As a "third culture kid" I grew up with people from all over the world. Foreign became familiar and before I knew it I was watching Korean Dramas that my best friend got me hooked on. Allow me to pay it forward and to share some of my favorite foreign films with you. Before I start, I want you to know that I dislike dubbed films with a passion. I'm a 100% pro subtitles, so I suggest that is how you watch them: subtitled. It's well worth the additional brain exercise.
1. Mexico: Sin Nombre
Released in 2009, this is hands down the best Spanish-language film I've seen thus far. Directed by Cary Fukunaga and produced by actors Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna, who are no strangers to filmmaking, this film centers around a teenaged boy, Casper, attempting to escape gang life and a girl, Sayra, trying to reach, and cross, the American border in the hope of a better life. On the verge of life and death the two strike up an unlikely yet powerful friendship that will keep you engaged for 96 minutes from beginning to end.
Fun fact: Fukunaga did his research by immersing himself in the lives of the immigrants and gang members depicted in the film, stating "[he] spent about two years in two different prisons, and reduced a group of gang members down to a couple guys [he] could trust". That is some dedication right there.
2. Denmark: Efter Brylluppet
I have been a Mads Mikkelsen fan ever since he played Le Chiffre, so when I came across this film I knew I had to watch it. Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Efter Brylluppet (2006) is about a man, Jacob, who, in order to save the Indian orphanage he runs, must return to Denmark to meet with the CEO, Jørgen, willing to fund the project. Upon arrival Jørgen invites Jacob to his daughter's wedding and it is there that he finds out Jørgen's wife is, or was, the love Jacob's life. One thing leads to another and before you know it, you are caught up in this "dark [and] richly mounted film".
Fun Fact: Efter Brylluppet lost out to Das Leben Der Anderen at the 78th Academy Awards. This German movie is another fantastic foreign film that I highly recommend you watch. Especially if you're interested in the GDR.
3. Netherlands: Komt Een Vrouw Bij De Dokter
This film, based on the hugely successful book by the same name, was quite controversial in the Netherlands to say the least. The reason for this being its plot. Komt Een Vrouw Bij De Dokter is about a couple, Stijn and Carmen, played by one of the Netherlands' biggest exports; Carice van Houten, who seem to have the perfect marriage. Tragedy strikes when Carmen is diagnosed with breast cancer and Stijn's night time adventures start to spiral out of control, as he continues to cheat on his sick wife. At this point I should mention that the book is largely autobiographical. Be prepared for some major waterworks.
Fun fact: The film, released in 2009, is one of the only 6 films to win "De Diamanten Film", which recognizes films that have sold over 1 million tickets. Carice van Houten stars in 3 of the 6 films that have won the prize thus far.
4. France: LOL (Laughing Out Loud)
Before I start, this one is not to be confused with the bad American remake. In fact, there should never have been a remake because LOL is perfect. Released in 2008, this French comedy follows the eventful life of Lola, nicknamed LOL, as she juggles school, friends, boyfriends and life as a child of divorce. Being a teenager is far from easy, and when Lola's boyfriend cheats on her and her parents have no clue how to handle their preadolescent daughter, Lola must find her own way. LOL oozes that French je ne sais quoi and Sophie Marceau does a great job as Lola's mother, making it a must-watch coming-of-age film.
Fun fact: Sophie Marceau made her name as the main protagonist, a teen coping with all kinds of issues, in La Boum (1980). It discusses surprisingly similar themes as LOL, which makes Sophie Marceau a smart casting choice.
5. Germany: Keinohrhasen
I cannot produce a list of foreign language film favorites without mentioning this one. I just can't. I've seen multiple German movies over the years, most of which deserve an honorable mention, but this one will forever be an all-time favorite of mine. Keinohrhasen (2007) was written, produced and directed by Til Schweiger, who also happens to star in it as Ludo Decker, the male lead. Ludo is a paparazzo, sentenced to community service at a local kindergarten following a mission gone wrong. Here he meets Anna, who is still traumatized by her childhood memories of Ludo. We all know there's a fine line between love and hate, and so the tension between them unfolds into a romance with arguably more downs than ups. But fear not, you can expect a happy ending.
Fun fact: The real star of Keinohrhasen is Schweiger's 5-year-old daughter Emma, who has since appeared in most of her father's movies. In fact, all 4 of Schweiger's children make an appearance in this successful German film.