A-Z of World Cinema

11th April 2014

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An adaptation of the graphic novel written by his wife Coco, Swedish director Lukas Moodysson's new film We Are the Best! (pictured above) revolves around three girls (Bobo, Klara and Hedvig ) in 1980s Stockholm who decide to form a punk band — despite not having any instruments and being told by everyone that punk is dead. To celebrate next week's release of the film (watch this space for an upcoming full review) we’ve put together the following A-Z of our favourite world cinema releases.
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Amelie
This quirky feel-good film introduced the world’s adoring eyes to one of the most iconic and charming leading heroines, in Amelie (Audrey Tautou). Jeunet’s film is full of so many delightful intricacies and details and has become a permanent fixture on Valentine’s Day film lists.
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Battle Royale
This highly influential film was banned in several countries upon release but can now be considered one of Japan’s greatest film exports and is counted as favourites amongst directors such as Quentin Tarantino. The film takes teenage drama to a new level when school kids have to fight for the death in a truly life-or-death game – think gory The Hunger Games.
Notable competition: Bicycle Thieves, The Beat That My Heart Skipped, Battleship Potemkin, Battle of Algiers.
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City Of God
This amazing look at life in the slums of Rio de Janiero is brutal, heart-breaking but irresistible – despite all the hard-hitting horror, you won’t be able to turn away.
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Dogtooth
A Cannes-award-winning film, this recent export of Greek cinema is a provocative piece but a stellar mark of modern filmmaking. It follows a husband and wife whose children have never left their home and are kept ignorant of the world outside well into adulthood.
Notable Absences: The Dreamers, Downfall, Dogville, and Delicatessen
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The Edukators
Nominated for a Palme d’Or, this 2004 German film revolves around three anti-capitalist activists in Berlin who break and enter into properties but just to keep the rich on their toes, rather than to steal. They meet their match though when they hit the home of Hardenberg, and young idealism and older pragmatism collide. Thought-provoking stuff.
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Fat Girl (À ma sour!)
This uncompromising look at female adolescence is not always an easy ride. However, this French film, banned in some cities for its content, is a powerful portrayal of teenage sexual relations with honest, compelling, and disturbing outcomes.
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Grave of the Fireflies
Well, there has to be a Studio Ghibli film on this list somewhere and Grave of the Fireflies is a fine example of Ghibili at its best. This Japanese animation is one of the most powerful war films around, and stands out as one of the studio’s most haunting and beautiful films. The film tells the story of two siblings struggling for survival in the final few months of World War Two.
Notable missing: Gomorrah, Goodbye Lenin!
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La Haine
This black-and-white portrayal of life in French suburbs in the 1990’s for immigrants and impoverished families is one of the most hard-hitting and suspenseful films to come out in the last two decades. Following a group of three friends over 19 hours, La Haine takes an important look at a Paris often ignored in French and World Cinema.
Also worth looking into: Howl’s Moving Castle
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Ikiru
Although perhaps more known for Rashomon and Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru’s is one of his more intimate and emotional takes as a director. Learning that he has a terminal cancer diagnosis, a lowly government worker leaves work to face his own mortality and pick at that question – the meaning of life. No description here can do the film justice – go watch it now.
Worth checking out: Irreversible, Infernal Affairs.
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Let The Right One In
Don’t think of this as another vampire film. No, it’s so much more than that. This Swedish film, directed by Tomas Alfredson, is a tale of childhood, told through a vampire story. One of the best vampire films and one of the best childhood films – it’s not often you get such a romantic horror, and it’s even rarer for it to become such a classic.
Well worth seeing as well: The Lives Of Others
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Kung Fu Hustle
This 2004 Hong Kong action-comedy features lots of old retired actors from the 1970’s era of Hong Kong cinema, and matches up to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero in its contemporary success. Wacky special effects, ancient martial arts, and a wild cartoon style, there have not been too many like this.
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Jules and Jim
One of Truffaut's best films, one of French New Wave’s best products. This strange film has a sort of ageless beauty, an influence of many a film since, and brings us one of the most famous ménage a trois stories – it follows Jules, Jim, and Catherine and the tense-stretching bond shared by all three.
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Maria Full Of Grace
This visceral tale of the drug trade takes us to Colombia in a film that swept that award ceremonies in 2003. With a documentary-type of feel to the storytelling, it is the lead star, Catalina Sandino Moreno, whose character Maria becomes swept up in the illegal smuggling, who really steals the show.
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Nosferatu the Vampyr
Ticking another world cinema essential in Werner Herzog, this 1979 vampire horror takes on remaking the original 1922 German Nosferatu to fanatic effects. Remakes usually don't become classics in their own rights, but this one does – stunning visuals, eerie intensity, and everything that makes Werner Herzog his unique self.
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The Orphanage
What makes this Spanish horror film deserving of a place on this list is that in an age when most horror comes from cheap scares and effects, The Orphanage takes the time to build the characters, the atmosphere and the horror. It’s a great thing to see. When a Spanish woman’s son goes missing after mentioning an imaginative friend he had made, the horror begins to creak, creak, and creak on the wooden floor and things get spookier from there on.
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Persona
On nearly every ‘Best of Cinema’ list for the last fifty years, Persona can’t be missed out on. Difficult to explain, Ingmar Bergman’s thought-provoking film is part drama, part horror and holds up the weightiest of topics. It follows a young nurse and her actress patient who vacate to a seaside cottage for treatment after the patient goes mute. The relationship becomes strained and it's a matter of how long the film can keep pulling that string of tension before it snaps.
Also to see: Pan’s Labyrinth, Persepolis
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Solaris
Another tick on the essential world cinema list: Tarkovsky. His sci-fi film, Solaris, does what proper science-fiction does best: raise and explore complex abstract ideas, from humanity to existence. One of the best ever achievements in cinematography history, Solaris occurs mostly all in a space station orbiting the planet Solaris. The station stalls when the three-crew members fall foul of an emotional crisis – a psychologist travels to treat the crew but begins to face the same mysterious phenomenon as the others.
Also worth seeing: Skin I Live In, Seven Samurai, Stalker
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Run Lola Run
Tom Tykwer’s hysteric offbeat puts your heart in your fist for its punchy eighty minutes run-time. Intelligent, fast, and engaging – when a woman has to obtain 100,000 Deutsche Marks in twenty minutes in order to save her boyfriend’s life we follow three scenarios. We see hope, death, disappointment and lots of action.
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Three Colour Trilogy
Okay, it might be a bit cheating to include a trilogy of film, but it has to be here. Kieslowski’s beautiful saga stands up today as one of the most influential and versatile set of films. Red is perhaps the highlight, but it’s not an underestimate to say that each film in itself is a classic.
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Underground
This 1995 epic Serbian tale follows the story of two friends from the start of the World War II to the gunshots of the Yugoslav Wars in the 1990s. It won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and it was once said that if Fellini had shot a war film, this wouldn’t have been far from the mark. It’s hard to see the history of a nation told through such a cracking black comedy – but this does just that.
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Volver
Pedro Almodovar’s thought-provoking masterpiece has all of his trademark details – the colours, the highs and lows of women, the eccentrics, and it’s by far the best Penelope Cruz performance on the screen. It follows the trials and tribulations between three generations of women living in a small town just out of Madrid.
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Y Tu Mama Tambien
Alfonso Cuarón is probably better known for his success with Gravity now, but his road film about a couple of horny middle-class pals exploring friendship and sexuality is the one that brought him to the spotlight. A film that suffered from harsh age-rating systems and yet has become one of the most successful Mexican films in history, and it’s so much more than just another road film.
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Waltz with Bashir
Saying Waltz with Bashir is one of the greatest war films to be made hits the nail on the head. Innovative, original, hard-hitting, wonderfully animated, this film treads on careful territory in dealing with the Middle East but it comes off in spectacular fashion.
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Zelig
Well, you might've noticed we had no choice but to skip the letters Q and X for lack of a strong world cinema title. There are not many films that begin with a Z either but we can't surely skip the last letter of the alphabet in order to wrap things up properly, so let’s finish our tour of World Cinema you should see with an American title. This Woody Allen mockumentary is one of his greatest. Allen plays Leonard Zelig, an enigmatic figure that takes on and absorbs the traits of the strong personalities around him. Filmed with a style of a documentary its wit and laughs preserve through its old 1920’s newsreels.
Catch We are the Best! in cinemas from April 18th!
Oliver Smith

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