Foreign Films You Need To See That You Probably Haven’t!

Forgive me making assumptions in the title of this post, but the following”foreign” films (i.e., films that aren’t in English originally) are six that are not very widely seen. I’m not talking about big Kurosawa blockbusters or Bergman, but lesser known ones. But they all MUST be seen, if you can find them.

1: Dekalog (1988) (dir. Krzysztof Kieslowski)

This Polish masterpiece from the brilliant Krzysztof Kieslowski is probably his best film… if you can call it a film. It’s actually a series of ten hour long movies, totalling almost ten hours. They cover a wide range of emotions and scenarios, and together it is basically a representation of many of the dramas of life itself.

2: Night and Fog (1955) (dir. Alan Resnais)

Thirty minutes of starkly horrific, emotionally (and visually) graphic and extremely disturbing video and images of concentration camps, starvation, death and the discarding of millions of bodies and items might not sound appealing, but not only is this a must-see film, it’s an important film. Though you might feel sick or want to look away, it’s the same as ignoring the awful tragedies of our past as it is to miss out on an opportunity to see this film. It can be found on YouTube, in three parts; the first is below:

3: Shoah (1985) (dir. Claude Lanzmann)

The second Holocaust film on this list is my personal favourite. It is also substantially longer than 30 minutes; it’s 9 and a half hours. But believe me, it is worth every single minute. Unlike Night and Fog, it contains not a shred of imagery from the actual Holocaust times, but the pictures we do see are just as haunting, if not more so. We see where these atrocities happened, and as they look today. Seeing the places, a shiver runs down my spine. It’s a golden rule that so few horror movies (not that this is one) actually take heed of: what is implied is much scarier than what is seen. The more attractive part of the film is that it also contains various interviews with people both indirectly and directly involved in the massacre of the Jews, including a particularly memorable interview with a man who cut the hair of Jewish people. The interview starts off easy enough, but he quickly breaks down and is unable to answer. Shoah is a must-see film for anyone interested in this part of history, and it delivers what it promises in a manner I am forever thankful for.

4: The Hour of the Wolf (1968) (dir. Ingmar Bergman)

The closest to a real, terrifying horror film Ingmar Bergman ever directed is one of the surprisingly less-seen ones. The Hour of the Wolf has proved to be incredibly influential on modern horror (most notably Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island) and remains in itself a constantly intriguing, frightening puzzle. Max von Sydow edges closer to insanity than ever as an imperfect world begins to fracture and sanity splits in half. All those movies about the protagonist with a multiple personality owe a hell of a lot to this one, which really kick-started them all.

5: I Stand Alone (1998) (dir. Gaspar Noé)


Most people, when they think of Gaspar Noé, think of Irreversible or Enter the Void, and so do I, I suppose, but a film of his that is often glossed over or disliked because of its darker themes of suicide and incest is actually very interesting and quite good. It takes a look into the soul, mind, and dying heart of a man, known as The Butcher, angry at the world and attempting to reconnect with his estranged daughter while fighting the demons inside him. Might sound clichéd if Hollywood were doing it, but it’s actually a very bleak, disturbing but affecting feature. The Butcher can be seen at the beginning of Irreversible, speaking a mantra that really stands for the suffocating isolation of his life and a mantra for which Noé has become known: “Time Destroys Everything.”

6: The Seventh Continent (1989), dir. Michael Haneke

Michael Haneke’s first cinematic feature film, and the first instalment in his brilliant Glaciation trilogy, is a must-see for any fan of Haneke. And yet, surprisingly, many of the Haneke fans I know have not seen it! His now immediately noticeable style of direction is present here as he chronicles the disturbing story of an entire family who mysteriously committed suicide. This is way up in my Top 5 from Haneke, and remains, like the more popular Caché and The Piano Teacher, a troubling look at the desperate, hidden truths of unhappy people.

So there you have it. Five great movies to add to your watchlist or queue. And I recommend adding them near the top. If you were disappointed with any of these fine movies, then I would be extremely surprised. They’re not all for everyone, but everyone should see them. If that makes sense.

Anything you’d like to say on the matter? Please, leave a comment below. Thanks.


About Tyler

Patient observer of all things film and music, from Béla Tarr to Boards of Canada. Foul mouthed and clinging to the edge of sanity.

Posted on July 13, 2011, in Lists, Movies and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 31 Comments.

  1. I guess it falls somewhere between an obscure gem and a crossover hit, but Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner; 2001) is on my list of the ten greatest films of the 2000s. I can’t think of another tale of sheer struggle for survival in a hostile environment, and of discord among an unusually tightly knit community, to match this one for sheet visceral power. Despite the fact that not a drop of blood is shed, the “fight” scene in which the rivals exchange fist-blows to the head in a tent as their fellow villagers look in is one of the most startling and oddly brutal instances of onscreen violence you’ll ever see.

    • [correction to read: “as their fellow villagers look on.“]

      • Huh. Off to IMDb that one, and will definitely try to watch it. Curiously, since you seem to be very smart when it comes to obscure film (correct me if I’m wrong), what’s your total out of 5 on my above list?

  2. Ha Yup You guessed it I have not seen any of these films. I probably won’t either, just because it is pretty hard for me to find the time to fit my TV and Film schedule in around work and family let alone fit in some more obscure stuff.

    Although I did manage to fit ‘Soy Cuba’ (1964) in on my lunch breaks at work (you tube FTW!!). It is a great four storyline film shot just after the Cuban Revolution in 1959. Really amazing cinematography and huge long ranging shots. Really clever stuff. Its black and white but if I am honest it stays in your mind as Colour. So vivid!!

    Thanks for the informative post!

  3. Ha–I’m woefully inadequate when it comes to my knowledge of foreign films. (I’ve seen other work by most of the directors you mention above, but of actual films, I’ve only seen part of one, Shoah, on television. The Decalogue has been recommended to me numerous times, but that’s one I still need to make the commitment to see.) I’m very lucky that, though I live in semirural New England, the next town over has one of the best arthouses in in the region, even if the foreign fare offered tends to be the more commercial stuff that gets wide distribution in the U.S. (i.e., cutesy pictures that people on dates go to see). I like the dark, individual sensibility of a director like Michael Haeneke very much, but I have to admit that, when it comes to foreign film, I was weaned on the more accessible (but nonetheless excellent) work of directors like Lasse Hallstrom (who of course is now fully in the mainstream) and Louis Malle (who directed superb films in both French and English, and whose Pretty Baby and Atlantic City are masterpieces.) As a teenager I also had quite an obsession with Fritz Lang, and I still love the visual splendor of Metropolis, for all its silliness, and the grittiness of M and Fury (the last being one of his American films.)

    • Malle is one of my all time favourite directors (a friend recommended The Fire Within as his favourite movie of all time) although I never really gave Hallstrom a chance.

      I wish you luck with the films on this list, and Dekalog is definitely worth the commitment.

  4. The Hour of the Wolf is a film that continues to grow and grow on me as time passes by. Completely weird, trippy, surreal, and pretty-much everything I love in a film.

    I don’t see that much Hour of the Wolf in Shutter Island, though.

    I have seen Killing in the Decalogue; been meaning to see all the others as Killing was amazing…

    I know of the other films, except Shoah. Night and Fog is a film I have been wanting to check out for quite some time now.

    Great selection of films, though!

    • Killing is amazing but the other episodes are good too.

      I watched Hour of the Wolf and Shutter Island back to back one night, and noted a ton of similarities, but it could just be me.

      • Definitely gonna check Shutter Island and Hour of the Wolf back-to-back like you did at some point.

        Would be interesting to see those similarites in Shutter Island, as there is no-doubt that Scorsese is a big film lover.

        • A few similarities for starters:

          1: both protagonists are mentally ill.
          2: both cannot be trusted.
          3: both are facing their demons on an island.
          4: both have a scene involving lighting a match.

          There are many more, but those are the least subtle ones.

  5. Nice selection Tyler. Often these kind of lists will have a bunch of movies that you have already seen but I have to say I have seen none of these!

  6. I haven’t seen nor even heard any of these, so obviously you’ve picked some obscure ones. Which one is the most ‘accessible’ for a lack of a better word, from this list, Ty?

    • Ha! No one’s called me Ty in ages (if ever).

      The most accessible is also generally the best film: Dekalog. I’m not sure if the box set is available on Netflix (it should be), but it will require quite a bit of free time, as it contains ten one-hour episodes. Night and Fog is a very easy one to find, and being only 30 minutes long is quick to watch. If you’re really interested in the dark Holocaust history of Europe, Shoah is a must.

      And I’ll be honest, Ruth. I can’t see you enjoying either one of the last two.

  7. “themes of suicide and incest”

    I’m going to admit, incest is a subject matter i general avoid. I mean, i can deal with most things(I am in the process of writing a post about Irreversible right now), but films with incest or incestuous themes really freak me out for some reason

  8. I suggest Tropa de Elite, Cidade de Deus and Central do Brasil, from Brazil.

  9. 7th continent is a great choice! I love Hanekes early work. Its one of his films I like the best together with Code unknown and Funny games. I don’t like his recent direction with the Hollywood remake and the White Ribbon.

    • Don’t like The White Ribbon? Ouch! It’s my second favorite of his work, after Cache.

      • No and to be honest I don’t like Cache either. I’m a fan of his earlier films he were for a time my favorite director but that has faded with his later films. I haven’t even seen his remake of Funny Games.

    • No, well I didn’t like the remake much and it’s not worth it. What about The Piano Teacher? Is that a real slice of brilliant Haneke or arthouse crap. I personally think the former choice, but what is your take?

      • I LOVED the Piano Teacher. I also saw bennys video. I don’t know if that is his earlier work or not as i don’t really follow his career much, but i didn’t really like it much

      • Yeah, Benny’s Video gets a little boring in the second half, but I love it for it’s amazing Haneke cinematography and the shocking opening scene.

  10. Hmmmmm, I just watched Night and Fog. Wow, that movie was really interesting, and of course, really horrible to watch. Essential viewing, though. Thanks for recommending it!

    • You’re welcome. There’s no better feeling in turning people onto a movie they wouldn’t normally watch. Let me know when you see The Battleship Potemkin, too.

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