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Your Favourite Foreign Language Films


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The 2021 Toronto Film Critics Association Best Foreign Film Award …

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Drive My Car (2021) Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Japan **** [also Best Picture Winner]

 

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Petite Maman (2021) Celine Sciamma, France

 

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

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1958

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6.  Eva Wants to Sleep (1958) Tadeusz Chmielewski, Poland

This winner of the San Sebastian Film Festival.  A young woman arrives in a big city in the middle of the night with nowhere to stay.  This is a delightful, gentle comedy in the vein of After Hours (1985).  Roman Klosowski (left) was a particular stand out.

 

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The Spessart Inn (1958) Kurt Hoffmann, Germany

Charming film in the pantomime theatre style with some rhyming dialogue.  Liselotte Pulver (left) stars as a Countess who is kidnapped by highwaymen for ransom whilst on her way to marry someone she doesn’t love.  Pulver won the German Film Best Actress Award.

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Dance Card  (1937)  France/Dir: Julien Duvivier  -  A recent widow (Marie Bell) decides to track down all of the men with whom she danced at an event decades earlier. She finds that the men have led varied lives, with outcomes both humorous and tragic. Featuring Raimu, Francoise Rosay, Louis Jouvet, Harry Baur, Pierre Blanchar, Fernandel, and Pierre Alcover. A terrific cast highlights this well-done feature, which was remade in 1941 as Lydia. Also known as Dance ProgramChristine, and released by Criterion under the original French title of Un carnet de bal.    (7/10)

 

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Desire  (1937)  France/Dir: Sacha Guitry  -  Guitry stars as a charming servant who comes to work for a wealthy family, causing light-comedy-turmoil for the family and the other servants. Featuring Jacqueline Delubac, Jacques Baumer, and Arletty. Based on the play by Guitry, this is mildly enjoyable but for me instantly forgettable.   (6/10)

 

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The Pearls of the Crown  (1937)  France/Dir: Sacha Guitry  -  More light comedy, this time with a historical setting, as the history of a set of pearls is described, with stories in French, English and Italian. Featuring Lyn Harding, Jacqueline Debulac, Renee Saint-Cyr, Ermete Zacconi, Marcel Dalio, Claude Dauphin, Raimu, and Arletty. I enjoyed this slightly more than the previous Guitry film, and seeing the actors playing multiple roles in multiple time periods was interesting.   (6/10)

 

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Hotel du Nord  (1938)  France/Dir: Marcel Carne  -  A poor young couple (Annabella & Jean-Pierre Aumont) and a pimp and his prostitute partner (Louis Jouvet & Arletty) find their fates intertwined at the title locale. Another triumph for Carne following this same year's Port of Shadows, featuring fantastic performances, particularly from Jouvet, and excellent dialogue. Recommended.   (8/10)

 

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The Masseurs and a Woman  (1938)  Japan/Dir: Hiroshi Shimizu  -  A pair of blind masseurs ply their trade at mountain resorts while interacting with the various customers, including a lonely woman. Low-key humor and warm characterizations elevate this slight trifle.   (7/10)

 

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Quadrille  (1938)  France/Dir: Sacha Guitry  -  Guitry again stars, this time as a book publisher who finds himself challenged for the affections of his actress girlfriend (Gaby Morlay) by an American film star (Georges Grey). More light romantic comedy in the Guitry style.   (6/10)

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The 2020 Washington DC Film Critics Association Best Foreign Film …

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

 

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A Hero (2021) Asghar Farhadi, Iran

 

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Lamb (2021) Vladimir Johansson, Iceland

 

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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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1959

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Pensione Edelweiss (1959) Ottorino Franco Bertolini, Victor Merenda, France

High up in the Alps, Lino Ventura runs a posh Inn that offers contracts to suicidal patrons who wish to be sent on their way.  It slowly plays out like Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None (1945) but with much less suspense.

This is shot and played like a television anthology with a twist ending that is too predictable.  Ventura looks as bored with all it as I was.

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Paris,13th District (2021). I wanted to like this a lot more than I did. Set in Paris’s multi-cultural enclave, it tries to be a modern take on Paris Belongs to Us, with monochromatic photography that hearkened back to early 60s New Wave. But the characters are among the most narcissistic, materialistic I’ve seen in quite some time. The sex-scenes, too many of them, are mind-numbingly mechanical and serve to fill screen time because the characters have nothing to say.  Noémie Merlant, who shined in the wonderful Portrait of a Lady on Fire, plays a law student who strikes up a friendship with an internet sex star known as Amber Sweet, (Jehnny Beth), who ends up being the most relatable and likable character. It’s this relationship I found the most engaging.

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1960

and I’ve also seen ….

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Zazie dans le Metro (1960) Louis Malle, France

Very imaginative, frenetic, absurdist comedy about a young girl on the loose in Paris.  There is an incredible sequence with a young, somewhat chubby Philippe Noiret ascending the Eiffel Tower atop the roof of its elevator and then doing all sorts of stunts on the girders and the lips of walkways.  It is followed by a dizzying run by two people down a spiral staircase.  But sadly, for me, this comedy had zero laughs.

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The Winner of the 2021 Berlin International Film Festival was this foreign film …

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Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn (2021) Radu Jude, Romania

 

The Winner of the 2022 Berlin International Film Festival was this foreign film …

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Alcarras (2022) Carla Simon, Spain

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1961

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Wise Guys (1961) Claude Chabrol, France

When his car is removed from its parking spot Jean-Claude Brialy plots an elaborate revenge straight out of Dangerous Liaisons.  This early Chabrol is a bit wonky and not quite believable but it has its moments.

 

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Chronicle of a Summer (1961) Edgar Morin, Jean Rouch, France

Listed by many as one of the best documentaries ever made.  I confess that I didn’t find it very interesting.  In its day it may have been a breakthrough film with its approach of trying to delve into the true character of the people it has decided to focus on.  One thing that I can say is that it questions its own success at doing so.

 

and I’ve also seen ….

 

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Paris Belongs to Us (1961) Jacques Rivette, France

IMO with the exception its choice of some interesting locations this film was so wrong on every level.  A young student is introduced to a bunch of arrogant disagreeable intellectuals.  Though she cannot act she lands a lead role in a theatre director’s new play.  She is warned by someone that the director is in grave danger.  More he will not say.  She is encouraged to find out for herself, then discouraged by the same people.  The director tells her that the success of the play hinges on her finding a tape of the music by someone who has either just committed suicide or has been murdered.  She tries to find the tape and is encouraged and discouraged but the same people.  When she cannot find the MacGuffin she is told it does not matter.  Perhaps it was all a failed attempt at being Kafkaesque.  In the end I didn’t care.

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Ornamental Hairpin  (1941)  Japan/Dir: Hiroshi Shimizu  -  A young soldier (Chishu Ryu), staying at a spa retreat, steps on the title object, injuring his foot. He searches for the woman (Kinuyo Tanaka) it belongs to, and falls for her. Simple wartime romance made with gentle elegance.   (7/10)

 

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Love Letters  (1942)  France/Dir: Claude Autant-Lara  -  Period costume romance with Odette Joyeux as a young widow who intercepts the love letters from an illicit love affair between two acquaintances. Much complication ensues, to my boredom. Not my cuppa.   (5/10)

 

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The Marriage of Chiffon  (1942)  France/Dir: Claude Autant-Lara & Pierre Guerlais  -  More costume romance, with Odette Joyeux as a headstrong young woman forced to conform to societal norms. Yawn. I know I'm being dismissive, but these are not my kind of films, although I will concede that their being made during wartime is impressive.   (5/10)

 

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Douce  (1943)  France/Dir: Claude Autant-Lara  -  Hey, look, it's another period-piece costume romance starring Odette Joyeux. A young woman and her governess are in love with the same man. I thought this one was slightly more compelling than the previous Autant-Lara offerings.   (6/10)

 

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Lumiere d'ete  (1943)  France/Dir: Jean Gremillon  -  Multiple love affairs complicate the lives of the guests at a mountaintop hotel. More wartime romance.   (6/10)

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Jubilation Street  (1944)  Japan/Dir: Keisuke Kinoshita  -  Residents of a particular street are required to move to make way for the war effort. Some resistance is countered with the typical wartime propaganda. Kinoshita somehow manages to instill a bit of humanity a typical late-war period Japanese effort.   (6/10)

 

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The Woman Who Dared  (1944)  France/Dir: Jean Gremillon  -  Madeleine Renaud stars as an aspiring aviatrix. More modestly impressive filmmaking by Gremillon achieved during the Occupation.   (6/10)

 

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In a Better World  (2010)  Denmark/Dir: Susanne Bier  -  Oscar-winning drama about a young boy struggling with grief who acts out more and more dangerously. A worth-see.   (7/10)

 

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Livid  (2011)  France/Dir: Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury  -  The team behind Inside (2007) return with this lackluster horror effort concerning a group of young friends who try to steal a hidden treasure in the dilapidated mansion of an invalid millionaire, only to uncover unspeakable terrors. This was kept out of American cinemas for 11 years as distribution issues with rightsholder Dimension held things up. It finally had its streaming debut this past March after gaining word-of-mouth over the years thanks to the festival circuit. I thought it has a couple of nice touches bust was overall a misfire.   (5/10)

 

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Virus-32  (2022)  Uruguay/Dir: Gustavo Hernandez  -  Yet another zombie outbreak horror-thriller, although this one benefits from the unusual location setting (a massive, crumbling fitness complex in a rundown section of Uruguay) and a gimmicky story point wherein the zombies are rendered motionless for 32 seconds after making a kill, providing short, suspenseful moments for the protagonists to try and escape.    (6/10)

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Misery and Fortune of Women  (1930)  Switzerland/Dir: Eduard Tisse & Sergei Eisenstein  -  Docudrama look at abortion, and the different circumstances facing women from differing economic classes. As bleak as it sounds, and mainly of interest now due to the (uncredited) participation of Eisenstein.   (5/10)

 

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Angels of Sin  (1943)  France/Dir: Robert Bresson  -  Early Bresson effort that examines a group of nuns with various trials and tribulations. Well-wrought, if more mainstream than his later films.   (7/10)

 

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Baron Munchausen  (1943)  Germany/Dir: Josef von Baky  -  Vibrant color fantasy made under the supervision of the ruling Nazi government. That's unfortunate, as this deserves to be seen and respected more than it ever will thanks to that odious connection. Recommended.   (8/10)

 

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Morning for the Osone Family  (1946)  Japan/Dir: Keisuke Kinoshita  -  A family, disillusioned by the war, faces hardship when a gung-ho relative moves in. This postwar drama resembles many made immediately after the war ended, with the characters second-guessing their previous beliefs. Kinoshita's eye for character elevate this above similar efforts.  (6/10)

 

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Sylvia and the Phantom  (1946)  France/Dir: Claude Autant-Lara  -  The director finally makes one that enjoyed, thanks to the addition of a supernatural element to his usual light costume romance tale.   (7/10)

 

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Monsieur Vincent  (1947)  France/Dir:  Maurice Cloche  -  Oscar-winning look at the later years of St. Vincent de Paul (Pierre Fresnay) as he struggles on behalf of women and the poor in the dark days of the 17th century.   (7/10)

 

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Phoenix  (1947)  Japan/Dir: Keisuke Kinoshita  -  Gentle romantic drama about a war widow (Kinuyo Tanaka) who reminisces about her brief marriage.   (7/10)

 

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La Terra Trema  (1948)  Italy/Dir: Luchino Visconti  -  Neorealist socialism melodrama concerning poor Sicilian fishermen and their families struggling to improve their lives and often coming up short. Recommended.   (8/10)

 

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Chains  (1949)  Italy/Dir: Raffaello Matarazzo  -  Florid melodrama about a married woman (Yvonne Sanson) whose life is upended when her criminal former lover forces himself back into her life. Soap opera - Italian style, for those so inclined.   (6/10)

 

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Thirst  (1949)  Sweden/Dir: Ingmar Bergman  -  Melodrama concerning various characters caught up in various romantic entanglements. Early Bergman effort is good (he's already using the two-juxtaposed-faces visual trope), although not in the same league as his later films.   (7/10)

 

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The Sadness  (2021)  Taiwan/Dir: Rob Jabbaz  -  Extreme horror that puts a nasty spin on the zombie-outbreak genre. Characters in a Taiwanese city struggle to survive when a fast-spreading virus turns those afflicted into murderous rapists. This is an extremely graphic film, not for the faint of heart.   (7/10) 

 

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You Won't Be Alone  (2022)  Macedonia/Dir:  Goran Stolevski  -  Unusual supernatural drama about a young woman, raised in isolation, who becomes the victim and acolyte of a shapeshifting witch. The socially-stunted young woman uses her newfound gifts to shapeshift to assume the identities of various people she encounters in an effort to try and have a meaningful life. This American/Australian co-production uses Macedonian as the spoken language, but it was filmed in Serbia, while using many Bulgarian folktales and cultural tropes. The result is an uneven but intriguing arthouse exercise that will appeal to the more adventurous, though patient, viewer, with a vibe like that of Terence Malick remaking The Witch.   (7/10)

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The 2021 Chicago International Film Festival’s Best Picture Award went to this foreign language film …

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Memoria (2021) Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Columbia

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Skyfire (2019)  China/Dir: Simon West  -  Brainless disaster-movie spectacle about a high-priced resort opening on a small island with a massive volcano as the main attraction for tourists. Since it erupted several years earlier, desperate hotelier Jack Harris (a paycheck-cashing Jason Isaacs) assures everyone that it will not erupt again for over a hundred years, but father-daughter volcanologists Wentao (Wang Xueqi) and Meng (Hannah Quinlivan) think otherwise. Guess who's right? This is the kind of expensive-looking dumb stuff that was popular in the U.S. in the 1990's, or on SyFy Channel in the 2000's. There are a few scenes in English (mainly with Isaacs), but most of the film is in Mandarin.   (5/10)

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To Joy (1950)  Sweden/Dir: Ingmar Bergman  -  The tumultuous marriage of a pair of violinists is examined. Starring Stig Olin, Maj-Britt Nilsson, John Ekman, and Margit Carlqvist. Bergman regular Birger Malmsten also appears, and Victor Sjostrom plays the orchestra director and mentor figure. A minor early effort from the director, but still displaying a maturity and subtle complexity that stands out from its contemporaries.   (7/10)

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Tormento (1950)  Italy/Dir: Raffaello Matarazzo  -  The director and the stars of 1949's Chains return with even more soapy melodrama. Yvonne Sanson stars as a young woman living with her elderly father and her vicious stepmother. She finds a chance at happiness with a young man (Amedeo Nazzari), but tragedy strikes at every turn. This is even more over-the-top than the last film, but it's all presented very earnestly.   (6/10)

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Variety Lights (1950)  Italy/Dir: Federico Fellini & Alberto Lattuada  -  I finally got around to watching Fellini's first directing credit. An ambitious young woman (Carla Del Poggio) pushes her way into joining a poor traveling entertainment troupe, causing a rift between the smitten boss (Peppino De Filippo) and his long-suffering girlfriend (Giulietta Masina). 

Fellini already displays his eye for unique faces and society's marginal characters. I was surprised to see black American Army-officer-turned actor John Kitzmiller turn up as a horn-playing vagabond. I know him from his role as Quarrel in the first James Bond film Dr. No, and had no idea that he had a lengthy European film career before that.    (7/10)

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Not only is that Fellini’s first film it is also Sophia Loren’s. She is a dancing girl in the Hawaii themed vaudeville act midway through the movie. She won beauty contests during this time which is what got her into acting.

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Miracle in Milan (1951)  Italy/Dir: Vittorio De Sica  -  Good-natured comedic fantasy about a young oddball (Francesco Golisano) fresh out of the orphanage who selflessly works to improve the lives of a community of beggars and vagrants. When greedy developers set their sights on the land occupied by the ad-hoc neighborhood, divine intervention saves the day, or does it? Enjoyable, if slight, comedy.   (7/10)

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Nobody's Children  (1951)  Italy/Dir: Raffaella Matarrazo  -  Director Matarazzo and stars Amedeo Nazzari & Yvonne Sanson return for more tearjerker melodrama. When a lowborn woman (Sanson) and a highborn man (Nazzari) fall in love, his disapproving mother (Francoise Rosay) interferes with their plans, leading to the expected tragedy and heartbreak. Orphans, attempted suicides, assaults, and even a nunnery all come into play, hitting all the soap opera bases.   (6/10)

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1962

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Akitsu Springs (1962) Yoshishige Yoshida, Japan

Essentially a Japanese Douglas Sirk melodrama involving an ill-fated romance over many years between a young innkeeper (Mariko Okada) and an ex-soldier (Hiroyuki Nagato) who she nurses back to health.  Okada won the Mainichi Best Actress Award.  The print that I saw mentioned at the top that this was her 100th film but the imdb does not list that many credits for her.  The music by Hikaru Hayashi is quite good but it doesn’t belong in this film.  It probably doesn’t belong in any film as it is too heavy-handed, over used and over-bearing and practically ruins every scene.  Such a shame.

 

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Malefices (1962) Henri Decoin, France

I quite enjoyed this one.  A married country veterinarian is entranced by a woman who owns a cheetah.  Is she a sorceress?  Some really good photography.

 

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Conquered City (1962) Joseph Anthony, Italy

This would probably qualify as an English language film if you could find a copy that isn’t dubbed in Italian.  Produced in Italy with David Niven, Ben Gazzara, Martin Balsam, Michael Craig and Percy Herbert.  The print I saw was dubbed in Italian.  The plot has a diverse group defending a hotel from attack by Greek rebels in WWII.  To complicate matters, Commander Niven must ferret out a spy from within.  Pretty low budget but there is lots of gunfire.

 

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Imperial Venus (1962) Jean Delannoy, Italy

Gina Lollobrigida stars as Napoleon’s sister and Stephen Boyd as her Hussar lover.  This was rather ho hum but Lollobrigida won two of Italy’s top acting awards for her performance.  The version that I saw was dubbed in English but I am sure as the imdb states that there were versions in French and Italian as well.

If not for that I would lean toward not listing it as a foreign film because though the film was entirely dubbed in a post studio you could tell that the central characters originally performed their parts on camera in English.

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Waiting Women (1952)  Sweden/Dir: Ingmar Bergman  -  Three sisters-in-law (Anita Bjork, Maj-Britt Nilsson, and Eva Dahlbeck) regale each other with tales from their romantic past while waiting for their husbands to join them at a lakeside vacation house. With Bergman regulars Birger Malmsten and Gunnar Bjornstrand. Mild, soapy but passable.   (6/10)

 

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The White Reindeer  (1952)  Finland/Dir: Erik Blomberg  -  Supernatural folktale set among the Sami of Lapland. A new bride (Mirjami Kuosmanen) grows lonely and jealous as her husband (Kalervo Nissila) is frequently away for long stretches hunting and herding reindeer. The bride turns to a shaman for help in concocting a spell that will make her husband stay home more, but an unexpected side effect sees her turning into a vampire that shapeshifts into the title animal and start killing neighboring men. The unusual setting and culture highlight this simple story, filmed with great beauty in snowy landscapes.   (7/10)

 

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The Black Vampire (1953)  Argentina/Dir: Roman Vinoly Barreto  -  A remake of Fritz Lang's M, that switches up enough to make things interesting. A child murderer is on the loose, and the police struggle to apprehend him. Featuring some terrific cinematography. I think this was shown on TCM's Noir Alley.   (7/10)

 

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Bread, Love and Dreams (1953)  Italy/Dir: Luigi Comencini  -  Light romantic comedy with Vittorio De Sica as an aging police chief newly assigned to a small town. He gets mixed up with local bombshell Gina Lollobrigida. De Sica is enjoyable as usual, and Gina shines, although the material's not really my kind of thing. This was a big hit in Europe and multiple sequels followed. This was also surprisingly nominated for a screenplay Oscar.    (6/10)

 

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The Brute (1953)  Mexico/Dir: Luis Bunuel  -  A greedy landlord hires the title thug (Pedro Armendariz) to scare away poor tenants from one his properties. The Brute takes things too far, but then falls for one of the intended victims (Rosa Arenas). Things are further complicated when the landlord's much younger wife (Katy Jurado) takes a liking to the Brute. Bunuel claims that the script was toned down too much and was fatally compromised, but there's still some strong stuff here for the time, and the acting is good.   (7/10)

 

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El (1953)  Mexico/Dir: Luis  Bunuel  -  Love turns to terror when Francisco (Arturo de Cordova) falls in love with Gloria (Delia Garces), only for his attention to turn into raging jealous paranoia. This has a few more of Bunuel's odd touches, but again he was said to be disappointed in the final product. I didn't warm to it at first, but it grew on me as the depiction of paranoid madness came into focus. I'd been looking forward to seeing this and the previous film above for years, and am happy to marked them off of my cinematic bucket list.   (7/10)

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