I’ve said it before: I love foreign films. The reason? Simply put, they’re typically conceived, written, and produced without the added baggage of the American studio system. Consequently, they tend to be rawer, more authentic storytelling.
Of course, this isn’t always the case – just like some American artists want to be embraced on the world stage, so do some Chinese filmmakers, as do some Japanese directors, as do some French auteurs. In most cases, they still manage to throw off the added weight of a ‘corporate team’ trying to force feed the motion picture to the largest audience possible, and that’s usually an advantage.
So – with that spirit of goodwill in mind – let me share a few suggestions of foreign flicks I’ve had the good fortune to discover as of late. Maybe you’ll find something to tickle your fancy from these choices.
The Future – aka “Il Futuro” (Spain)
Let me be perfectly clear with this one up front: in my opinion, The Future is not by any measure a great film. If you do any web searching, you’ll certainly find that it has some pretty glowing critical praise. Begrudgingly, I suppose it’s deserved (who am I to argue?), but it still has some storytelling flaws I found a bit hard to reconcile come the simple moral message of its ending (which amounts to “everybody has to grow up sometime”).
What does it have?
The Future has two things going for it that are definitely worth its 90 minute investment: the lovely Manuella Martelli and fanboy-favorite Rutger Hauer. She’s a 19-year-old late-bloomer, and he’s an aging cinema strongman nearing his end of days. Through a series of circumstances, they find one another … and they light up the screen in one of those near-classic ‘old man / young woman’ love/sex stories of old. Yes, there’s nudity (all of it wonderfully artsy, none of it gratuitous), but what it has in spades is c-h-e-m-i-s-t-r-y. Palpable chemistry. It’s an amazing duet that deserves to be seen by a wider audience, and it probably would were it not a foreign film.
For those with some reservations, I’ll let you know that the latter half is largely in English, as Hauer’s character built his reputation by making American-financed motion pictures.
The Prey (France)
In as few words as possible: if you liked Harrison Ford in The Fugitive, then you’ll love The Prey. In many ways, it’s the classic Hitchcock story of the man wrongly accused, but the French weren’t content to leave it at that. Necessarily, they had to add their own spin, and they did when they tweaked it by making “the man wrongly accused” already a convict currently behind bars.
Albert Dupontel plays Franck Adrien, a career thief who has made a fortune stealing money while not hurting people. When things go down in ‘the joint,’ he stays out of it, but fate just threw him an ugly twist: he’s nearing the end of his prison sentence when, one night, he decides to come to the rescue of his weak little cellmate – a mousey fellow claiming innocence who is about to have his head handed to him by three nasty Russians. Despite his best interests, Franck stops it … and he sets in motion a series of events that’ll put his family at risk.
The skinny? It turns out that mousey fellow claiming innocence wasn’t so innocent after all.
I won’t spoil it more than that.
It’s a terrific cat-and-mouse game, complete with a sexy French police detective – the kind who looks like she models for Victoria Secrets in her off-hours – and I give it an enthusiastic thumbs up.
On The Job (Phillipines)
I scored this film – which I’d never even heard of – from a distributor looking for me to pen a quick review (which I gladly did) – and, two weeks later, I’m still thinking about it. (I’ll probably watch it again this weekend.) Because I do follow the foreign film market, it’s rare that one slips into my mailbox without my having either (A) heard something about it, (B) read something about it, or (C) had one of my fellow online pals ask me about it. But On The Job came out of nowhere.
Mark my words: I won’t be surprised when this tale of institutional corruption gets an American remake that’ll go on to garner all of the attention, win all of the awards, and catapult some acting pair to great fame. It’s the kind of crime film Scorsese used to make when he was relevant (go ahead and hate, haters), back before he decided to hitch his creative wagon to DiCaprio’s foul-mouthed yet cherubic face in lieu of De Niro’s more grizzled mug.
Tatang and Danny are criminals incarcerated in a Philippine prison, but they’re secretly given undocumented furloughs in order to carry out assassinations of the ruling elite’s political rivals. Why use convicts? Because who would ever suspect a convict currently in jail? It’s a genius inspiration, one that gets a defining twist when Tatang – nearing the end of his prison sentence – is asked to promote Danny into the top spot.
Suffice it to say, Tatang ain’t gonna make it easy!
There are a handful of other inventive subplots that make this one to watch, and, again, it gets my unconditional support.
Sleep Dealer (Mexico)
I throw in Sleep Dealer almost as an honorable mention. It’s a flick slightly older than the ones mentioned above (it was released in 2008), and it’s another one I hadn’t heard about. Part character drama and part science fiction, it’s a slowly simmering tale about the abuse of people and power in the world of tomorrow just around the corner.
A young Memo Cruz (played by Luis Fernando Pena) hacks corporate-owned satellite communications only for entertainment purposes. When his act is responsible for the accidental death of his father (he’s branded a terrorist), Memo has to go to the big city to find employment in order to support the family. Once there, he gets himself wet-wired so that he can provide ‘virtual labor’ to one of the big American companies still exploiting the resources of the Third World. But before all is said and done, he’ll risk his life to right his father’s reputation and make a stand for freedom in the process, provided he can get away with it!
To be fair, Sleep Dealer is fairly cheaply made sci-fi, and perhaps that’s why I found it so intriguing. Some of the special effects look like the best that apps can provide, but, if anything, the film shows you what’s entirely possible in this day and age given a smart story, a reasonable budget, and a willingness to make some bold choices. I don’t agree with the film’s politics; like most, I want mostly to be entertained when I’m watching a flick, and it definitely kept my interest until it’s a bit too Hollywood-esque climax.