Dave's Favorite Foreign Films
For better or worse I have included English speaking foreign films in this category because so many of them are not "general release" and will probably not show up in your local cineplex unless the manager has a softspot for independent and foreign films.
1. Babette’s Feast (Danish film about a female French chef who escapes the political turmoil at home to become the cook and housekeeper for two elderly sisters in a small Danish fishing village. The sisters were the daughters of the village Lutheran priest who discouraged them from leaving him when both of them could have had a better life- one as an opera singer, the other as the wife of a young officer who later became a general. When Babette wins the lottery she decides to spend the money on a great feast for her employers and their friends who have lived very Spartan existences all their lives.)
2. Bread and Tulips (Charming film about an Italian housewife who is taken for granted by her husband and two teenage sons and even forgotten in a truck stop on the family vacation. She decides to hitchhike back home rather than catch up with her family and ends up spending the night in Venice. When she can't find a hotel room for the night, she stays with the waiter in the restaurant where she eats dinner. She ends up getting a job and staying in Venice and her husband hires a private detective to find her.)
3. Closet, The (French comedy with Daniel Auteuil as a milktoast accountant in a factory that manufactures condoms. He accidently overhears a conversation between co-workers saying that he is about to be laid-off. He is despondent and confides in his older gay neighbor who offers him a plan that will save his job. He must let it be "leaked" that he is gay and the company will not dare fire him lest he sue them for discrimination. Gerard Depardieu plays a crude gay-bashing co-worker that some of the company's execs decide to teach a lesson in tolerance. Michele Laroque plays his female boss who sees him as a challenge.)
4. Croupier (Breakthrough role for Clive Owen. This is a very stylized flik about a man, Jack Manfred, who aspires to be a wiriter. He is deeply in the throes of writer's block when he receives a call from his estranged father who has arranged a job interview for him as a croupier at a London casino. It is obvious in his "tryout" that he has done this sort of thing before. Jack ostensibly takes the job to gather material for his book but we can tell that he is being sucked back into a world that he had once been free of. Gina McKee from Notting Hill plays his live-in girlfriend who hopes his job is only temporary.)
5. Four Feathers (Wonderful story of a British army officer who resigns his commission on the eve of his regiment's departing for the war in Egypt. Although the reasons have nothing to do with cowardice, his motives are misunderstood and he is given 4 white feathers, a sign of cowardice, by three of his friends and his fiancee. He then goes to Egypt on his own to prove himself, and in so doing, saves the lives of his friends and ultimately wins back his fiancee. Sir Ralph Richardson and C. Aubrey Smith are probably the only actors anyone will recognize. This was a British film made in 1939 and did not get widespread distribution. This story has been remade several times but none of the newer versions capture the flavor of this version
6. Four Weddings and a Funeral (Independent film that made good and couldn't be ignored. This is the film that really launched Hugh Grant. Andie McDowell is terrific as is the entire cast which included Kristin Scott Thomas, Simon Callow, and John Hannah. The actors and the acting elevate this film way beyond what it should have been.)
7. Horseman on the Roof (French flik with Juliet Binoche. She is quarantined in a French town and unable to return to her own hometown and much older husband. She meets up with an Italian nobleman who has escaped the "reign of terror" in his own country and stumbles into the house where Juliet is staying. She offers to shelter him if he will take her back to her home.)
8. Les Voleurs---French with Catherine Daneuve
9. Mouse that Roared, The (Peter Sellers plays multiple roles in this political satire about a small country that is nearly bankrupt so they declare war on the U.S. so that they can lose and thereby get foreign aid. Unfortunately they win.)
10. Paradise Lagoon or The Admirable Crichton (Very nice little British comedy made in early 50's about a wealthy family whose steam yacht is ship-wrecked on desert island and the butler ultimately takes over leadership of the group in Darwinian fashion. Kenneth More, Diane Cilento- Sean Connery's first wife, and Sally Anne Howes are perfect.)
11. Pride and PrejudiceBBC version ( One of my top 10 favorites movies. Starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, this is an almost perfect adaptation of Jane Austen's masterpiece. The scenery, the costumes, the performances are all superb.
12. Red, White and Blue trilogy (3 French movies with Julie Delpy, Juliette Binoche)
14. Malena (Rich Italian story about a young boy who worships an older women of 18 or 19 from afar during WW2. The girl marries a young officer just before he goes off to war. The girl dresses very nicely but somewhat seductively so the women in the town all hate her, but the men all think she is wonderful. When her husband is believed dead she stoops to consorting with the German officers and receives the full wrath of the townspeople.)
15. Best Man, The
16. Autumn Tale (A 40-something widow who owns a vineyard has two good friends: the girlfriend of her college age son and a woman her own age who owns a bookstore in the neighboring town. Unbeknownst to her, both of her friends are trying to fix her up with someone. The young woman is urging one of her professors who is a former lover and the contemporary friend has decided to advertise in the newspaper and then check out the candidates by meeting them herself. Nevermind that she is happily married. This is a very warm, close, story of relationships between women and their problems with finding the right man. And something nice in a French love story- neither of the main characters jump off a bridge at the end.)
17. Cinema Paradiso (Wonderful story of a young boy who is so infatuated with the movies that he works in a movie house with the projectionist. We thus become acquainted with townspeople as they come to the cinema.)
18. Run, Lola, Run (Very energetic German movie that concerns a young women’s attempt to very quickly raise cash to prevent her boyfriend from being killed by some criminals that have entrusted him with smuggling some “goods” into the country and he, in turn, has lost them. This film is a little like "Groundhog Day" in that the protagonist is allowed to repeat the past in an effort to try to "get it right.")
19. Un Coeur En Hiver
20. Shall We Dance? (Here is something almost unique in my experience: a Japanese romantic comedy- with music and dancing, no less. A very button down CPA who works for a large company rides the subway home every evening. He never goes out with the boys nor does he have any real hobbies. One night he notices a beautiful woman staring wistfully out of the window of a dance studio. Even at this late date, touching a woman in public in Japan is still embarrassing. So ballroom dancing is even farther removed from his realm of possibilities. Finally he stops in one evening and enquires about dancing lessons and in no time he is hooked. But he can't tell his co-workers or even his wife or daughter about such shameful activity. This is one of the most charming movies you will ever see. The characters are totally real. You will want to see it more than once.)
21. Waking Ned Devine
22. Il Postino
23. The Full Monte (This movie has become part of our culture. Nevertheless, it is very well done.
24. Shadow Magic (This is the story of an itinerant photographer who brings primitive motion pictures to China in the early 1900’s. Reluctantly he accepts the help of a young Chinese man who risks losing his good job and his relationship with his father to pursue his dream.)
25. Little Voice (Unusual film about a young woman, played by Jane Horrocks, who lives with her mother over a dingy second hand record shop in a mangy neighborhood of an English seaside resort. Her behavior is almost autistic, yet in the privacy of her own room she sings and mimics the old musical stars like Judy Garland. When her mother, played by Brenda Blethyn, brings home a sleazy talent scout, Michael Caine, who hears "Little Voice" and tries to promote her into a night club act. Jim Broadbent plays the lowlife club owner. In the process she meets and starts a very innocent relationship with Ewan McGregor. There were academy award performances all over this film. The film is worth watching just to hear Horrocks sing.
26. Secrets and Lies (Brenda Blethyn plays a middle aged mother of two grown kids who suddenly is re-united with a daughter that was the product of a passionate love affair she had as a girl with a young black medical student and who she gave up for adoption. She it at first dumb-founded and then intrigued by her new relationship. The newfound daughter is polite and successful, which is more than she can say for her legitimate and white daughter. This is a rich story of relationships and character development- rarities in the cinema.
27. Taste of Others, The (A wonderful French comedy. Even the supporting roles ares fully fleshed out and we see a rare comodity in films- character development. Basically this is the story of an upper middle class factory owner who is treated as if he doesn't exist by his wife and he falls in love with the lady who is tutoring him in English. She can't see any redeeming qualities in him but her friends all seem to see a depth or a goodness that she is missing. All the supporting roles have a story of their own that just happens to intersect with the central character.)
28. With a Friend Like Harry (French "tribute" to Hitchcock. Sergei Lopez, as Harry, is quietly diabolical as an old college friend you could certainly do without.)
29. Mostly Martha (German with English subtitles. This is the story of a female chef, Martha, who is wound rather tightly to start with when two major elements of upheaval take place in her life. First, her sister is killed in a car wreck and "leaves" her an 8 year old niece to care for; and then, the owner of the restaurant where she works hires a male Italian sous chef who threatens Martha's domain. Martha is already seeing a psychiatrist as a condition of her continuing to work in the restaurant. She is full of neurotic behavior that mostly endears her to us rather than alienates. She is rather cold and prickly with the child initially as she is with most people, and the Italian chef with his great zest for life is particularly irritating to her. In spite of her lack of human warmth and maternal instincts we are drawn to Martha and are rooting for her. Martina Gedeck(Martha) is a marvelous actress that Americans have missed out on like Franka Potente in Run Lola Run. Martina gives a strong performance as do Maxime Foerste, who plays the niece, and Sergio Castellitto who plays Mario, the sous chef.)
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