Beyond Parasite: a short guide to foreign films

Culture Entertainment

Image Description: Illustrations of scenes from each film

This is the year of Parasite, but it is also the year in which Donald Trump declared that a film like Gone With The Wind should have won Best Picture instead. No, Gone With The Wind shouldn’t win Best Picture in 2020, in fact, it shouldn’t have won Best Picture in 1939, (and frankly I’m surprised Trump didn’t demand a remake of Birth of a Nation). In short, Hollywood has a long way to go before it honours international cinema as it should be honoured, but here is where you can start:

The Lives of Others (2006)– Set in East Germany before the fall of the Wall, this thriller revolves around a brilliant conceit: a Stasi official spying on a dissident playwright finds himself changing slowly but irrevocably as he begins to question the dogmas he has built his life upon. The film ends with what is arguably one of the greatest closing lines in cinema, giving “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” a real run for its money. For a more ornate and fantastical depiction of a sanguinary regime, watch Pan’s Labyrinth, Guillermo del Toro’s unnerving fairy-tale set during the Spanish Civil War.

“An innocent prisoner will become more angry by the hour due to the injustice suffered. He will shout and rage. A guilty prisoner becomes more calm and quiet. Or he cries. He knows he’s there for a reason.”

To Live (1994)- This lyrical, unsparing saga of a family caught in the throes of China’s Cultural Revolution might be Zhang Yimou’s magnum opus and Gong Li’s most enduring performance. The film was a powerful enough denunciation of ruthless state violence to get the fatal attention of the authorities and was denied a theatrical release in its home country. For another take on the universal story of a family struggling to survive in a system set against them, watch two classics: Vittorio de Sica’s Bicycle Thieves and Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali.

Masina has been called Chaplin-esque far too often for a reason: she is a master conjurer of both the delightful and devastating

Nights of Cabiria (1957)- This is Federico Fellini’s empathetic ode to the resilience of the ridiculed, mistreated and unloved. The film features Giulietta Masina as a sex worker in Rome who makes the acquaintance of heartbreak often enough to dent a less buoyant spirit but emerges from each misadventure stronger than ever. Masina has been called Chaplin-esque far too often for a reason: she is a master conjurer of both the delightful and devastating. If you like this, watch Vittorio de Sica’s joyful but incisive Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow starring Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni in three vignettes about life in the Italian metropolis.

“Loneliness is a heavy burden, but I’d rather be alone than make compromises.”

4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (2007)- This austere, disturbing indictment of Romania’s abortion laws continues to be brutally relevant today as women across the world struggle to have a say on their reproductive rights. For an equally powerful investigation of the everyday cruelties meted out to people who are othered for their gender and sexuality, watch Pedro Almodóvar’s edgy and elegiac All About My Mother or the acclaimed Rafiki by Wanuri Kahiu, which I have yet to see.

“Why should someone else pay for your actions”

Image Credit: Josh Boddington, The Oxford Student

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