No. 214 | February 15, 2011
I’ll start with a confession. I didn’t see nearly as many new foreign-language films this past year as I would have liked. Anyone who spent a few days at a film festival probably saw more than I did in twelve months. Festivals are where you can see world cinema. Local theaters, even art houses—with little help from most distributors—do a poor job of bringing foreign films to the people. People really need to go to festivals to see most of them. I’m not the first to lament that fact, but that’s the way it is.
So the caveat for this week is that “best of” is hardly an apt description. How can you tell the best of anything when all you’ve seen is a sliver? Festival-goers get a somewhat bigger slice, but it’s still a sliver in the grand scheme of things. Except for the well-traveled critic, beware of anyone’s “best of” list when it comes to foreign films.
This week I’ll highlight foreign films in two parts. Today, I’ll briefly touch on a handful of the better films that have had theatrical runs in 2010, films that I have seen and do recommend. Thursday, I’ll cover the pending Academy Award nominees, films I have not yet seen (only a couple have had a theatrical release in the U.S. so far, and only one of them a release wider than three theaters; I intend to see Biutiful sometime before the Oscars).
My biggest regret of the year is missing Carlos during its week-long run in L.A. I’d had plans to take in its five-and-a-half hours one Sunday afternoon, then life intervened, and it was gone. Can you be a foreign film fan and have a life at the same time? It’s a challenge sometimes.
Our theme this week
Notable foreign-language films of 2010
Featured last week: English-language films
(See Monday post for theme introduction)
Monday — Best Films of 2010 (#15 to #11)
Wednesday — Best Films of 2010 (#10 to #6)
Friday — Best Films of 2010 (#5 to #1)
Män som hatar kvinnor (Sweden/Swedish)
Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy has been the publishing sensation of the past few years, and its first screen adaptation was a trio of Swedish films, all of which made it to U.S. theaters the past year. The best of the lot is the first, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest, the second and third in the series, felt rather by-the-numbers to me. Noomi Rapace stars as the impressive and irrepressible heroine Lisbeth Salander. Michael Nyqvist is beleaguered journalist Mikael Blomkvist. The Larsson stories get their first Hollywood treatment later this year. Though I’m not often a fan of English-language remakes, with David Fincher at the helm, the new adaptation should be worth waiting for.
Part 1: Killer Instinct / L’instinct de mort (France/French)
Part 2: Public Enemy #1 / L’ennemi public № 1 (France/French)
The screen treatment of gangster Jacques Mesrine’s life is a two-parter. Part 1 I saw at the theater. Part 2 came and went too quickly for my schedule; I’ll see it on DVD next month. The story is entertaining, fast-moving, and phenomenal. Vincent Cassel captures the glamor and brutality of the crime legend’s life in a dazzling performance.
Un prophète (France/French)
A Prophet is a French crime film from director Jacques Audiard, set mostly in prison, where the inmates run the show. It was an Oscar nominee last year for best foreign-language film. It deserved the recognition and arguably should have won.
El secreto de sus ojos (Argentina/Spanish)
A more audience-friendly film than A Prophet, The Secret in Their Eyes did win the Oscar last year. A retired criminal investigator, haunted by a brutal rape and murder from years before, writes a book about the case. The tale is well-structured and pays off with a memorable ending. One especially well-crafted sequence takes viewers from an aerial shot high above a soccer field into the bowels of the stadium, seamlessly edited to make eight shots appear as one long take.
White Material (France/French)
White Material offers a powerful look into the civil strife engulfing an unnamed African country. Full of determination and denial, Maria (Isabelle Huppert) is the white owner of a coffee plantation who must find workers to help with the season’s harvest before armed rebels arrive. Director Claire Denis, born in Paris and raised in colonial Africa, has drawn from her experience for many of her films. This one feels particularly current and urgent.