40 Best Foreign-Language Movies on BFI Player UK

40 Best Foreign-Language Movies on BFI Player UK

June 15, 2024

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Looking to expand your cinematic palate with more international films? Lucky for you, there are several streaming services dedicated to curating a selection of relatively smaller films—especially those not in the English language—including the Criterion Channel, Mubi, and BFI Player. Brought to us by the British Film Institute, BFI Player gives you access to a deep bench of gems throughout film history, as well as those that have been making waves on the international circuit in recent years. To get you started on your foreign film journey, we’ve listed a number of non-English language films on the service that should remind you just how much there is to explore in cinema outside of Hollywood and the UK’s English-speaking industries.

1. Wild Tales (2014)

best

9.9

Country

Argentina, France, Spain

Director

Damián Szifron

Actors

Abián Vainstein, Alan Daicz, Andrea Garrote, César Bordón

Moods

Dark, Discussion-sparking, Funny

With ‘Wild tales’, writer-director Damían Szifrón explores exactly how thin the proverbial veneer is on the passions of the human heart. Or rather he gleefully rips it off. Visually dazzling and laced with social critique, violent revenge is the theme joining the six vignettes together. Each one starts off in a relatable everyday situation, including an airplane, a wedding, and a coffee shop, which quickly propels into complete savagery of Roald Dahlian proportions.

Like the famous author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Szifrón writes great satirical characters, which he relishes in hurting and throwing in the ditch. And much like the rage of its protagonists, featuring Ricardo Darín as a family man articulating his by way of explosives, this movie does not know peaks and valleys. It’s a dark comedy thrill ride that will have you gasping for air!

2. The Great Beauty (2013)

best

9.5

Country

Belgium, France, Italy

Director

Paolo Sorrentino

Actors

Aldo Ralli, Alessia Bellotto, Anita Kravos, Anna Della Rosa

Moods

Thought-provoking, Without plot

The Great Beauty is a film of superlatives! Originally titled La Grande Bellezza, this movie by Italian star director Paolo Sorrentino is so replete with lush, opulent cinematography, it sometimes borders on sensory overload. Having won Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards, as well as the Golden Globe, and the BAFTA award in the same category, The Great Beauty is also a critics’ darling and an award-show sweeper – in addition to being hailed as Paolo Sorrentino’s greatest work to date.

Essentially a tragicomedy, it is both a study and a celebration of the hedonism and decadence of its main protagonist – the bon-vivant and modern-day Roman socialite Jep Gambardella (played by an electrifying Toni Servillo). Instead of honing the craft of writing, Gambardella at some point decides to become the self-proclaimed “king of high life” of Rome. After his 65th birthday, he experiences a shock that changes him for good, prompting him to look past the parties and the nightclubs and to discover the sublime beauty of his hometown, the eternal city. In this way, The Great Beauty is a meditation on art, regret, and pleasure – and Sorrentino’s love letter to Rome.

3. A Prophet (2009)

best

9.3

Country

France, Italy

Director

Jacques Audiard

Actors

Adel Bencherif, Antoine Basler, Farid Larbi, Foued Nassah

Moods

Raw, Thrilling, Well-acted

A Prophet, or Un Prophete, is an unconventional French film that combines prison drama with the Goodfellas-styled narrative of the rise to criminal power. Shot by the inimitable French director Jacques Audiard, A Prophet is a future classic from the get-go, taking age-old cliches and turning them on their heads. It’s not often that a film leaves us giddy with enthusiasm and constantly thinking back to it, but A Prophet is so intense, you won’t be able to let it go. Incredible acting, especially by then-newcomer Tahar Rahim, fantastic pacing, a great narrative arc with a brutal and uncompromising take on morality, self-realization, and life on the fringes of society. There are only two, quote unquote, action sequences in this movie and they are as brutal and realistic as they are unexpected. Look past the subtitles, do yourself a favor and watch this film.

4. Honeyland (2019)

best

9.3

Country

Macedonia

Director

Female director, Ljubomir Stefanov

Actors

Hatidze Muratova, Hatidzhe Muratova, Hussein Sam, Nazife Muratova

Moods

Instructive

The first movie to be nominated for both the Documentary and Foreign-Language Oscar categories and the most awarded film of the 2019 Sundance Festival, Honeyland quietly accompanies the last wild beekeepers in Europe over three years. It portrays the lonely and primordial life of Muratova, which is centered around harvesting honey according to the rules of her ancient ancestors and caring for her ailing mother.

Originally planned as an environmental documentary, this film evolved into something completely different, as it often goes with immersive documentaries, when the Macedonian directors Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov met beekeeper Hatidže. The film takes another sudden turn when Muratova’s life is upended by a nomadic family settling next door, threatening her tradition, her way of life, and her natural environment.

This unbelievable cinematic journey is a feast for the eyes thanks to the amazing work done by cinematographer Samir Ljuma. However, despite the awe-inspiring imagery, Honeyland never imposes on its subject, creating an incredible intimacy with Hatidže’s life and her natural environment. Breathtaking!

5. The Secret in Their Eyes (2009)

best

9.2

Country

Argentina, Spain

Director

Juan J. Campanella, Juan Jose Campanella

Actors

Alejandro Abelenda, Barbara Palladino, Carla Quevedo, David Di Nápoli

Moods

Long, Romantic, Slow

A slow-burning Argentinian thriller about a retired legal counselor and the one case he investigated that just would not die, The Secret in Their Eyes is a taut and sharp mystery. As layers of mystery unfold, the story draws the viewer in and becomes entangled with the deteriorating political situation in Argentina. Notably, the film features a single-take 5 minute shot – a fantastic technical achievement and a testament to the directorial vision and skill.

6. The Handmaiden (2016)

best

9.2

Country

Korea, South Korea

Director

Chan-wook Park, Park Chan-wook

Actors

Bae Il-hyuck, Cho Jin-woong, Choi Byung-mo, Choi Jong-ryul

Moods

Dramatic, Thrilling, Weird

The 2016 outing of South-Korean auteur director Park Chan-wook (maker of Oldboy and Stoker) once again shifts attention to the dark side of what makes us human: betrayal, violence, and transgression. Based on the 2002 novel Fingersmith by British author Sarah Waters, The Handmaiden revolves around the love of two women and the greedy men around them. Park shifts the novel’s plot from Victorian London to 1930s Korea, where an orphaned pickpocket is used by a con man to defraud an old Japanese woman. Routinely called a masterpiece with comparisons made to the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, this is a stylish and meticulous psychological thriller that packs enough erotic tension to put a crack in your screen. If you love cinema, you can’t miss this movie. You might even have to watch it twice.

7. Shoplifters (2018)

best

9.1

Country

Japan

Director

Hirokazu Kore-eda, Hirokazu Koreeda

Actors

Aju Makita, Akira Emoto, Chizuru Ikewaki, Hajime Inoue

Moods

Heart-warming, Smart, Sunday

The title of this 2018 Palme D’or winner is not to be taken metaphorically: Shoplifters is about a marginalized family of day workers, crooks, and small-time outlaws, who live on the fringes of Japanese society. Osamu (Lily Franky) and Nobuyo (Sakura Andô) both have jobs but spruce up their low-wage income by committing petty crimes. One day in winter, Osamu takes in a bruised girl he finds outside in the cold and introduces her to the family in his ramshackle house. But when the second-youngest member of the family, Shota (Kairi Jyo), finds himself teaching her how to shoplift, he faces a moral dilemma that threatens to unravel the family’s fabric. If you were hitherto unfamiliar with the unique storytelling and social realism of Hirokazu Koreeda, we really recommend checking it out—as well as his other movies, namely, Still Walking, Like Father, Like Son, I Wish, and After the Storm. His 2018 outing features the last ever performance of Kirin Kiki, who plays the elderly matriarch and passed away that same year. Like many of Koreeda’s works, Shoplifters is an understated, beautiful, and mysterious study of the effects of poverty and trauma and a delicate portrait of a family in Japan’s urban underbelly.

8. OldBoy (2003)

best

9.0

Country

Korea, South Korea

Director

Chan-wook Park, Park Chan-wook

Actors

Byeong-ok Kim, Choi Min-sik, Dae-han Ji, Dae-yeon Lee

From Korean director Park Chan-wook, who also brought you the far quieter The Handmaiden, comes a movie that is positively terrifying. Its premise alone is enough for any sentient human being to shudder. On his daughter’s birthday, the good-for-nothing Oh Dae-su (played by Choic Min-sik) gets drunk and is arrested by the police. A friend eventually bails him out and, while he is making a phone call, Oh Dae-su disappears. Not knowing why, he is held in the same room for 15 years for no apparent reason. Until, one day, he is released. That’s all that can be revealed about this winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes in 2004 without giving away too much. All we can add here is the way we recommend Oldboy to people admitting to not having seen it yet: “Watch Oldboy. You’re welcome. We’re sorry.” A crazy, twisted film that goes to extremes. A cult classic and a statement.

9. Like Father, Like Son (2013)

best

9.0

Country

Japan

Director

Hirokazu Kore-eda, Hirokazu Koreeda

Actors

Arata Iura, Hana Kino, Hiroshi Ôkôchi, Ichirō Ogura

Moods

Slow, Without plot

Koreeda’s troubled childhood often serves as the inspiration for his poignant Japanese dramas that deal with loss, the meaning of being a child, and of being parent. In Like Father, Like Son, Ryota Nonomiya (Masaharu Fukuyama), a hard-working architect, who is married to his work, comes home from work. He receives a call from the hospital where his son Keita was born and learns that he was switched at birth with their biological son Ryūsei. His wife and him are not only faced with the prospect of having to switch the two six-year-olds back, but also with the rickety family his ‘real’ son grew up in—and his aversion to what they stand for. But who is real and who isn’t? Must they be switched back? The age-old question of nature vs. nurture and the relationship of love and biology is at the heart of the parent’s struggle. As always with Koreeda’s works, the result is soft-spoken, sensitive, and symphonically directed. Winner of the Jury Prize at Cannes.

10. A Man Called Ove (2015)

best

9.0

Country

Norway, Sweden

Director

Hannes Holm

Actors

Anna Granath, Bahar Pars, Borje Lundberg, Chatarina Larsson

Moods

Easy, Feel-Good, Heart-warming

Based on Fredrick Backman’s 2012 best-selling book of the same name, this Swedish hit comedy-drama introduces us to Ove, an elderly man who feels like his life is over. After losing his wife, the short-fused retiree spends his days grumpily enforcing block association rules in his neighborhood. He is your typical unhappy, old neighbor, somebody you would try to avoid. One new family does not give up and befriends Ove, played by an impeccable Rolf Lassgård, despite his best intentions to put them off. As the plot unfolds, however, you learn more about the story behind the man, and, in classic walk-a-mile-in-his-shoes fashion, start to find him rather loveable. After all, nobody is born grumpy and cynical. Naturally, this is a sweet and sentimental film. But an amazing lead performance and a charming, darkly funny script rescue it from drifting too far off the shore. The result is a wholesome, fun, and thoughtful dramedy with a beautiful message.

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