We haven’t seen any TIFF 2012 titles yet so, unfortunately, no help there. Instead we’ve cooked up a bluffer’s guide of great foreign flicks for men, specifically men who’ve never had to “read a movie” in their lives.
10. Le mépris / Contempt (France / Italy, 1963)
Foreign movies weren’t always a slog. Sometimes they featured beautiful women, scathing jokes and cool-as-hell protagonists. All were in full effect for Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt, which opens with a thoughtful analysis of Brigitte Bardot’s ass and gets weirder from there.
Bardot is the beautiful, bored wife of Paul (Michel Piccoli), a screenwriter hired to adapt Homer's Odyssey for an American producer (Jack Palance) who makes “boorish” seem like a positive attribute. Palance’s Jeremy Prokosch is one of the funniest parodies of Hollywood ego in movie history, something like Charlton Heston on steroids after speed-reading an Introduction to Film textbook.
While Contempt falls into a standard breakdown-of-marriage plot its odd diversions and black humour make it one of the most the most accessible French “new wave” movies.
Also check out: Breathless (1959), I fidanzati (1963)
09. Good Bye, Lenin! (Germany, 2003)
How far would you go for your Mom? That’s the million deutschmark question in Wolfgang Becker’s festival hit Good Bye, Lenin! Daniel Bruhl is Alex, a kid growing up in East Germany years before reunification. Mother Christiane is a staunch government supporter; after seeing Alex arrested during a political demonstration a heart attack sends her into a deep coma.
When Christiane wakes up, the Berlin Wall has fallen, opening East Germany and giving its people all the McDonald’s and Coca Cola they can handle. In an attempt to keep her calm and healthy Alex and his friends make like reunification never happened, with increasingly elaborate tricks to disguise their now-Westernized nation.
Good Bye, Lenin’s great strength is a clear explanation of German politics and history; Becker does such a great job clarifying the complex situation of the time, it seems tailor-made for an international audience. It’s also incredibly funny, which doesn’t hurt.
Also Check Out: Run Lola Run (1998), Das Experiment (2001)
08. No Man’s Land (Bosnia, 2001)
It’s a common trick in war movies: in a battle with thousands of participants, two rivals will somehow find each other and fight to the death.
With No Man’s Land, director Danis Tanović flips the script; two men on each side of the Bosnian War find themselves stuck together in a single trench, unwilling to concede but finding (perhaps accidentally) some common ground. Meanwhile, a third solder is trapped over a buried mine that will explode if he moves.
Despite a lack of action, No Man’s Land is one of the most thrilling war movies of the decade. The tense showdown between the men rarely wanders, and despite some obvious anti-war metaphors Tanović never gets preachy, preferring to take on UN bureaucrats than any one side of the war.
Also Check Out: Taegukgi Hwinallimyo (2004), Life is a Miracle (2004)
07. Pickpocket (France, 1959)
Robert Bresson typically made movies about morality using actors with the charisma of crumbling drywall. So while they weren’t exactly laugh riots, his Pickpocket stands out as atypically straightforward and entertaining.
It was one of the first crime movies to really get into the mind of the lawbreaker. That would be Michel (Martin LaSalle) a thief who seems to get off, in more ways than one, through the simple act of lifting wallets. Bresson’s oddly funny, always tense breakdown of Michel’s warped method and psychology would influence crime movies for decades to come.
Also Check Out: Rififi (1955), Shoot the Piano Player (1960)
06. El Topo (Mexico, 1970)
Though released a year too late, the batshit-crazy Western El Topo showcases everything we’ve come to associate with the ‘60s: an independent spirit (directed, written, scored by and starring Alejandro Jodorowsky) psychedelic imagery and a middle finger raised to religious, sexual and artistic convention.
It’s one of the few drug culture artifacts to really hold up today. Jodorowsky’s aggressively weird story - roughly that of a wanderer saving some deformed freaks and being worshiped as a God - and haunting style has survived while countless acid trip artifacts look tame by comparison. No surprise that John Lennon helped it get released.
Also Check Out: The Holy Mountain (1973), Santa Sangre (1989)
05. Decalogue (Poland, 1989)
Too much sex and violence wearing you out? Looking for a movie that will make you think without talking over your head? Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Decalogue is that trip.
Originally screened on television, through shown in theatres outside Poland and routinely listed among great movies, Kieślowski’s multi-part project dissects the Ten Commandments and applies them to real-world situations. Each entry is an original story set inside the same apartment complex, usually involving a moral dilemma with no obvious solution. At a time when viewers are getting used to more complex TV dramas that ape the style of their favourite movies, the Decalogue film series is waiting for a wider audience.
Also Check Out: Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980), Satantango (1994)
04. Man Bites Dog (Belgium, 1992)
Sat through every Saw movie? Ate popcorn gleefully during The Human Centipede? Take a walk with Man Bites Dog, a 1992 Belgian indie that set a new standard for shock-horror filmmaking. The mock-documentary follows Ben (Benoit Poelvoorde), a serial killer who operates with wit and increasingly bizarre, almost apocalyptic autonomy. He offs men, women, children, animals, the elderly and postmen to the apparent suspicion of no one, and the delight of his “crew.”
What really makes Man Bites Dog work is its sense of those behind the camera; unlike the movies it inspired the “Why are they still filming this?” question is asked, and answered, by the production crew’s increasing interest and participation in Ben’s crimes. The age of the movie has also helped its effect: in this world of digital slickness the borderline college-grade production values seem almost more real.
Also check out: La Haine (1995), Angst (1983)
03. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Italy, 1966)
Yes, The Good the Bad and the Ugly is a foreign movie. Though the fact that its three title characters were played by English-speaking actors made for an easy dub, Sergio Leone brought a distinctly foreign style to this Civil War-set epic.
Featuring a supporting cast of Spaniards and set against the unusual backdrop of Burgos, Leone’s operatic Western follows three guys who are definitely not John Wayne as they lie, cheat and steal their way to a fortune. With this and other “Spaghetti Westerns” Leone dragged an American genre by its filthy fingernails into our modern, cynical world.
Also Check Out: Duck, You Sucker! (1971), Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
02. 8 1/2 (Italy, 1963)
Even for non-film fans, Federico Fellini is a household name, and the director’s masterpiece 8 1/2 is the reason why: there has never been anything quite like it.
Marcello Mastroianni plays Guido, a film director haunted by women. While he struggles to complete a nonsensical science-fiction epic, the ladies in his life - a wife, a mistress, a prostitute and an actress so beautiful she might have been delivered by God – occupy his waking and sleeping hours and drive him over the edge.
In a broad sense, 8 1/2 is about the two great obsessions of modern men – sex and the movies – crashing into each other. After watching it you may never see your own fantasies the same way again.
Also Check Out: La Dolce Vita (1959), The Conformist (1970)
01. Battle Royale (Japan, 2000)
You could fill this entire list with Asian films. Japanese and Korean directors have been making the most jaw-dropping genre movies in the world for years, and inspired just about every “Midnight Madness” title currently presented by TIFF.
But the granddaddy of them all might be Battle Royale, Kinji Fukasaku’s comedy-horror-action-coming-of-age flick that no American distributer would touch in 2000. That lack of support led to rumours the movie had been “banned” but, although violent, it’s far more entertaining and less difficult to watch than its reputation would suggest. Fukasaku strands a class of school kids on an island where, in some awesome / terrifying future, they are forced to fight to the death.
Now finally available in non-bootleg / import release, Battle Royale can be appreciated as one of the most influential and generally kick-ass action movies of our time.
Also Check Out: Oldboy (2003), The Host (2006),