I’ll admit that before this year, it was very rare for me to watch foreign films. I had access to a whole bunch of them through streaming sites like Netflix or Amazon Video, and I could easily rent them on my T.V. But growing up in the states, I was used to watching English-language movies. It was during December in my Holocaust class where my teacher made us watch foreign films like La Rofle, Der Untergang, and Son of Saul, that I was able to experience a completely new way of filmmaking, and I was furious at myself missing out on so many incredible films. After that, I was propelled on a quest to watch more non-American movies on topics other than just the Holocaust. So for my new year’s resolution, I set a challenge to watch at least two every month. Eight months later, I can easily say it was one of the best things I had ever done.
Moving out of my western film bubble, I was able to watch so many unique films that weren’t remakes, sequels, or prequels. It was refreshing, to say the least. They break conventions, experiment with new techniques, and examine topics that are sometimes considered taboo for a western audience. For any film lover that wants to branch out from their usual choices, I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorites from my challenge. And since September is dedicated to films #DirectedByWomen, I’ve chosen all female filmmakers!
NADINE LABAKI (Caramel, Where Do We Go Now?)
I came across Nadine Labaki one day while scrolling endlessly on Letterboxd. The Lebanese-born actress and director has made two feature films, Where Do We Go Now? and Caramel both of which have had major box office success in the Middle East, a huge win for Labaki considering that women face such feats and restrictions in the region. The two are drastically different; Caramel, a comedy that centers around a Beirut salon and the close-knit group of women that work there, and Where Do We Go Now? a drama dealing with conflicts between Christians and Muslims that have to learn to coexist in a remote Lebanese village. Both films center around the morals and obligations women face in Lebanese society, trying to break free of their typical conventions and repressed sexuality. She also showcases the charming spirit of Lebanon and the people that inhabit its land.
KIRSTEN TAN (Pop Aye)
Singapore native Kirsten Tan’s first feature film is filled with an abundance of humor and personality, and elephants. In Pop Aye, Thana (Thaneth Warakulnukroh), an architect, goes on an adventure across Thailand on a quest for self-actualization with an elephant he’s known since his childhood. It’s a simple storyline, one that is made all the better by its peculiar characters sentimental relationship of a man in a mid-life crisis and the elephant who gives him an escape from expectations he feels he must uphold. Through the lush landscapes of rural Thailand, Tan’s film explores the misfortunes of adulthood, while also being a hopeful exploration of what a journey, physically or mentally, can do to preserve our humanity. Even if we don’t really know where we’ll end up.
LUCRECIA MARTEL (Zama)
From Argentinean director Lucrecia Martel, Zama tells the story of Don Diego de Zama (Daniel Giménez Cacho), an 18-century Spanish officer who is waiting for a transfer to a better city that never seems to come. Losing hope that we will ever leave the colony he’s been stationed in, he spends the film attempting to manipulate and scheme anyone he deems capable of helping him out of his unfortunate situation. Zama isn’t your typical period piece, it’s isolated location allows it at times to be an unearthly and surreal perspective on South American colonization. I was fascinated by the way the film chooses to focus on Zama’s inner monologue and conflicts of despair, anguish, and borderline insanity, rather than focusing more on narrative elements.
by Isabelle Miller
Isabelle Miller is from the sunshine state of Florida. She is currently a student at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada studying creative industries. Some of her favorite genres of film are LGBTQ, foreign cinema, and anything starring Amy Adams. Her top three directors are Sofia Coppola, Wong-Kar Wai, and David Fincher. She also loves photography, vintage clothing, and all things butterflies. You can find her on Twitter here @millerisabellek