5 Favourite Non-English Movies
05. Belle de Jour (1967)
directed by Luis Buñuel
starring Catherine Deneuve, Jean Sorel and Michel Piccoli
Being this my first ever movie from Buñuel, Belle de Jour was a kind of shock that I’ve learned to appreciate more and more in subsequent viewings. As its official synopsis so simply puts it, it’s about a frigid young housewife decides to spend her midweek afternoons as a prostitute. With that plot, and this being Buñuel, this is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea – but if it sounds like something you’d enjoy, you’ll find in Belle de Jour a provocative, even disturbing, but nevertheless stunning film.
04. La Haine (1995)
directed by Mathieu Kassovitz
starring Vincent Cassel, Hubert Koundé and Saïd Taghmaoui
Kassovitz’s La Haine may look like an odd pick standing next to the other four, but even though it is their polar opposite, it can stand on its own perfectly fine. In this french 90s film we follow around three friends for 24h, in the aftermath of the violent riots over the killing of a young man by a police officer, allegedly motivated by racism. The three friends represent three different oppressed minorities: Vinz who is a Jew, Saïd who is Arab, and Hubert who is black. Shot in gorgeous black and white, La Haine is violent and real, and incredibly important to this day.
03. La Pianiste (1967)
directed by Michael Haneke
starring Isabelle Huppert, Annie Girardot and Benoît Magimel
Starting to feel like I should’ve included a content warning in the post intro but, this is as weird as it gets so consider yourself warned as of now. Simply put, Erika (Isabelle Huppert) is a piano teacher and a masochist. When one of her students takes an interest in her, and she reveals what she needs from him, it doesn’t go over well. With notoriously controversial director Michael Haneke at the helm, we navigate through Erika’s deviancy, and her troubled relationship with her mother, in an unflinching, entrancing ride.
02. Se, Jie (2007)
directed by Ang Lee
starring Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, Wei Tang and Joan Chen
With Ang Lee is usually hit or miss for me, but oh boy, when he hits it… it’s perfection. Lust, Caution is such a hit, but fair warning, not entirely beloved by everyone. Though how someone could not fall head over heels for this one is beyond me. There’s romance, there’s politics, there’s danger and suspense; amazing leads, and a director with a confident, solid vision.
Set in Japanese occupied China, Lust, Caution tells the story of Chinese university student Chia Chi (Wei Tang), assigned to seduce and murder Japanese special agent Mr. Yee (Tony Leung). I’ll leave you to experience all the twists and turns, but needless to say, feelings complicate things. The film is based on a book which I’ve read and loved – sadly, it’s a short story, but the movie’s 2h40 running time somewhat makes up for it.
01. Faa Yeung Nin Wa (2000)
directed by Wong Kar-Wai
starring Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, Maggie Cheung and Ping Lam Siu
I guess you could say I have a thing for asian movies. More specifically, the ones starring Tony Leung. I’ve said it many times and I’ll keep repeating myself every time his name comes up, because this man has an insane onscreen presence. Oddly, he absolutely thrives when he’s silent, wether he’s quietly desperate (Happy Together), desolate (In The Mood For Love), menacing (Lust, Caution), or kicking ass (The Grandmaster).
But alas, this isn’t about Leung (maybe some other time?), but about what was in fact the first movie I saw where he had a starring role. In In The Mood For Love, Su (Cheung) and Chow (Leung) are neighbours living in an apartment building, in 1962 Hong Kong. They find out their spouses are having an affair together, and they’re often left alone.
The two fight the overwhelming sadness and loneliness with each other’s company, reenacting the affair platonically, until they eventually begin to develop feelings for each other. I urge everyone to see it, even if you don’t typically like Wong Kar-Wai, as this is actually quite different from most of his other films. It’s easily one of the most poignant films I’ve ever seen, and without a doubt one of the most visually stunning.