10) Let The Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in) Dir. Tomas Alfredson / 2008 / Sweden / Swedish
Let The Right One In tells the story of a bullied 12 year old boy who forms a friendship with a young vampire girl who has moved in to his apartment block. This is in no way a film which is part of the vampire hype sparked by Twilight, instead this is a film as cold as ‘a vampire film set in Sweden’ would suggest; with its frozen lakes and snowy forests, the setting gives this film’s brutal violence a much harder edge. Let The Right One In is particularly worth watching for the shockingly unnerving swimming pool scene (pictured above); if anything watch it on YouTube. The quality of this film is certified by the fact that it was followed by an American re-make just two years later.
9) Bicycle Thieves (Ladri di biciclette) Dir. Vittorio De Sica / 1948 / Italy / Italian
I watched this film first in a film studies class in my first year at University and something about it has stuck with me ever since. Bicycle Thieves is an illustration of poverty in post-war Rome. It depicts the struggle of a Father and his son to retain his stolen bicycle: a necessity for him to work and provide for his family. Very heartwarming.
8) The Orphanage (El Orfanato) Dir. J.A. Bayona Prod. Guillermo del Toro / 2007 / Spain, Mexico / Spanish
Featuring also in my list of top horror films, I find Bayona’s The Orphanage truly haunting. Set in an old Spanish orphanage, a couple Laura and Carlos along with their adopted son Simón, aim to provide a home for young disabled children. The opening party, coupled with the arrival of terrifying social worker Benigna, sees the disappearance of their son in mysterious circumstances. Laura becomes convinced that his disappearance has something to do with her son’s imaginary friends. The Orphanage dabbles heavily in the supernatural and ideas of memory, whilst del Toro’s influence is clearly visible in its child-centric narrative, references to fascism and its fantastical undertones. A must see alongside number 2.
7) Lore Dir. Cate Shortland / 2012 / Australia, Germany, U.K / German
See again my recent review on Lore.
6) City of God (Cidade de Deus) Dir. Fernando Meirelles / 2002 / Brazil / Portuguese
Based loosely on real events, City of God depicts the rise of gang culture and crime in the Cidade de Deus suburb of Rio De Janiero. Narrated by Rocket, a young photographer, its narrative spans 20 years, in a whirlwind of high paced gun and drug crime. It is particularly shocking for its gun-toting children and the adult violence towards them.
5) The Secret in Their Eyes (El secreto de sus ojos) Dir. juan Jose Campanella / 2009 / Argentina / Spanish
See my recent review of The Secret in Their Eyes.
4) Hidden (Caché) Dir. Michael Haneke / 2005 / France, Germany, Austria, Italy / French
Hidden is a film about being watched. It tells the story of the Laurent family, who receive video tapes filming the exterior of their house. The shots are largely passive, and remain from a fixed point (as shown above), but are wrapped in childlike drawings of death. Father, Georges, becomes fixated on discovering the perpetrator and is convinced of his Algerian adopted brother’s guilt. His pursuit leads him to his brother’s flat, resulting in an extremely shocking suicide scene. This film is worth watching primarily for its camera work, but it is also a tense thriller which torments its audience through its inconclusiveness.
3) Y Tu Mama Tambien (And Your Mother Too) Dir. Alfonso Cuarón / 2001 / Mexico / Spanish
Y Tu Mama Tambien is perhaps the manifestation of every teenage boy’s wildest dreams. It follows a pair of Mexican teenagers Julio and Tenoch, missing their girlfriends who are travelling in Europe, as the embark upon a road trip through Mexico to find an invented beach named Boca del Cielo (“Heaven’s Mouth”). They are accompanied by Luisa the wife of Tenoch’s cousin Jano, who has recently told her that he has been unfaithful. The three travel through rural Mexico exchanging stories of their lives and sexual encounters. In her emotional confusion, Luisa sleeps with both of the boys, creating fractures in the friendship. The trio eventually and coincidentally find a beach which matches the legend the boys have created, in what becomes an almost cathartic discovery.
2) Pan’s Labyrinth (El labarinto del fauno) Dir. Guillermo del Toro / 2006 / Mexico / Spanish
As in the 2006 Academy Awards Pan’s Labyrinth loses out on Best Foreign Language Film in favour of The Lives of Others. In this film Guillermo del Toro mixes realism and fantasy in perfect measure. Telling the story of a young girl named Ofelia who lives with her step-father Captain Vidal in Spain’s early Francoist era immediately after WWII. In the real world the fascistic Capt. Vidal is fighting against the Spanish Marquis, groups of guerrilla fighters opposing the Franco regime, whilst in the fantasy world of Ofelia, she meets a Faun named pan, who lives in a dark underworld. A twisted Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in Franco-era Spain.
1) The Lives of Others ( Das Leben der Anderen) Dir. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck / 2006 / Germany / German
Taking my number 1 spot is the equally fantastic and heart-breaking The Lives of Others. Illustrating life under the intrusive gaze of the Stasi in Communist East Germany, this film shows the process of surveillance as lonely Stasi-officer Gerd Wiesler spies on the lives of suspected dissident playwright Georg Dreyman and his girlfriend Christa-Maria Sieland. The surveillance brings the cold and disconnected Wiesler in contact with his own sense of humanity, as he becomes increasingly emotionally involved in the couple’s lives, to the point where he turns his back on his government duties in order to invisibly aid the two, with tragic consequences.