The world of cinema is a vast and diverse landscape, teeming with extraordinary stories and unforgettable characters that transcend language and cultural barriers. Far from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, numerous international filmmakers have been weaving their magic, creating cinematic masterpieces that often remain hidden gems to a wider audience. For those eager to explore the richness and complexity of global filmmaking, we have compiled a list of 20 must-Watch foreign films that will transport you to new worlds, challenge your perceptions, and leave you with a profound appreciation for the universality of human experiences. Prepare to embark on a thrilling odyssey through the annals of world cinema, as we journey together through poignant dramas, heart-warming comedies, and thought-provoking social commentaries from some of the most visionary filmmakers across the globe.
20 Must-Watch Foreign Films for Fans of World Cinema
- M (1931)
- Rules of the Game (1939)
- Seven Samurai (1954)
- Shéhérazade (2018)
- Breathless (1960)
- La Dolce Vita (1960)
- Persona (1966)
- 8½ (1963)
- Divines (2016)
- The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005)
- City of God (2002)
- Pather Panchali (1955)
- On Body and Soul (2017)
- System Crasher (2019)
- Parasite (2019)
- A Sun (2019)
- Under the Shadow (2016)
- The African Doctor (2016)
- A Fortunate Man (2018)
- The Kings of the World (2022)
“M” is a groundbreaking German thriller film released in 1931 and directed by Fritz Lang. The film is considered to be a masterpiece of early cinema, and a key example of German Expressionism. The story centers around a serial killer named Hans Beckert, played by Peter Lorre, who preys on young children. The film’s stark and innovative use of sound, including the use of a haunting whistle tune that serves as a calling card for the killer, helped to revolutionize the sound film. “M” is a compelling exploration of crime and punishment, with themes that still resonate with audiences today. The film is an essential piece of cinema history that continues to be celebrated for its artistic and technical achievements.
Rules of the Game (1939)
French film “Rules of the Game” was directed by Jean Renoir that explores the complex dynamics of a group of wealthy individuals and their servants over the course of a weekend party at a chateau. The film is a biting social commentary on the hypocrisy and superficiality of the upper class, and how their behavior impacts the lives of those around them. Renoir’s deft direction and use of deep focus cinematography creates a sense of chaos and confusion among the characters, while also highlighting the nuances of their relationships. “Rules of the Game” is a timeless classic that continues to resonate with audiences today.
Seven Samurai (1954)
Seven Samurai is a masterpiece film directed by Akira Kurosawa and released in 1954. The story revolves around a small Japanese village that hires a group of seven samurai warriors to defend them against a group of bandits. The film is an epic in every sense of the word, with breathtaking action sequences, beautiful cinematography, and a deep exploration of human nature. The film has been widely regarded as one of the greatest films ever made, and it continues to inspire and influence filmmakers to this day. Seven Samurai is a true testament to the power of cinema and the ability of a film to capture the human experience in a way that no other medium can.
French drama film “Shéhérazade” was directed by Jean-Bernard Marlin and released in 2018. The movie revolves around the lives of two teenagers, Zachary and Shéhérazade, who are living in Marseille’s underbelly. Zachary has just been released from a detention center and meets Shéhérazade, a teenage prostitute, on the streets. The two develop a relationship, but their lives are complicated by the dangers and struggles of their surroundings. The film portrays the harsh reality of life for marginalized communities and the struggles that come with poverty and youth. It is a powerful and thought-provoking movie that highlights the complexities of human relationships in challenging circumstances.
Breathless is a 1960 French film directed by Jean-Luc Godard, and it is considered one of the iconic films of the French New Wave movement. The film follows the story of Michel, a young car thief and aspiring journalist who falls in love with Patricia, an American girl who is studying in Paris. The film is famous for its jump cuts, naturalistic acting, and its experimental style that breaks many of the traditional cinematic conventions of its time. Breathless is an innovative and influential film that helped to redefine cinema and continues to inspire filmmakers and film lovers today.
La Dolce Vita (1960)
Released in 1960 “La Dolce Vita” was an Italian drama film directed by Federico Fellini. The film tells the story of a week in the life of a journalist named Marcello Rubini (played by Marcello Mastroianni) who lives a hedonistic lifestyle in Rome. Marcello spends his time socializing with the rich and famous, attending parties, and pursuing women. Along the way, he grapples with questions of meaning and purpose, as he becomes increasingly disillusioned with the shallow world he inhabits. The film is known for its iconic scenes, such as the Trevi Fountain sequence, and for its commentary on the decadence and emptiness of post-war Italian society.
Persona is a 1966 psychological drama film directed by Ingmar Bergman. The film explores themes of identity, communication, and the human psyche through the relationship between a young nurse named Alma and an actress named Elisabet who has suddenly become mute. As Alma tries to get Elisabet to speak, their personalities start to merge and blur, leading to an unsettling and surreal experience. The film is known for its experimental techniques, including unconventional editing, imagery, and sound design. It has been praised for its thought-provoking exploration of the human condition and has become a landmark in the history of cinema, influencing many filmmakers and artists.
Masterpiece film directed by Federico Fellini, 8½ released in 1963. The film follows the story of a film director named Guido Anselmi, who struggles with creative blockage while trying to complete his next movie. Through a series of dream sequences, flashbacks, and surrealist imagery, 8½ explores the themes of artistic struggle, creativity, and the complexities of human relationships. The film is known for its striking cinematography, innovative storytelling, and mesmerizing performances. 8½ has influenced countless filmmakers since its release, and is widely regarded as one of the greatest films in cinema history. It received critical acclaim and numerous awards, including the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1964.
Divines is a coming-of-age drama film directed by Houda Benyamina. It follows the story of Dounia, a young girl from a marginalized community in Paris who dreams of a better life outside her poverty-stricken environment. She meets a dancer, Maimouna, who takes her under her wing and introduces her to the world of dance and drug dealing. Dounia becomes Maimouna’s protégé and starts to see her dream of a better life within reach. However, she soon realizes that the drug-dealing world is more dangerous than she thought and she must make difficult decisions to protect herself and the people she loves. The film explores themes of friendship, poverty, and the pursuit of a better life. It received critical acclaim and won the Camera d’Or at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival.
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005)
Romanian film “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” was directed by Cristi Puiu. The movie follows the last hours of an old man named Mr. Lazarescu, who lives alone with his cats and suffers from an unknown illness. The film portrays the struggle of the protagonist to find proper medical care as he is transported from one hospital to another, encountering indifferent and incompetent medical personnel. The movie presents a scathing commentary on the Romanian healthcare system and the bureaucratic red tape that often prevents people from receiving the care they need. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu is a gripping and tragic portrayal of a system that fails to provide basic care to those who need it the most.
City of God (2002)
City of God is a critically acclaimed Brazilian crime film directed by Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund, released in 2002. The movie tells the story of a young boy named Rocket who grows up in the violent slums of Rio de Janeiro known as the “City of God”. It depicts the harsh reality of poverty, drugs, and gang violence that dominates the lives of the residents. The film’s non-linear storytelling technique creates a fast-paced and intense narrative, bringing the audience into the world of the slums. City of God is not only a thrilling crime drama but also a powerful social commentary on the issues of poverty and inequality that still plague many parts of the world.
Pather Panchali (1955)
Masterpiece of Indian cinema “Pather Panchali” was directed by Satyajit Ray. The film tells the story of a poor family in rural Bengal struggling to make ends meet. The narrative is a delicate portrayal of the everyday struggles, hopes, and dreams of the family. The film is a triumph of neo-realism in Indian cinema, with its attention to detail, atmospheric music, and cinematography that captures the beauty and the harsh realities of rural life in India. The film marked the beginning of the Apu Trilogy, which is regarded as one of the greatest achievements of Indian cinema. Pather Panchali is a timeless classic that continues to inspire generations of filmmakers and cinephiles around the world.
On Body and Soul (2017)
On Body and Soul is a Hungarian romantic drama film directed by Ildikó Enyedi. The film tells the story of two abattoir workers who discover that they share the same dream each night, in which they are both deer in a snow-covered forest. Despite their social awkwardness and differences in personality, they begin to develop a deep connection as they try to explore the meaning behind their dreams. The film explores themes of human connection, loneliness, and the power of dreams. On Body and Soul was well received by critics, winning the Golden Bear at the 2017 Berlin International Film Festival and was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 90th Academy Awards.
System Crasher (2019)
German drama film “System Crasher” explores the complex world of child welfare and the struggles of a young girl named Benni. The movie depicts the story of a 9-year-old girl who is labeled as a “system crasher” due to her uncontrollable behavior and inability to conform to society’s norms. Despite the efforts of her mother, social workers, and therapists, Benni’s situation seems to be getting worse. The film is an emotional rollercoaster that brings attention to the challenges of child welfare and the limitations of the system in providing effective support to troubled children. The performance of the young actress Helena Zengel is remarkable, making this movie a must-see.
Parasite is a critically acclaimed South Korean film directed by Bong Joon-ho. The movie follows the Kim family, who live in a cramped semi-basement apartment and struggle to make ends meet by taking on odd jobs. Their luck changes when the son, Ki-woo, is hired to tutor the daughter of a wealthy family, the Parks. As the Kim family ingratiates themselves into the Parks’ lives, their plan to become financially secure takes a dark and unexpected turn. The film is a commentary on social inequality and the desperation that arises from economic hardship, and its brilliant storytelling and exceptional performances have made it a must-watch.
A Sun (2019)
Taiwanese drama film directed by Chung Mong-hong, “A Sun” tells the story of a family in crisis. The film focuses on the Chen family, whose lives are turned upside down when their youngest son, A-Ho, is sent to juvenile detention for a violent crime. As the family struggles to cope with the aftermath of A-Ho’s actions, they are forced to confront long-buried secrets and betrayals. The film explores themes of family, sacrifice, and redemption, as each member of the Chen family comes to terms with their own mistakes and shortcomings. A Sun has received critical acclaim for its powerful performances, compelling story, and stunning cinematography.
Under the Shadow (2016)
Under the Shadow is a horror-thriller film set in 1980s Tehran during the Iran-Iraq War. The story follows a mother and daughter who are haunted by a mysterious evil spirit that enters their home. The film cleverly blends supernatural elements with real-life terrors, including bombings, air raids, and the oppressive regime of the time. The film’s slow-burn tension and eerie atmosphere are perfectly executed, keeping the audience on edge throughout. The mother-daughter dynamic is also well-crafted, with the two characters providing a strong emotional anchor for the story. Under the Shadow is a standout horror film that skillfully blends scares with social commentary.
The African Doctor (2016)
Heart-warming and inspiring biographical film “The African Doctor” tells the story of Seyolo Zantoko, a Congolese doctor who moves with his family to a rural village in France in the 1970s. Seyolo faces prejudice and discrimination from the local community and struggles to gain acceptance as a doctor in a country that is not his own. However, with the support of his wife and children, he perseveres and becomes an integral part of the village, helping to heal both the physical and emotional wounds of his patients. The film highlights themes of family, identity, and the importance of embracing cultural differences.
A Fortunate Man (2018)
“A Fortunate Man” is a 2018 film directed by Billie August and based on the novel of the same name by Henrik Pontoppidan. The film tells the story of a young, idealistic doctor named Peter Sidenius, who leaves his privileged upbringing behind to work in a rural community in Denmark. As Peter struggles to reconcile his own ambitions with the needs of the community, he finds himself drawn to a woman named Sofie, who challenges his beliefs and values. The film explores themes of class, idealism, and sacrifice, and features powerful performances by its lead actors. “A Fortunate Man” is a moving and thought-provoking drama that will stay with audiences long after the credits roll.
The Kings of the World (2022)
“The Kings of the World” is a surreal film that follows five street kids on their quest to claim land they believe is rightfully theirs. Despite being hindered by their impoverished and abandoned state, the boys remain unstoppable, living life without rules and tearing down private property. The movie explores powerful themes of land restitution and youth neglect, making it an emotional and thought-provoking experience. “The Kings of the World” has been selected as Colombia’s official entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2022 Academy Awards, adding to its acclaim as one of the most agonizing movies one can ever see.
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