Nightman’s Introduction To Foreign Cinema Part – A – B

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Welcome back. In Part 1, I begged and pleaded with fists clenched and mouth all-a-foam for you to give peace a chance. Or foreign movies… yeah, that was it – peace is a fool’s hope. Now, I’m going to go through some countries, genres, people, and list some of the films that I think both best represent said countries, genres, and people while also acting as prime examples of gateway films. These are the films which should suck in even the most stubborn quality-denier. There’s an unfortunate caveat – I’m no expert; I’m just some guy. My go to genres are action, horror, sci-fi, comedy and my go to countries are equally limited. I mean, I’ll watch anything but there will always be more I haven’t seen than have. What I’m saying is – I’m not covering African, Indian, Middle Eastern cinema and probably a bunch of others, as my experience and knowledge of these are extremely limited. I’ve seen movies from all of these areas, but nowhere near enough to offer any sort of decent opinion. Lets do this alphabetically:

But before that – I was recently reading a post by someone else recently which perfectly encapsulated my reasoning behind these posts. An otherwise knowledgeable film viewer made (not for the first time) some interesting (stupid) points about foreign film. He seems to take issue with a group of people and the opinions he perceives (or has genuinely heard) them state, and by extension that has biased himself against the films. I admit to being guilty of this sort of thing to – it’s human nature. He bemoans these viewers who apparently dismiss American remakes of foreign movies – even ones he classes as ‘shot for shot’ remakes and goes on to state that the only reason they prefer the original is because of, here he gets vague but I get what he’s aiming for, is because they’re foreign/exotic. Is this simple snobbery? An extension of being a hipster, or some Colonial holdover? I’ll agree that there are people out there who certainly fit this criteria, but I’d go further and say that it’s an extremely small group and that it happens across all forms of media, art, fashion – almost anything. The problem is the guy’s ego and his own reverse confirmation bias has soured him then from ever allowing himself to enjoy the original or go in search of foreign movies.

The fact is, and it is a fact, that Countries other than the USA make great movies every year. Some are remade. Some are not. Some of the remakes are good. Some are not. Personally, I prefer the original to the remake but that’s not because of the reasons he thinks. He unironically later destroys his own point with his own logic by also bemoaning all of the Disney live action remakes as pointless, lifeless, cash-grabs… hold… hold one a second. So, it’s not good for Disney to remake their own classics and the originals are so much better, but when the US remakes a movie from France, Japan, Spain, wherever, it’s much better to watch the remake? Why? What’s the difference? The difference is your own bias. You need to recognise that bias, and get the fuck over it. You’re not a movie fan if you willfully deprive yourself of a film because it’s foreign. Remakes can be exceptional, but in the majority of cases remakes are inferior to the original simply because they are NOT the original. An original is typically born out of creativity, passion, an idea which the creator wants and needs to share. A Remake is typically born out of the desire for quick cash – borrowing an idea already proven to be successful and slapping together a film with less inherent risk attached.

He does make the point that a crap original will likely result in a crap remake – not always the case, and seems completely jaded by the people who he states will praise the original over the remake ‘just because it’s foreign.’ Hey, there are an awful lot of crap foreign movies every year – no doubt. Same with Hollywood. That doesn’t stop you watching Hollywood’s finest, so don’t let it stop you from watching the finest from around the world. Oh yeah, remember the shot for shot remake of Psycho? Crap, right? Because even if it’s shot for shot, you have a different crew, cast, and reason for making the film, never mind the fact that years may have passed or the cultural nuances have been lost. Don’t be a dick, especially if everyone else is. Be better. Then again, he does seem confused and never avoids the opportunity to tell us how much he dislikes horror movies while frequently selecting, guess what, a horror movie as his favourite movie of a given year. But enough of that – lets check out some Foreign Movies.

Australia

Well, that’s handy. Australia is the closest English speaking cousin of UK and US. The culture isn’t so different as to cause any great confusion, many Australian films have had massive worldwide success, and plenty of its filmmakers and stars have also appeared in Hollywood. Australia has a very interesting and varied cinematic history – beginning in earnest around the time of the Second World War where many stars were beginning to perform or beginning to, well, live. It wasn’t until the New Wave in the 1970s that Australian culture began to truly stamp itself on its own productions and that its success grew. For more information on this, I would highly recommend the entertaining documentary Not Quite Hollywood which covers this period and ‘Ozploitation’.

What I think of when I think of Australian movies is Action. Horror too, but mainly Action, often with an offbeat side. Comedy seems to permeate many of the Action, Horror, and Drama films I have seen. In other words, it’s the perfect place to start your foreign movie journey, especially if you love car crash carnage, bullets, and gore. I’m making it sound like Australia is limited, and that is by no means the case – it’s simply the best place to start. In recent years quite a few more dramatic films have come out which have been superb.

Notable Gateway FilmsLion (Oscar nominated 2016), Mad Max series (some of best action ever seen on screen), Crocodile Dundee series (call that a knoife?), Babe (that’ll do, pig), Moulin Rouge! (Oscar Winner 2001), Animal Kingdom (Australian Crime Drama 2010), Tomorrow When The War Began (cool teen action movie), Mad Dog Morgan (Dennis Hopper, fucking shit up) Wolf Creek series (torture porn, Oz style), Gallipoli  (1981 war epic), Picnic At Hanging Rock (unnerving 1975 drama), The Proposition (2005 Austrlian Western), The Babadook (celebrated 2014 horror movie), The Loved Ones (quirky 2009 horror), Chopper (amusing and violent 2000 biopic), Wake In Fright (Australia’s Straw Dogs), Rogue (the best of Australia’s many Jaws imitators), Lake Mungo (disturbing 2008 psychological horror).

Notable Directors: Baz Luhrmann (Australia), James Wan (Saw), George Miller (Mad Max, Happy Feet), Russell Mulcahy (Highlander), Philip Noyce (Rabbit Proof Fence), Alex Proyas (The Crow), Peter Weir (The Truman Show). 

Notable Stars: Errol Flynn, Mel Gibson, Naomi Watts, Eric Bana, Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, Hugo Weaving, Heath Ledger, Cate Blanchett, Natalie Imbruglia, George Lazenby, Russell Crowe, The Hemsworths, Sam Worthington, Wayne Pygram, Jesse Spencer, Rose Byrne, Isla Fisher, Melissa George, Virginia Hey, Claudia Black, Margot Robie.

Austria

I’ll admit I know very little of Austria’s cinematic history – obviously it had a tumultuous period around WWII and only recently has experience new found success. I’m really including it here due to a number of stars who identify as Austrian.

Notable Gateway Films: Malina (Isabelle Hupert being awesome), Benny’s Video (disturbing drama about a disturbed boy), Funny Games (disturbing movie about disturbing young men), The Edukators (drama about college age activists teaching the super rich some sort of lesson), The Headsman (Jamie Lannister romping with a sword), Taxidermia (completely buck nuts joint venture with Hungary with pig sex and firey ejaculations… yeah, probably not a good gateway choice), The Counterfeiters (Oscar winning drama about a Nazi plan to destroy the British economy),

Notable Directors: Michael Curtiz (Casablanca), GW Pabst (Komodianten), Otto Preminger (Anatomy Of Murder), Michael Haneke (The White Ribbon), Jessica Hausner (Lovely Rita). 

Notable Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Erich von Stroheim, Lotte Lenya, Maria Schell, Romy Schneider, Paul Henreid, Curd Jurgens, Peter Lorre, Maximillian Schell, Otto Schenk, Oskar Werner, Christoph Waltz.

Argentina

Argentina is, I think, the only South American country to win Oscars, and yet it’s a region I don’t follow too much outside of the most obvious picks. I understand there was a Golden Age around the thirties to fifties, and the industry has again picked up since the mid eighties.

Notable Gateway FilmsCocaine Wars (one of Roger Corman’s 80s action movies for Argentina), Tango (if you like the dance, watch the movie), The Motorcycle Diaries (Gael Garcia Bernal as Che), The Secret In Their Eyes (the impact of rape and murder over time).

Notable Directors: Juan Jose Campanella (The Secret In Their Eyes, The Man Of Your Dreams), Eduardo Mignogna (La Fuga, The Lighthouse), Damian Szifron (Wild Tales, Pretenders), Lucia Puenzo (XXY).

Notable Stars: Castulo Guerra (T2, The Usual Suspects), Lalo Schifrin (composer of Mission Impossible Theme, Enter The Dragon, Rush Hour Series), Barry Norton (Casablanca, To Catch A Thief), Alejandro Rey (The Ninth Configuration, Breakout), Olivia Hussey (Romeo And Juliet, Black Christmas), Mia Maestro (Twilight Series, Frida), 

Brazil

Similar to Argentina, this is not an area I know a lot about, but I am at least a little more familiar, especially since the turn of the millennium.

Notable Gateway FilmsPixote (grim 1980 tale of corruption and its impact on youth), Heart & Guts (bawdy comedy set in girls school), Kiss Of The Spider Woman (multi Oscar nominated crime drama), A Dog’s Will (bizarre comedy mixing farce and religion), City Of God (gangs of youths struggle for survival in a busy favela), Only God Knows (Alice Braga and Diego Luna get it on), Elite Squad (gangs and cops clash with tonnes of action), Coffin Joe Trilogy (Brazilian Horror with an ‘endearing’ lead bad guy), Lower City (Alice Braga gets it on with two friends),

Notable Directors: Walter Salles, Suzana Amaral, Fernando Meirelles, Hector Babenco, Sergio Machado, Jose Mojica Marins, Jose Padilha, Andrucha Waddington,

Notable Stars: Alice Braga

Belgium

My final entry in this mammoth post is Belgium – France’s little brother. Because of Belgium’s geographical and cultural position it shares a lot of its cinema with that of France, but also of Germany and The Netherlands. Due to that and my own limited knowledge there are only a handful of obvious films I can recommend – Man Bites Dog is a brutal classic satire on violence, but isn’t for the faint of heart or anyone who doesn’t like hand-held stuff, Mr Nobody is an underrated oddball Sci-Fi starring Jared Leto and Sarah Polley, and Left Bank is a modern take on Repulsion. Horror fans might like to give Amer a shot.

Notable Directors and Stars: Chantal Akerman (Jean Dielman, News From Home), Dardenne Brothers (L’Enfant, Two Days One Night), Felix Van Groeningen (The Broken Circle Breakdown), Jaco Van Dormael (Mr Nobody, The Brand New Testament), Matthias Schoenaerts (Black Book, The Danish Girl), Jean Claude Van Damme (Timecop, Universal Soldier), Lubna Azabal (Incendies, Body Of Lies), Ronald Guttman (Hunt For Red October, Welcome To The Punch).

Let us know in the comments which films from any of the nations above you have seen, loved, hated, or if you’re going to take the plunge!

 

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