My first selection of Christmas movies wasn’t deliberately picked from Western Europe (see Comments) – I wasn’t planning to pick one from every country, just some I’ve enjoyed. Besides, a lot of the Eastern Europe films I’ve seen lately as a member of the European Film Academy have been incredibly depressing, so a very slow film about an old man taking 90 minutes to die isn’t really on the menu this Christmas Eve.
Lists are great because they upset everyone. So, in the spirit of a good fight, let’s have some more.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
This Finnish fable joins other anti-Christmas stories like ‘Gremlins’, the whacky Dutch ‘Saint’ and ‘Bad Santa’ – set in Finland’s Korvantunturi mountains, the home of Father Christmas, it’s about his unearthing – he’s the sinister Pagan horned spirit rather than the one Coca Cola designed – and the attempt to stop his evil ‘elves’ from overrunning the world. It’s both charming and creepy.
One of my favourite Spanish films. Estate agent Carmen Maura finds a fortune hidden in an apartment, but may never get out of the building alive because the residents are all watching her. Oh, and she keeps having to show the flat that has a dead body in to potential buyers. Original and hilarious, with a very Hitchcockian rooftop climax.
El Orfanato (The Orphanage)
A great ghost story fills its protagonists with longing and regrets, not just fear. Belen Rueda returns to the orphanage she lived in as a child, and finds the ghosts of the past are back to solve a present-day mystery. With echoes of Peter Pan, this is fantastical, charming, and finally heartbreaking.
The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus
Let’s call English films foreign too and include this wonderful return to form for Terry Gilliam after the awful ‘Tidelands’. Dr Parnassus and his travelling players need to keep the art of storytelling alive or he loses daughter Lily Cole and we all suffer – funny and filled with surreal moments, but it’s the performances that count.
Memories of Matsuko
I inexplicably love this Japanese film about a bored, selfish teenager required by his father to empty his dead aunt’s apartment after her murder. When he discovers shocking details of her short life, from impoverished teacher to Yakuza girl, he realises the meaning and value of his own existence. It’s funny, bouncy, lurid, sad and strange.
An everyday story of Hungarian ticket collectors. It sounds like a bad foreign film joke. It’s wonderful – hilarious, pacy and filled with great characters who treat the Budapest underground system as if it was the Foreign Legion. I love the gypsy curse and the skateboarder!
Toto Le Heros (Toto The Hero)
This captivating film about a boy who becomes convinced that he was accidentally switched at birth with a wealthier child has a freewheeling spirit that allows the director, Jaco Van Dormeil, to feature singing daffodils while making a serious point. (He also made the bonkers ‘Mr Nobody’ – see review on site.)
Run Lola Run
For a film about a robbery, it’s a joyous, thrilling adrenalin shot as Lola must dash across town to save her lover, and events play out in repetition, with different results depending on who she bumps into. It’s all about the paths you didn’t take…
Head Above Water
This is an odd pleasure. A couple go to an island to fish, but she accidentally kills her ex and must cover the death from the local cop. Quite how she ends up with her feet in a bucket of drying cement, you’ll have to see for yourself. Remade (very badly) with Cameron Diaz and Harvey Keitel!
It wouldn’t be Christmas without some kick-ass action, and these two Russian supernatural thrillers hit the spot, with an incomprehensible plot, mad chases (see a car drive up the wall of a building!) and the weirdest bit of product placement I’ve ever seen as a bolt falls off a passing plane and ends up in someone’s Nescafe cup.