Foreign-language movies are hard. There is the obvious language barrier, of course, but accessibility is a challenge too. Why go seek out some obscure movie from another country that most people have never heard of, when Hollywood manufactures a new blockbuster every couple of months and pipes it directly into every movie theater in the nation?
I think we all know the answer. There is a real sense of adventure in being immersed in a new culture, and introduced to new sights, sounds, and ways of thinking. And you can do it all without buying an expensive plane ticket! I say: if you haven’t had the time to explore world cinema before, do it all at once with an international movie marathon!
I’ve polled Empire Online’s 100 greatest films of world cinema, What Culture’s 50 world cinema films to see before you die, and Sight and Sounds Top 50 to construct an international movie marathon schedule that has movies from eleven unique countries and a variety of content. These movies range from silent classics to modern techno-music chase movies. I hope you find a little something of everything in this list. Enjoy!
International Movie Marathon Movies
IMDB Summary: A poor village under attack by bandits recruits seven unemployed samurai to help them defend themselves.
My take: This three-hour epic from Japan was an early discovery in my movie marathoning career. What really struck me was the authenticity of the story. These aren’t hollywood ninjas jumping all around the screen. One of my most memorable moments from this movie is a duel between a samurai and a bandit. The samurai is perfectly still, while the bandit fidgets and twitches nervously. The bandit loudly and awkwardly lunges at the samurai, who kills him with a single stroke. Now that’s badass.
It’s also fascinating to compare this movie with the classic american westerns. Some, like The Magnificent Seven, are literal copies of Kurosawa’s classics. I would watch this movie again!
IMDB Summary: Amelie is an innocent and naïve girl in Paris with her own sense of justice. She decides to help those around her and, along the way, discovers love.
My take: If you find the world of “French cinema” intimidating, then try Amelie. This movie is quirky, but it feels so relatable. Amelie is a lonely, quiet girl who learns that she can make people happy by finding what they want the most. So she sets off to do so in some pretty fantastic ways. Eventually, she might just find happiness herself. That might sound like a cliched plot – but this movie is so funny, happy and goofy – it still has a place in my top shelf of all-time movie favorites. If you want to laugh and feel good, you should check out this movie.
IMDB Summary: A dramatized account of a great Russian naval mutiny and a resulting street demonstration which brought on a police massacre.
My take: You don’t hear much about Russian cinema here in the United States. This movie is consistently in the top charts as one of the best movies of all time. and reportedly stands up to modern viewing remarkably well. I wonder if, as a silent film, language is less of a barrier? I’ll have to watch to find out someday.
IMDB Summary: In the falangist Spain of 1944, the bookish young stepdaughter of a sadistic army officer escapes into an eerie but captivating fantasy world.
My take: I also don’t hear much about Spanish-language cinema. That seems like a shame, since there seems to be plenty of good spanish-language movies out there, and the entire continent south of the United States speaks Spanish! Pan’s Labyrinth is the late-night show for my movie marathon 2017. Some call it “A Fairy tale for Grown Ups”, with a mix of fantasy, horror, and adventure. It is one of the most successful Spanish language film released in the U.S., so it seems like a good place to start.
IMDB Summary: Oskar, an overlooked and bullied boy, finds love and revenge through Eli, a beautiful but peculiar girl.
My take: A Swedish vampire love story, but oh – so not sparkly. This movie is all about a bullied boy, and a strange little girl, who turns out to be a vampire. Together, they find a way to overcome those darn bullies…by viciously massacring them – along with a good number of people throughout town. This movie will warm your heart, right after ripping it out.
IMDB Summary: Inspired by true events, a 16th century prince falls in love with a court dancer and battles with his emperor father.
My take: The world of Indian films is vast, and increases in size every day. I have to admit it is hard to know where to start. Mughal-e-Azam seems like a good start. It took 16 years to complete. It was the most expensive Indian film ever made. It was shot three times in three different languages. It is three and a half hours long. In other words – this is an epic. Like all good epics, it is set in classical times, and features kings, princes, forbidden love, sword flighting – and a good dose of Indian musical numbers.
IMDB Summary: A precocious and outspoken Iranian girl grows up during the Islamic Revolution.
My take: This Iranian animated film caught my eye when I first read Roger Ebert’s four-star review. It is a coming-of-age story of a girl in Iran during the Iranian revolution. “Finding yourself” may seem difficult to American teenagers, but what about those who are growing up in a country that is changing in fundamental, and hostile, ways? What do you do with that? Where do you fit in?
Sidenote: This movie is technically another French film….made by a French-speaking Iranian and set in Iran, Germany, and France. Does this count as an “Iranian” film? I hope you can give me a pass on this one.
IMDB Summary: Two warriors in pursuit of a stolen sword and a notorious fugitive are led to an impetuous, physically skilled, adolescent nobleman’s daughter, who is at a crossroads in her life.
My take: This Chinese movie is my personal favorite Kung Fu movie. It has everything. Incredible fight scenes. Multiple love stories. Drama. Character growth. Loss. Near-magical secret martial arts fighting techniques. Philosophy, and an ending to make you think. I was lucky enough to see it in theaters when it was released in the U.S. After seeing it the first time, I remember thinking: “I’m going to need to see this three more times.” And so I did see it four times in the movie theater alone.
IMDB Summary: In post-war Italy, a working-class man’s bicycle is stolen. He and his son set out to find it.
My take: This Italian film was Sight and Sound Magazine’s greatest movie of all time in 1952. Since then, it has dropped to 33rd best film of all time. It tells a simple story. A man needs his bicycle to get work. His bicycle is stolen. He searches for it. Realistic human drama ensues. While I have not seen this film yet, something about it seems to connect with those that do. We feel for this man who wants to provide for his family, but life in poverty keeps him in poverty. sometimes we just have to watch movies like this to feel empathy for our fellow humans.
IMDB Summary: After a botched money delivery, Lola has 20 minutes to come up with 100,000 Deutschmarks.
My take: This German movie is so….German. Lola has to save her dopey boyfriend from sheer death by coming up with 100,000 Deutshmarks in 20 minutes. How could she possibly do this? You’ll find out – three times! This film delightfully plays with time and how slight variations in the choices you make every day can dramatically change the outcome. Deep? Yes! Full of heart-pounding techno music set to Lola sprinting around town? Yes! At 80 minutes, this movie is short, sweet, and oh so much fun.
IMDB Summary: Two boys growing up in a violent neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro take different paths: one becomes a photographer, the other a drug dealer.
My take: The novel this Brazilian film was based on was written by a man who grew up in the slums of Rio De Janeiro and escaped. This movie tells the tale of those who live there, in the lawless, violent cityscape that it is. Roger Ebert compares the movie to Scorsese’s Goodfellas – another excellent organized crime drama. While I haven’t seen the film myself yet, the storytelling and camera style is said to bring an urgency and a sense of realism to the desperate live on the streets of Rio. I hope to catch it someday!
International Movie Marathon Schedule
So now you know all about the movies – how do they fit into a 24-hour movie marathon schedule? Lucky for you, I have pre-packaged the 24-hour international movie marathon schedule for you below. Think you are up to the task?