Saturday, March 31, 2007

Greatest foreign film?

A tricky question posed in yesterday's Guardian - what gets your vote as the greatest foreign film? They want your top three non-English language films. Where does one start?
I can pick a top one, as my favourite film of all-time also happens to be French: La Haine. It took my breath away when I first saw it and continues to do so today. It's also as relevant today as it was on release 12 years ago (can it really be that long?) as it follows three young friends around for the 24 hours following a riot in the banlieus of Paris. As well as a powerful narrative it's also beautifully shot. Apparently, the average shot length in Hollywood is two seconds. In this film it's fifteen. And you notice it.
Picking two more is where the problems begin.
One that has to make the top three is Zatoichi. It's got everything. A blind swordsman (the eponymous Zatoichi, played by director Beat Takeshi), deadly geishas, one of whom is a bloke, moments of comedy intermingled with Peckinpah-esque blood and gore in some fantastic fight scenes and all topped off with a massive group tap-dance. You tell me what else you could possibly want.
Takeshi also starred, but didn't direct, in the fabulous Battle Royale. Ninth grade classes are selected at random and sent to a remote island. The last person standing after 72 hours wins. More than one survivor and everyone gets it. And it's basically a love story. It really has to be seen to be believed.
I couldn't put Amores Perros in my top three. It's three stories in one, with a common theme of dogs. The first, I like. The third is the most interesting by far. However, the middle one is just bloody irritating.
For something totally off the wall, try Belleville Rendezvous. A Tour de France cyclist is kidnapped by some sinister gangsters so his grandmother and his dog set out to rescue him. It's an utter delight of an animated picture.
Not really any language, but most definitely French, is the silent treat that is Monsieur Hulot's Holiday. It's physical comedy at it's finest. Jim Carrey - watch and learn.
Breathless is a cinematic icon and it's easy to see why. Stylish, brooding, enigmatic. Pick any slightly pretentious term and it'll fit.
I could mention Les Diaboliques, He Loves Me... He Loves Me Not, Run Lola Run, Le Conseguenze dell'Amore, The Motorcycle Diaries, Jeux d'Enfants, Delicatessen, Life Is Beautiful, Cinema Paradiso, El Mariachi, the hugely powerful and moving Paradise Now, The Three Colours Trilogy (Blue, White and Red) and that's before you get to the massive body of work of Pédro Almodóvar, of which Bad Education, Tie Me Up Tie Me Down and Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown stand out for me. But I'd be no nearer to picking one more to make up my top three. And I'm rambling now. Can you tell I'm enjoying this?
36 is fantastic. The two real heavyweights of modern French cinema, Daniel Auteuil and Gerard Depardieu, face off as rivals for the top police job. Whoever nails a notorious group of armed robbers will get it and neither will stop at anything to get one over the other. Taut, tense, gripping. Absolutely top notch stuff, and my heart sank when I heard the Americans were remaking it. Why bother?
Another foreign language film remade to great success was Infernal Affairs. In making it into the Oscar-winning The Departed, Martin Scorcese managed to add fully 50 minutes to the running time. I cannot imagine what he's put in there. I don't particularly want to find out, as the original is a masterpiece. And I think that's going in as my number 3.
Ask me again in a week's time and it'll probably be different, but I think my point is: don't be afraid of subtitles.

1 comment:

Chris said...

1. La Haine
2. City of God
3. Hard Boiled

my top three.