very R-rated (lots of bloody violence, sex and nudity). The first portion of the film is a vaguely intriguing mystery interspersed with flashbacks on Mirta's romance with the doomed boyfriend. When the story finally lays out what is going on, it becomes both more ludicrous and more predictable. Some scenes are shot with style, some with too much style, and there's heavy use of pop songs both American and European. The director and screenwriter is the granddaughter of Vittorio De Sica!   (5/10) 

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1955

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Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1955) Marc Allegret, France

This D.H. Lawrence adaptation has received quite a few negative reviews on the imdb but I quite enjoyed it.  It also said that it was shot in French but dubbed into English but the print I saw was in French with English subtitles.  Danielle Darrieux plays the title character and Leo Genn her husband.  He does his own French which someone objected to because of his English accent but that didn’t bother me one bit.

 

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Les Grandes Manoeuvres (1955) Rene Clair, France

Gerard Philipe plays a cavalry officer in La Belle Epoch who takes a wager that he can seduce the lady who happens to win a raffle at a ball.  This turns out to be Michele Morgan and Philipe falls desperately in love with her.  This scenario might be the stuff of a screwball comedy in old Hollywood but here it is handled as a melodrama.  It looks great but unfortunately is a bit dull at times.  A young Brigitte Bardot appears.

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The 2021 London Critics Circle Foreign Language Film Award …

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Drive My Car (2021) Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Japan ****

 

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The Hand of God (2021) Paolo Sorrentino, Italy

 

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Petite Maman (2021) Celine Sciamma, France

 

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Titane (2021) Julia Ducournau, France

 

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The Worst Person In the World (2021) Joachim Trier, Germany

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1956

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Gervaise (1956) Rene Clement, France

Very well done Emile Zola kitchen sink tale about a long suffering laundress played by Maria Schell.  She won the Best Actress Award at the Venice Film Festival.  Francois Perier who plays her roofer husband won the BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Actor.

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  • 4 weeks later...

I took some time off from movie watching but I'm back at it now. Here are a few that I've watched recently:

 

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Enthusiasm  (1930)  USSR/Dir: Dziga Vertov  -  Soviet propaganda from visual maestro Vertov, this time working experimentally with sound. The focus is on coal miners, but really the content is just blunt political propaganda. The sound effects, particularly a repeated steam horn motif, grow tiresome very quickly.   (5/10)

 

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Outskirts  (1933)  USSR/Dir: Boris Barnet  -  More Soviet propaganda, but this time told more eloquently. The plot follows a group of factory workers as they decide to strike, and then when they go off to fight in WWI. Excellent, mature visual storytelling.  (7/10)

 

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Three Songs About Lenin  (1934)  USSR/Dir: Dziga Vertov  -  Trio of vignettes illustrating the positive legacy of deceased Soviet leader Lenin. Some interesting visuals highlight more political propaganda.   (6/10)

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Night at the Crossroads  (1932)  France/Dir: Jean Renoir  -  The director's brother Pierre stars as famed detective Maigret, here on the hunt for jewel thieves who hide out in a roadside café. The print I watched was rather murky, so it's tough to truly judge the film, but what I could make out was decent.   (6/10)

 

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Port of Shadows  (1938)  France/Dir: Marcel Carne  -  Various characters converge in the port city of Le Havre, including a deserting soldier (Jean Gabin), a teenager (Michele Morgan) looking for her missing crook boyfriend, and a creepy shopkeeper (Michel Simon) looking for the teenager. The term "film noir" was reputedly invented to describe this film, and the look certainly lives up to that moniker. I thought it was very good, one of the best that I've watched in a while, and my new choice for best foreign language film of 1938.   (8/10)

 

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J'accuse  (1938)  France/Dir: Abel Gance  -  Director Gance remakes his own silent anti-war film. Victor Francen stars as a man who barely survives the horrors of trench warfare in WWI. He becomes determined to convince the world that there should be no more war. Made on the eve of WWII, so we know how well the message was listened to. I thought it was good, especially the fantasy-tinged finale, but I preferred the silent version.   (7/10)

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Tange Sazen and the Million Ryo Pot  (1934)  Japan/Dir: Sadao Yamanaka  -  Various characters scramble to retrieve a clay pot, believed at first to be worthless trash, but which actually contains a secret map to a hidden treasure worth a million ryo. Wonderfully realized characterizations and a sharp script are the highlights.    (7/10)

 

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Sisters of the Gion  (1935)  Japan/Dir: Kenji Mizoguchi  -  Early Mizoguchi melodrama that follows two geisha sisters and their romantic complications. Good acting and a brisk pace make up for a routine story.   (7/10)

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Panique  (1946)  France/Dir: Julien Duvivier  -  When a woman is found murdered in a small French town, an antisocial oddball (Michael Simon) is the prime suspect. Rumor, gossip and yes, panic, slowly take over. A terrific crime drama featuring another great performance from Simon.   (7/10)

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A Ship to India  (1947)  Sweden/Dir: Ingmar Bergman  -  Melodrama concerning sailor Johannes (Birger Malmsten) who returns home from a 7-year voyage. He reflects on his tumultuous past, dealing with his father (Holger Lowenwadler) who brings his mistress (Gertrud Fridh) to live on the family's salvage boat. Early Bergman effort is decent if unexceptional.    (6/10)

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Lacplesis  (1930)  Latvia/Dir: Aleksandrs Rusteikis  -  Unusual film that unfolds in two stories. One is set in a fantastical land of the medieval past and concerns the efforts of the heroic knight Lacplesis (Voldemars Dimze) to recuse the fair princess Laimdota (Lilita Berzina) from the vile Black Knight. This story alternates with one set during wartime early 1900's, with the same cast playing different characters caught up in the conflict. The unusual look of the fantasy villains is memorable, including the Black Knight, who sports an egg-shaped bald head. The cinematic techniques are dated (this is silent, and looks more like a film from 1920 than 1930), and it drags on a bit, but it's not often one gets to see early Latvian High Fantasy films. Also known as The Bearslayer.    (6/10)

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Miss Europe  (1930)  France/Dir: Augusto Genina  -  A bored young working girl (Louise Brooks) enters and wins a beauty contest, bringing fame and fortune. But is it the life she really wants, or will she be happier as a housewife to working class boyfriend Andre (Georges Charlia)?

American Brooks stars here in her third and final European film, and it's very good. The pedigree is noteworthy: the script is by Rene Clair and G.W. Pabst, while the exuberant cinematography is by Rudolph Mate. This was made during the change over from silents to talkies, and much (all?) of the soundtrack is post-dub. The ending is memorable. Also known as Beauty Prize. Recommended.   (8/10)

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Salt for Svanetia  (1930)  USSR/Dir: Mikhail Kalatozov  -  More Soviet propaganda, this time taking the form of a heavily-scripted ethnographic documentary on the people of the remote village of Svanetia, located high in the Caucasus mountains of Georgia. Their subsistence existence is troubled by a lack of salt, so they struggle in the "glorious tradition of Soviet workers" to find a way of getting it. The cinematic techniques are entertaining, as is the look at an exotic locale and its people.    (7/10)

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The 2020 Academy Award Best Foreign Language Film …

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Drive My Car (2021) Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Japan ****

 

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Flee (2021) Jonas Poher Rasmussen, Denmark

 

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The Hand of God (2021) Paolo Sorrentino, Italy

 

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Lunana: A Yak In the Classroom (2019) Pawo Choyning Dorji, Bhutan

 

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The Worst Person In the World (2021) Joachim Trier, Germany

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What Made Her Do It?  (1930)  Japan/Dir: Shigeyoshi Suzuki  -  A young woman (Keiko Takatsu) is forced to move in with relatives who don't want her there. Her life continues to spiral into misery and tragedy. This overtly political film was though lost for decades, and both the very beginning and very ending are still missing, replaced here in the restoration with title cards describing what happened. Unfortunately, this plus the poor condition of much of the rest of the film renders it difficult to form a real assessment. What is there is good, though.   (6/10)

 

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Mr. Thank You  (1936)  Japan/Dir: Hiroshi Shimizu  -  A good-natured bus driver (Ken Uehara) who shouts "thank you" to all passerby while on his route, transports a motley assortment of passengers on his lengthy route. This light, short feature has many sharp character moments and a lot of good outdoor location shots.   (7/10)

 

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Osaka Elegy  (1936)  Japan/Dir: Kenji Mizoguchi  -  A young woman (Isuzu Yamada) agrees to become a paid companion to her boss in order to raise the money needed by her father, who is in serious debt. This early Mizoguchi effort handle mature themes with a subtle deftness.    (7/10)

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1957

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Lovers of Paris (1957) Julien Duvivier, France

This is essentially a screwball comedy about a young ladies man, Gerard Philippe in La Belle Epoch who takes a job as a store clerk and lives in a flat above.  Of course he is surrounded by women who are infatuated by him.  A young Anouk Aimee appears.  Amusing but I have to say I expected a bit more.

 

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La Parisienne (1957) Michel Boisrond, France

Brigitte Bardot’s curves are the whole show in this rather silly farce about a hot young girl who marries a stiff playboy and tries to make him jealous by dating an older Prince played by Charles Boyer.

 

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Country Hotel aka Long Ram Narok (1957) Ratana Pestonji, Thailand

I don’t know how much of a film industry existed in Thailand in the 50’s but this effort is really a train wreck.  It all takes place in two rooms: one a large “hotel” lobby, come tavern and the other the singular guest room.  I suspect it was shot in a garage.  They would have been better served to have hired Ed Wood to construct the set.  The walls shudder whenever a door is opened.  The film begins with several musical numbers in the “hotel” such as a man singing Italian opera.  The hotel only has one guest, a young man.  A lady shows up looking for a room and for a while the film becomes a variation of It Happened One Night.  Then gangsters show up and the film becomes The Petrified Forest.  The young lady manages to dupe the crooks by saying that she forgot her tooth brush down by the river.  The gangster says she can leave but not to be too long.  She comes back with a gun.  I doubt Humphrey Bogart would have fallen for that one!   Definitely a curiosity for those that don’t mind spending just over 2 hours watching something dreadful.

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