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Have a block on foreign language films? Here are 12 that will change your mind

Foreign language films for beginners.

EACH YEAR, DOZENS of foreign language films are released to great acclaim, but go unwatched by the masses.

This is due in part to the fact that some of us erect a mental barrier when it comes to watching subtitled films and a misconception that all foreign language films are difficult/esoteric. (Not true!)

But it’s also down to a case of not knowing where to begin. Here are 12 foreign language films for beginners.

1. The Maid

themaid Source: 411Spot/YouTube

Country of origin: Chile

What’s it all about?: Having spent years working as a maid for an affluent Chilean family, Raquel reacts unfavourably when the family propose bringing in help to assist her and proceeds to fiercely defend her territory. That’s The Maid in a nutshell.

As well as being a totally off-the-wall character study and borderline psychological thriller, this Sundance winner also examines the role of domestic help within the family structure. The Telegraph called it “a quiet gem”.

It counts Michael Cera among its fans who, after seeing it by chance in New York, made contact with the director Sebastian Silva. The pair have since collaborated on two films together. So there you are now.

2. The Lives of Others

thelivesofothers Source: Sony

Country of origin: Germany

What’s it all about?:One of the best-reviewed films of the last decade and the winner of Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars in 2007, The Lives of Others is basically required viewing.

The film follows a Stasi agent tasked with carrying out surveillance work on a playwright suspected of dissonance. Utterly brilliant, it’s the sort of film that won’t leave your head after watching it.

3. M

mpeter Source: BFI

Country of origin: Germany

What’s it all about?: M may have been made in 1931, but that doesn’t mean that it’s old hat. To the contrary. Fritz Lang’s film about the hunt for a child murderer holds up remarkably well all the years later.

With Peter Lorre in exemplary form as the vilified child murderer at the centre of the investigation, the film touches on themes of mob justice, morality and law. But most of all, it’s just properly good and timeless.

It’s available widely, but you can also watch it here.

4. [REC]

rectrailer Source: Horror Nymphs

Country of origin: Spain

What’s it all about?: Like found footage films? Are you a horror aficionado? Then you have to see [Rec], which is arguably one of the best in its genre.

The film follows a news reporter and cameraman as they wander around a Barcelona apartment building, which appears to be beset by some sort of terrifying illness/zombie plague.

After the building is locked down by the authorities, the pair find themselves trapped inside and continue recording. Needless to say, your nerves will be shot watching it.

5. Monsieur Lazhar

monsieurlazhar Source: Reel Canada

Country of origin: Canada

What’s it all about?: When a primary school teacher dies by suicide, the school scramble to find a replacement and settle on the eponymous Monsieur Lazhar. Lazhar, an Algerian immigrant with a storied past of his own, helps the students navigate their trauma and they soon grow to love him.

It might sound like your run-of-the-mill inspirational teacher story, but the Oscar-nominated Monsieur Lazhar is tactful, gentle and heartwarming in the absolute best way possible.

6. All About My Mother

all_about_my_mother_4_almodovar Source: Emanuel Levy

Country of origin: Spain

What’s it all about?: When Manuela’s teenage son tragically dies, she moves to Barcelona to find her son’s father, but soon finds herself cavorting with transsexual prostitutes, stage actresses and pregnant nuns. (The pregnant nun in question? A young Penelope Cruz!)

All About My Mother broaches the heady topics of HIV and homosexuality, but it’s never less than a joy to watch and a paean to strong, resilient women. (It’s also a bit bonkers, but you probably gathered that.)

7. Together

together Source: Alt Screen

Country of origin: Sweden

What’s it all about?: Directed by Lukas Moodysson, Together takes place on a Swedish commune in 1975. There’s Abba, porridge analogies and a motley crew of characters. That’s all you need to know.

Moodysson came to the fore again this year with We Are The Best! (also recommended), but Together is a truly feel-good and underrated gem worth discovering.

8. The Lunchbox

lunchbox Source: hollywoodstreams/YouTube

Country of origin: India

What’s it all about?: In Mumbai, a dabbawala is the person responsible for delivering fresh homemade lunches to men at work. It’s a complex, but amazingly efficient system. Approximately 200,000 lunches are delivered yesterday.

This system is at the centre of The Lunchbox, a romantic comedy about what happens when a mix-up leads to a housewife’s lunch being delivered to the wrong man. The housewife in question strikes up a correspondence with the “wrong man”.

Think of it as You’ve Got Mail with food. (Also known as: the dream.)

9. A Summer’s Tale

asummerstale Source: Big World Pictures/YouTube

Country of origin: France

What’s it all about?: A Summer’s Tale is a 1995 film about an unassuming engineering student who finds himself tangled up in a love triangle while on holidays.

Not a lot necessarily happens in A Summer’s Tale, but if you enjoy talky romances in the vein of of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight trilogy, then it’s worth a gander.

Warning: it may leave you pining for summer.

10. The Raid

theraid Source: Sony Pictures Classics/YouTube

Country of origin: Indonesia

What’s it all about?: Widely regarded as the best action movie in recent years, words probably don’t do The Raid justice.

This Indonesian martial arts movie is in a league of its own and needs to be seen to believed. We mean, look. 

May send adrenaline levels dangerously high.

11. No

nolarrain Source: TakePart

Country of origin: Chile

What’s it all about?: Back in 1988, a referendum took place in Chile in which citizens were asked to vote whether or not General Pinochet’s rule should be extended by a further eight years.

No tells the story of the cheery, happiness-oriented ad campaign that was concocted by the No side and in part helped them win the vote. (Watch the real-life campaign jingle that was used here. It’s insanely catchy.)

Starring Gael Garcia Bernal as the slick ad man behind the canny campaign, No is a tense, engrossing and highly enjoyable lesson in South American politics. Irish referendums will seem meaningless by comparison.

12. Ida

ida Source: Fresh Movie Trailers/YouTube

Country of origin: Poland

What’s it all about?: Anna is a young Catholic nun who is on the brink of taking her vows. Orphaned as a child, she knows little of her family. Until she discovers that she is actually the daughter of two Jewish parents slain during the Holocaust.

Ida is Poland’s submission for Best Foreign Language film to the Oscars this year and with good reason. It’s a crisp, gorgeously shot (seriously: watch the trailer) coming-of-age film that examines a particularly dark chapter in Poland’s history and even touches on Catholic repression.

Ida is currently on limited release in Ireland. Not in a cinema near you? It is currently available to rent from Irish streaming service Volta.

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About the author:

Amy O'Connor

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