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Your Favourite Foreign Language Films


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Goliath and the Barbarians  (1959)  Italy/Dir: Carlo Campogalliani  -  In ancient antiquity, barbarian hordes from the north invade and conquer Verona. A woodcutter (Steve Reeves) is devastated when his father is killed in the raid, so he adopts the masked persona of Goliath, a vengeful warrior who terrorizes the occupying barbarians led by Alboin (Bruce Cabot). With Chelo Alonso as Landa the Dancing Girl, and Livio Lorenzon as Igor. Basically another of Reeves' Hercules movies with just a name change. He gets plenty of opportunities to flex and pose. It's very silly, yet entertaining if you enjoy this sort of thing (I usually do).   (6/10)

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The Rules of the Game (1939) France. I finally got around to watching this lauded film by Jean Renoir, and it lives up to its reputation.  Robert (Marcel Dalio), a nobleman, invites his friends to a gathering at his country estate. The guest list includes André (Roland Toutain), a national hero following his completion of a transatlantic flight; Octave (Jean Renoir), Andre’s friend, a hanger-on who everyone likes; and Geneviève (Mila Parély), Robert’s headstrong former mistress. Romantic machinations ensue as André is still in love with Christine (Nora Gregor), Robert’s wife. Christine wants André to whisk her away, but André, ever the gentleman, prefers to first gently break the news to Robert. Meanwhile, Geneviève uses the opportunity to win Robert back. There’s also Lisette (Paulette Dubost), Christine’s loyal maid, who is trying to hide her affair with a recently hired servant from her husband, a fascistic gamekeeper in Robert’s employment. Renoir skillfully juggles these many story lines, including generous time devoted to the household staff, who know everybody’s business.

The revelers spend their days pheasant hunting, gossiping, and holding a costume party. They exhibit profound ignorance to anything outside their social rituals, even with World War II at France’s doorstep. It would have been tempting for Renoir to take a hammer to these delusional aristocrats. By making the film a comedy of manners, he renders them pathetic. The ensemble gives a great performance, and Renoir employs wide-angle shots and deep focus to great effect.

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The Human Condition  (1959-1961)  Japan/Dir: Masaki Kobayashi  -  Massive 9+ hour adaptation of the novel by Junpei Gomikawa. It's split into three sections, released separately, with the first two in 1959 and the final installment in 1961. Each installment is also divided into 2 parts each.

No Greater Love introduces Kaji (Tatsuya Nakadai), a serious, idealistic pacifist working as a labor organizer for a steel company during the height of WWII. After marrying his sweetheart Michiko (Michiyo Aratama), the couple are sent to Manchuria, where Kaji is tasked with maximizing the output of the Chinese slave labor working in iron mines. Kaji strives to apply his humanistic approaches to this grim situation, but runs up against corruption and antagonism at every turn.

The second installment, Road to Eternity, sees Kaji newly conscripted into military service. The cruel treatment of the recruits by the older servicemen sees Kaji trying to implement reforms once again, with the same unhappy results.

Finally, in the third and final installment A Soldier's Prayer, Kaji and a ragtag group of survivors, both military and civilian, try to make their way through the battleground wastelands in an attempt to avoid the Soviet army, and to try and get home.

Nakadai is phenomenal in a demanding role, and the rest of the cast is very good, too. Stand-outs include Aratama as the put-upon wife, struggling to assist her husband in any way she can; So Yamamura as a veteran labor foreman in No Greater Love; Keiji Sada as Kageyama, an old friend of Kaji's who reappears in his life in Road to Eternity; and Tamao Nakamura and Hideko Takamine as desperate refugees in A Soldier's Prayer. I also liked seeing familiar Shochiku character actor Chishu Ryu as a village elder.

It's a daunting undertaking at 579 minutes all-told, but well worth the effort.   (9/10 for each installment - 10/10 when taken as a whole).

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General Della Rovere  (1959)  Italy/Dir: Roberto Rossellini  -  Vittorio De Sica stars as a poor con artist who is recruited by the occupying Nazis to impersonate an Italian resistance leader. He's sent to prison to infiltrate the resistance ranks there. With Hannes Messemer, Sandra Milo, Giovanna Ralli, and Linda Veras. De Sica is always a joy to watch, and this role seems custom made for him. Some of Rossellini's techniques clash, with some polished scenes, some amateurish, and some so artificial I have to assume they were deliberately so (there's some of the worst rear-projection stuff I've seen in a while). Still, it's worth seeing, warts and all.   (7/10)

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The Lady Vampire  (1959)  Japan/Dir: Nobuo Nakagawa  -  When a woman (Yoko Mihara) who has been missing for 20 years suddenly reappears looking not a day older, her daughter (Junko Ikeuchi) and her reporter boyfriend (Takashi Wada) set to out to discover where she's been and why she hasn't aged. Their search leads to the sinister Shiro Sofue (Shigeru Amachi), an eccentric painter who also happens to be a vampire.

This unusual, largely forgotten horror thriller is reputedly the first supernatural horror with a modern setting made in Japan. It was no doubt inspired by the then-recent international success of the initial Hammer horror films, as well as the re-release in theaters and on television of the Universal horrors. While this vampire shares many characteristics of the traditional European vampire myths, there are some noteworthy changes, like the full moon causing the vampire to become more bloodthirsty and monstrous looking. The storyline also borrows from the 1932 The Mummy, with our antagonist searching for the reincarnation of his beloved princess. 

It's also pretty silly, with a bumbling vampire dwarf assistant, poorly drawn characters, and clumsy fight scenes (this vampire loves to throw chairs at people).   (6/10)

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In the City of Sylvia (2007)  José Luis Guerín, Spain - 6/10- A Spaniard tourist in France searches after a beautiful woman he met six years earlier named Sylvia. He finally catches sight of here and chases here around town though she is creeped out by him and avoids him at every turn. When he finally catches her and talks to her she is surprised he remembers her and tells him she is not interested. I feel the main actor was far too attractive for this role and especially for her to be so repulsed by him. I feel a John C. Reilly looking guy would have served the role much better. All in all, not a bad film just really miscast. 

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Nazarin  (1959)  Mexico/Dir: Luis  Bunuel  -  A young priest named Nazario (Francisco Rabal) struggles to minister to the residents of a slum, only to be met more and more hardships. I'm generally a fan of Bunuel, and had been anticipating this one as it's very highly regarded, but I was disappointed. I just couldn't connect with any of it, and really got nothing out of it.   (5/10)

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Paw  (1959)  Denmark/Dir: Astrid Henning-Jensen  -  Paw (Jimmy Sterman) is a young orphan, born in the West Indies of a Danish father and an islander mother. With both parents now gone, he's sent to Denmark to live with his only family member. He soon finds it too difficult to adjust to Danish life, and runs away to the forest, where he befriends a poor old poacher (Edvin Adolphson).  This is generally agreeable family fare, with the old "wild child" story given some originality thanks to the Danish setting. Also released as Boy of Two Worlds.  (6/10)

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The Innocents  (2021)  Norway/Dir: Eskil Vogt  -  A family of four move to a sprawling apartment complex. Youngest daughter Ida (Rakel Lenora Flottum) resents having to look after her older sister Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad) who has autism. Things take a turn for the better when the two girls meet new neighbor Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth), who quickly forms a bond with Anna, bringing the older girl out of her shell. They also meet Ben (Sam Ashraf), a disturbed young boy with a violent streak. The four children also learn that when in proximity to each other, Anna, Aisha and Ben can tap into some strange form of psychic power that quickly gets out of control.

This is very lowkey despite the fantastical subject matter. It's fairly long and drawn out for this type of film, running nearly 2 hours. It will also frustrate viewers who want answers, as the nature of the kids' powers, and where they come from, is never explained at all. There's also a gruesome scene of animal torture (all special effects) that will put off some viewers, such as myself. After it occurred about 15 minutes in, I never really warmed up to the movie again, which is a shame because there's a lot here to like stylistically, and the performances by all of the children are very good.   (6/10)

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Sign of the Gladiator  (1959)  Italy/Dir: Guid-o Brignone*  -  Queen Zenobia of Palmyra (Anita Ekberg) breaks an alliance with Rome, but she falls in love with Roman consul Marcus (Georges Marchal), who attempts to help her thwart a coup by treacherous courtier Zemanzius (Folco Lulli). Also featuring Chelo Alonso (who gets to do a sexy dance), Jacques Sernas, Lorella De Luca as Bathsheba the Vestal Virgin.

The main point of interest here, outside of gawking at the beautiful cast, is the participation of some big names. When director Brignone fell ill, Michelangelo Antonioni directed some second unit stuff, and Riccardo Freda also shot some scenes, using cinematographer Mario Bava. Some additional script polishing was done by Sergio Leone, as well. Despite all that talent, there's not much here to recommend. AIP later released this in the US, under the title above, changed from the Italian one The Sign of Rome. It's also known as Sheba and the Gladiator. Keep in mind this movie has nothing to do with gladiators.    (5/10)

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Bed and Board (1970) Francois Truffaut, France

The further adventures of Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Leaud).  Now Antoine is married and has a child but he also gets mixed up with a Japanese woman which threatens to tear everything apart.  Not quite up to Stolen Kisses (1968) but enjoyable.

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The Woman from the Sea  (1959)  Japan/Dir: Koreyoshi Kurahara  -  Odd little supernatural romance about lonely young man Toshio (Tamio Kawaji) who is vacationing at a seaside house for the summer. One night while out sailing, he meets a mysterious young woman (Hisako Tsukuba) who swims up to his boat. They quickly fall for each other, but Toshio begins hearing reports that the local fishermen are being attacked, with their bait fish being shredded to pieces by an unknown person, and some fishermen have disappeared entirely.

There aren't a lot of surprises here, and anyone looking for overt horror elements will likely be disappointed. Most of the supernatural stuff is only hinted at or occurs off screen. The acting is passable, while the score and the widescreen B&W cinematography are good.   (6/10)

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The Demon of Mount Oe  (1960)  Japan/Dir: Tokuzo Tanaka  -  Colorful samurai horror fantasy about a group of warriors banding together to defeat a demon lord (Kazuo Hasegawa) and his army of bandits and monstrous minions. The warriors include Shintaro Katsu and Raizo Ichikawa. The plot is a little sluggish at times, and it goes on a bit too long at 115 minutes, but there's some interesting widescreen cinematography, and the creature effects are both quaint and effective. Some memorable sequences involve several warriors battling a giant spider, a colossal bull creature, and a floating fire-breathing head!     (7/10)

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Devi  (1960)  India/Dir: Satyajit Ray  -  A teenage girl (Sharmila Tagore) is believed to be an avatar of the goddess Kali by her pious father-in-law. When a sick boy seems to be miraculously cured due to the girl's presence, the belief in her divinity grows, much to the dismay of her husband (Soumitra Chatterjee). 

I think most people here are probably familiar with this one, so I'll just state that I enjoyed it and recommend it. Also known as The Goddess.  (7/10)

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The Final War  (1960)  Japan/Dir: Shigeaki Hidaka  -  A group of high school friends fret about the future as the threat of nuclear war hangs over them. After a military skirmish in North Korea, the news reports the escalating tensions between the US and the USSR, with all-out war becoming more and more likely. 

This serious examination of Cold War angst and encroaching spiritual nihilism is fairly well handled, with an honest attempt to look at what would happen to a nation caught in the middle of a potential nuclear war between two other nations, a situation in which they themselves would be powerless to act. It's pretty harrowing stuff, especially for the time. Originally released as World War III Breaks Out, it was later picked up for American distribution where it was dubbed and re-edited, and had footage from the totally unrelated Invasion of the Neptune Men added to try and make the film more of a sci-fi action flick. This later bastardized version had the title The Final War, and much like the English-dubbed version of the Mexican horror film The Black Pit of Dr. M, it is now believed to be lost. I watched the subtitled Japanese version, although I used the later title as it's the one used in the only book I have that mentions the film.

Not to be confused with the Toho film The Last War, which was released the following year.   (7/10)

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The Ghost Cat of Otama Pond  (1960)  Japan/Dir: Yoshihiro Ishikawa  -  A young engaged couple on their way to meet family find themselves lost in a foggy forest surrounding a pond. Despite their efforts to escape, they keep finding themselves back in the same spot. Soon they notice an old house and go inside, where some strange malady overcomes the girl. Now able to leave, the man takes his bride-to-be for medical care, and an old priest regales him with the tale of the cursed pond.

Most of the film is a flashback to the feudal era and a star-crossed romance that leads to tragedy and supernatural revenge. This one of dozens of "ghost cat" stories filmed in the 50's and 60's, and while it's competently made, it doesn't add anything very memorable to the well-trod territory.   (6/10)

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The Human Vapor  (1960)  Japan/Dir: Ishiro Honda  -  A series of bank robberies have the police perplexed as to how they were pulled off. Their investigation leads to a librarian (Yoshio Tsuchiya) who can turn himself into gaseous form. Also featuring Tatsuya Mihashi, Kaoru Yachigusa, and Keiko Sata. Despite the central premise, this is a lot more serious and grounded than many of the SF/horror films Honda was making at this time. The acting is decent even if most of the characters are thinly drawn.    (6/10)

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Journey to the West  (1960)  Japan/Dir: Daisaku Shirakawa & Taiji Yabushita & Osamu Tezuka  -  Animated children's fantasy adaptation of the 16th century Chinese novel of the same name. Goku is a young monkey who rises to the rank of Monkey King. He decides to prove that he's superior to men, but only ends up in debt to the Chinese gods, who task him with protecting pilgrim Tang Sanzang on his journey to the west.

I'm not the target audience for this kind of thing, but it was a little interesting seeing a beloved Chinese legend adapted with a 1960 Japanese sensibility. AIP distributed it in the US, dubbed with celebrity voices, re-edited, and retitled Alakazam the Great. It ended up flopping, and putting an end to AIP's plans for a permanent animation division. I watched the original Japanese language version, with the title Saiyuki.   (5/10)

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La Llorona  (1960)  Mexico/Dir: Rene Cardona  -  Another retelling of the Latin American "crying woman" folktale, with Maria Elena Marques starring as the 16th century woman spurned by her Spanish lover. In revenge she curses his bloodline, and murders the two children that she bore him out of wedlock. Ever since she returns to claim the life of the first born child of his line. This is one of the better Cardona films that I've seen, and Marques is good in the lead.   (6/10)

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La Verite  (1960)  France/Dir: Henri-Georges Clouzot  -  Courtroom drama about the murder trial of Dominique (Brigitte Bardot), a young woman accused of killing her boyfriend (Sami Frey). Through the testimony of various characters the jury (and the viewer) attempts to find the truth of the matter. Also featuring Charles Vanel, Paul Meurisse, and Marie-Jose Nat. A major production of its day, with Bardot at the height of her fame, trying here to be taken more seriously as an actress. She's good as the capricious, emotionally unstable Dominique, as is Vanel as her seasoned defense attorney.    (7/10)

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Macario  (1960)  Mexico/Dir: Roberto Gavaldon  -  Macario (Ignacio Lopez Tarso) is a peasant woodcutter with a large family he struggles to provide for. One day while out alone in the woods, he's approached by the Devil, God, and the personification of Death. The latter gives him a great gift, the use of which alters Macario's life. Also featuring Pina Pellicer as his devoted wife.

This fantasy is fairly well told, and there's some really striking imagery in its last 10 minutes or so. It was nominated for the Foreign Film Oscar, and was once named as the greatest Mexican film ever made in a poll of that nation's citizens. I like Los Olvidados more.  (7/10)

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Messalina  (1960)  Italy/Dir: Vittorio Cottafavi  -  Valeria Messalina (Belinda Lee) seeks power in ancient Rome, and to this end weds the older new Emperor Claudius (Mino Doro). Also featuring Spiros Focas, Carlo Giustini, Giancarlo Sbragia, Giulio Donnini, and Giuliano Gemma. This dopey, ahistorical costume pic serves as a showcase for Belinda Lee, an English actress with a solid European film career who would die tragically the following year at age 25.   (5/10)

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The Ninth Circle  (1960)  Yugoslavia/Dir: France Stiglic  -  During WWII, a Croatian Christian family decides to harbor Ruth (Dusica Zegarac), the teenage daughter of a Jewish family who have been taken away to prison camps. To further ensure her safety, the family arranges for her to marry their college student son Ivo (Boris Dvornik). He resents the imposition, but eventually begins to fall for her, just as things in the country take a turn for the worse.

This Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Film is pretty good, although the last act goes a bit over the top. There's an excellent sequence of Ruth running in the empty streets during an air raid, as the citizenry have taken to bomb shelters, and the look of childlike glee on her face as she plays in a park while the smoke rises in the distance from the bombing is very memorable.   (7/10)

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