This was a good year for foreign films, but it was a very bad year for foreign films that I actually had a chance to see. Maybe you can blame the recession or maybe you can blame fickle distributors, but it seems like nothing seems to come to stateside theaters in a timely manner, especially if you don’t have the luxury of living in New York. This is a compromised category and if a foreign favorite isn’t here it’s almost certainly because I haven’t seen it.
- The Baader-Meinhoff Complex: I hesitate to call this a 2009 movie but considering that it started playing in my city in September I’m going to go with it. This film chronicles a turbulent decade or so of German history in which a radical group of anti-establishment youths picked up guns and decided to start a revolution. The film smartly walks the tightrope between sympathizing with these idealistic young people and condemning them.
- Red Cliff: A lot of fine art emerges from world cinema, but sometimes we also get a fun action movie from abroad and this is a good example of just such a case. This movie was huge in china but the challenges of releasing two movies worth of epic martial arts was a bit daunting for distributors. The solution was to cut the two films into a single movie, not a pretty solution but it got the job done. All the same, this is a cool war movie with some good visuals and awesome battle scenes.
- Sin Nombre: This is another movie of questionable qualification, it was made by an American director with a decent amount of American funding, but it’s a Spanish language film set in Latin America. The film has an interesting structure in which three seemingly disparate stories all organically connect in the middle and remain linked. More importantly, it’s an unflinching look at the gang culture of Central America.
- Thirst: South Korea is something of a Mecca for strange and twisted cinema and Park Chan-Wook runs that town. It’s odd how Chan-Wook is someone who can be beloved by underground genre-crowds while still being accepted by highbrow festival crowds. His latest effort is hardly perfect (its second act is really problematic), but it still has more than enough cool set-pieces and twisted humor to rank up with some of the better movies of his filmography.
- The White Ribbon: This is a very dark and serious film about generational guilt, and at its heart about questions of nature vs. nurture. The film is shot in stark black and white and edited in Haneke’s intense but patient style while set in an authentic feeling period town in the German countryside. The film presents a bleak picture that will haunt viewers long after it’s over.