Sunday, August 26, 2007

Foreign-language film favourites

Inspired by Alok (who in turn was inspired by this), here’s an exercise in pointless fun: a list of 50 of my favourite foreign-language films. Note: 1) I’ve defined foreign-language as non-English, non-Hindi, 2) This is not a definitive, sealed list of my 50 favourites, because such a list just isn’t possible (by the time I’ve finished compiling this one, I’ll have thought of at least 30 other films that should have gone in), 3) Maximum two films per director (with a few honorary mentions), 4) Silent films excluded – they are too universal and too special to be restricted by these petty classifications, 5) The list is skewed towards French cinema because at least 40 per cent of the foreign-language films I’ve seen are French (simple question of accessibility: the video-turned-DVD library at the French Cultural Centre in Delhi, with its large range of titles, was a favourite haunt for years) and 6) These are all films that mean a great deal to me, but it goes without saying that if I were to redo the list tomorrow, it would be completely different.

I’m going to be lazy and not link to the IMDB/Wikipedia entries for each film, but where one of them has been written about on the blog (or even mentioned in passing), I’m linking to the relevant post.

Here goes, in no particular order:

The Phantom of Liberty and The Exterminating Angel – Luis Bunuel
(Honorary mentions: Simon of the Desert, Un Chien Andalou, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, That Obscure Object of Desire)

Night and Fog – Alain Resnais

Contempt and Bande a part – Jean-Luc Godard
(Honorary mentions: Breathless, Pierrot le Fou)

Yojimbo and Throne of Blood – Akira Kurosawa
(Honorary mentions: The Seven Samurai, Ikuru, The Hidden Fortress, The Lower Depths, The Bad Sleep Well, Stray Dog, Ran)

Charulata and Sonar Kella – Satyajit Ray
(Honorary mentions: Pather Panchali, Aparajito, Nayak, Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne)

8 ½ and Juliet of the Spirits – Federico Fellini
(Honorary mention: the short film “Never Bet the Devil Your Head”, included in the feature Spirits of the Dead)

The Seventh Seal and Shame – Ingmar Bergman
(Honorary mentions: The Silence, Wild Strawberries, Hour of the Wolf, Cries and Whispers, Scenes from a Marriage)

Beauty and the Beast – Jean Cocteau

Eyes Without a Face – Georges Franju

M – Fritz Lang

Cleo from 5 to 7 – Agnes Varda

Au Revoir Les Enfants – Louis Malle

La Belle Noiseuse – Jacques Rivette

Tokyo Story – Yasujiro Ozu

Blue and The Double Life of Veronique – Krzysztof Kieslowski

Subarnarekha – Ritwik Ghatak

Bicycle Thieves and Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow – Vittorio De Sica

Stolen Kisses and Shoot the Piano Player – Francois Truffaut
Honorary mentions: The 400 Blows, Day for Night)

The Leopard and The Innocent – Luchino Visconti

Swept Away by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August – Lina Wertmuller

Plein Soleil (Purple Noon) – Rene Clement

Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources (treated as one film) – Claude Berri

Les Valseuses (Going Places) – Bertrand Blier

A Heart in Winter (Un Coeur en Hiver) – Claude Sautet

Grand Illusion – Jean Renoir

Pepe le Moko – Julien Duvivier

Knife in the Water – Roman Polanski

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg – Jacques Demy

My Night at Maud’s – Eric Rohmer

Ten – Abbas Kiarostami

La Notte and Blow-Up – Michelangelo Antonioni

Closely Watched Trains – Jiří Menzel

The Earrings of Madame De... – Max Ophuls

Aguirre, the Wrath of God and The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser – Werner Herzog

Stromboli – Roberto Rossellini

D’Artagnan’s Daughter – Bertrand Tavernier

Wings of Desire - Wim Wenders

Monsieur Hulot's Holiday - Jacques Tati

Solaris – Andrei Tarkovsky

Also, some highly acclaimed films that I somehow haven’t been able to work up too much affection for at a personal level (which means that I couldn’t put them on a list like this one – even though it’s easy for me to admire them from a distance, or to acknowledge their influence):

La Dolce Vita (Fellini)
Ajantrik (Ghatak)
Rules of the Game (Renoir)
Belle de Jour (Bunuel)
Rashomon (Kurosawa)


  1. D'Artagnan's Daughter?!

    No kidding. It was a fun film, but why in the top 50?

  2. Because I liked it that much, and because that's what personal lists are about. (Sometimes all you need is a Noiret-and-Marceau combination to get into a top 50!)

  3. i guess.

    i'm just jealous you've seen a wertmuller i hadn't even heard of.

  4. clearly you have been making too many trips to the local alliance francais!!

    haven't seen quite a few on the list. Tavernier, Duvvier, Blier, Ophuls, the second films of both de Sica and Visconti, Ghatak...

    Also glad to see The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. I should have put it on my list somewhere too. Also I was torn between M.Hulot's Holiday and Playtime (even Mon Oncle) but yes Holiday is the most lovable of all three.

    Also noticeable is the absence of Dreyer, Fassbinder and Bresson....

  5. yes Wertmuller too. Haven't seen any of her films yet.

  6. Alok: on another day, Mouchette (the only Bresson I've seen) would be on the list. My favourite Dreyers are Passion of Joan of Arc and Vampyr, which don't qualify (the latter because I've seen the English version). I haven't seen Day of Wrath yet and I'm ashamed to admit that Ordet is another of those films that just didn't hit a personal chord.

    Saw a couple of Fassbinders a very, very long time ago but they didn't make a huge impression - might need to revisit.

    Just thinking about all this and replying to comments is reminding me of films I've left out - arrgh!

  7. Fortunately, have seen almost all the films mentioned there.

    And it's very heartening to see 'Leopard' in that list. Wouldn't have expected it. But now that I have written that, I do recall discussing the film with you once and agreeing on its greatness.

  8. No fair. Between you and Alok you've covered pretty much everything I could think of. It hardly seems worth putting together a post on this anymore.

    Films I would add (across both your and Alok's list):

    Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad

    Tarkovsky's Sacrifice and Nostalgia. Also Stalker. (I've frankly never understood why people are so fond of Solaris - I consider it Tarkovsky's worst film)

    Fritz Lang's Testament of Dr. Mabuse (which I like better than M.)

    Herzog's Cobra Verde (I like the two you pick better, but think this deserves at least a honorary mention)

    Bresson's A Man Escaped (with possibly an honorary mention for Diary of a Country Priest).

    Kusturica's Underground

    Bunuel's Viridiana

    Wadja's Kanal

    Also, does the Dekalog count as one film? If not, then A Short Film About Killing.

    Oh, and I'm not sure I would have picked Vargtimmen for a Bergman honorable mention. Not if I was leaving out Smiles of a Summer Night and Fanny och Alexander.

  9. Get a hold of Z by Costa-Garvais if you can... I quite enjoyed Rules of the game myself, and I noticed a shot of Hel out of Metropolis further down on your blog, but that's a silent one, so I doubt that would count. Also, see if you can find Jules et Jim by Truffaut if you haven't seen it, which however I doubt very much. I didn't like that one that much myself, but a lot of folks who're into foreign language films found it excellent.

  10. Totally unrelated comment but I know you are interested in tennis. I have started a blog charting the progress of Indian tennis players. Do take a peek. Suggestions/criticism welcome.

  11. Forgot to give the blog url - it's

  12. Renovatio: Have seen Z and Jules et Jim. The former just missed the list, the latter I like a lot but not enough to displace the two Truffauts I already have up there.

    (Btw, I'd forgotten that the robot in Metropolis was made in the image of someone named Hel. Thought you had confused her with HAL in 2001!)

    I do recall discussing the film with you once and agreeing on its greatness

    BMR: Which can only mean that the next time we meet you'll dismiss it as a crappy and incomprehensible film. But good, good. We need people like you for after the Revolution.

    Toe Knee: will take a look. (Sudden visions proliferate of Sania Mirza skipping Flushing Meadows for a Tarkovsky film festival in NY.)

    Falstaff: do a "1000 best" post, that way you'll have at least 925 films no one else has mentioned.

    I wasn't thinking about Dekalog as one film - otherwise it would have been in there.

    I like the Mabuse films but my favourite Lang is another invalid, the silent Siegfried.

  13. Was very pleased to see Godard's Contempt on the list. I think its one of his lesser-appreciated films.

    Enjoyed reading the list. You should have some of those once in a while.

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  15. Dude! I see mention of Kiarostami and shiver deliciously in delight. I've long been a fan of Iranian cinema, and recommend Samira Makhmalbaf and Jafar Panahi, of whom no doubt you are well aware.

    Have you taken a look at Tony Gatlif's work? Latcho Drom, and more recently, Exils (wasn't too impressed by the film, but he wrote some of the music for it, which I thought superb).

  16. Feanor, greatest of the Eldar in the Days before Days: haven't seen anything by Panahi. Have seen Makhmalbaf's The Blackboard and a couple of films by her father, including this very strange one.

    Vaibhav: yes, it's fun to put these up once in a while, but it always leaves me feeling guilty - I much prefer to write at length about films I like rather than just put up a list of titles. In this case, if I'd had more time, or had been less lazy, I might have included 2 or 3 sentences on each of the films.

  17. I particularly agree on the last five movies - i was totally unmoved by Rashomon, La Regle du Jeu and La Dolce Vita. I am just waiting to be crucified on this.

    I love your having Tavernier - he is not critically rated high. Haven't seen D'artagnan's daughter but i recommend "Sunday in the Country", "Life and nothing but" and "Coup de Torchon". I feel that you can't go too wrong with Noiret and Tavernier.

    Considering that you have been partial to the French, pray, why have you ignored Rohmer.

    A few notable ommissions - the Chinese (surely something of Kaige, Yimou, Wong-kar would have merited attention)and Almodovar.

  18. Vamshi: Haven't ignored Rohmer, I have My Night at Maud's on the list - but I've only seen 3-4 of his other films, and wasn't too keen to put any of them on a "50 favourites" list.

    Wong Kar-Wai, Yimou and Almodovar suffer from my reluctance to include very recent films on the list, but I have particular fondness for In the Mood for Love and Talk to Her.

  19. Good list! But I am going to discuss a separate point. Now you have included KK's Blue. Do you realise that Dosar borrowed (a mere apology of the word "copy") heavily from that film. Some scenes weer exactly the same.

    Did you see Blue after Dosar? I didn't find any mention of Blue in your Dosar post.

    Hope to hear from you.

  20. C F Kane: thanks for pointing that out. I saw Blue many years before Dosar, which could be one reason I didn't make the connection. (I didn't think Dosar was a particularly original work btw - parts of it seemed familiar, but I figured it was maybe a composite of earlier films with similar themes.)

  21. Sorry my bad, you do have a Rohmer. I just jumped after taking a quick glance.

    I did see a reluctance to include some of the modern greats, or are you waiting for them to stand the test of time before passing judgement.

  22. Takashi Miike and Chan-wook Park, anyone?
    I like Fassbinder too,but his work is great in its entirety.If asked to pick one film,I would find it difficult.

  23. Its a list of personal favourties sure but conforms to the "we don't know anything east of us bar Kurosawa and the odd Korean movie". HK cinema itself has been pathbreaking at times (unlike Bollywood0 and there are any number of exquisite Chinese/Taiwanese/Japanese movies which deserve a must see status. And to gripe more, Eastern literature is also hardly known....

  24. jafar panahi is a disciple of kiarostami and is clearly influenced by him, and continues in the tradition of using children as observers of the iranian situation. ayeneh and the white balloon are wonderful pieces.

    are iranian movies available on DVD in delhi?

  25. It would be interesting to see a list of 50 most overrated (e.g. Eyes Wide Shut) or just downright awful films (e.g. The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover) from art-house stables.

  26. why yojimbo? am i the only one that thinks kurosawa isnt a great sheikh/shake...also why shonar kella? thought the feluda movies were average among ray productions... have u seen aranyer dinratri though? its a personal favourite:)

  27. anglophilicbong: I don't get the point of asking questions like "why this" and "why that" when someone has prepared a favourites list. (Anyway, I've linked to old posts about Yojimbo and Sonar Kella, so maybe those will partly explain my fondness for them.)

    Yes, have seen Aranyer Dinratri, like it a lot but it wouldn't be among my top five Rays.

  28. im so thrilled that you've not mentioned rashomon in the top 50 - it's a film one can appreciate at an intellectual level, but to actually enjoy the film? need a rain check on that.

    though i have to admit, the more i see it, the better i like it - the brilliant play of light throughout the film, like how the sun rises just as the woodcutter is walking away in the final scene, or how the sun darkens when the samurai's wife is raped by the bandit.

    just a teeny weeny query- why include ray and ghatak, i know they're non- hindi but the ethos of their films is completely indian. i wouldn't ever think of calling them foreign.

  29. Anon: the brilliant play of light is one of the things I loved about that film - especially in the tracking shot in the first forest scene where the camera is behind the woodcutter as he walks through the foliage.

    About Ray and Ghatak - this is a "foreign-language film" list, not a foreign film list. I think the movie-viewing experience is significantly altered when you experience a film through the prism of subtitles (and the DVD subtitles for these Bengali films are terrible).

  30. alright..i have to give you that!

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  32. Nice post.

    I'm somewhat ambivalent towards foreign language films. I'm not sure if one can completely appreciate them especially if they happen to be talky. I mean...Is it possible to imagine a non-English speaker liking Wilder's The Apartment or Hawks' His Girl Friday in subtitiles?

    Also, I believe that both the average moviegoer and the critical machinery tend to overrate "continental" films and look condescendingly upon commercial Hollywood cinema.

    For instance, my first Bergman was Wild Strawberries, which I watched after having heard a lot about him being a very "deep" artist and all that. Supposedly one of his best. I must say I was terribly disappointed. Nothing deep about it whatsoever. People regard it as "deep" probably because they watch it in subtitles.

    I guess one can learn more about human relationships from a Hitchcock thriller like Rear Window or a Cukor comedy like "Holiday" than from Wild Strawberries.