Ten Great Foreign Films For Christmas

The Arts

At Christmas I won’t be watching M&S ads and X Factor specials on TV but my favourite foreign films. You know the accepted list; in the same way that Hollywood Top Tens place ‘Citizen Kane’ at the start, there’s usually ‘Jules Et Jim’, ‘A Bout De Souffle’, ‘Les Enfants Du Paradis’ and so on. I’ll be naming a few alternatives that get overlooked in Top Ten lists, in no especial order.

Fellini’s memoir of his childhood town encompasses all human life in the space of a year, cycling through the seasons in lyrical set pieces that are, by turns, hilarious, haunting and sad. Favourite part, the midnight ocean liner arrives while the town sleeps in small boats, missing their welcome. It’s sunshine at Christmas.

A Dutch friend said ‘If you want to understand the Dutch, see this.’ It’s a set textbook in Holland, and charts the hard lives of a family striving for success but diverted into taking painful revenge. The Protestant work ethic drives and destroys, creating hard hearts and soured souls in a film that’s like the best of Dickens.

Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain (Amelie)
Inexplicably hated by some critics for being too cute (the whole of Paris in the throes of orgasm? The borderline deranged stalking of a partner?) this actually plays out like an autistic list-obsessed dark fairytale rather than any kind of romance. Take another look – perfect Christmas fare.

Spoorloos (The Vanishing)
Freaked. Me. Out. I couldn’t go into a French garage for weeks after. Forget Hannibal, this is the most disturbing insight into a killer’s mind ever, and a perfect Christmas horror story. A couple fight on holiday, and the girlfriend vanishes. Years pass as the partner starts to question his own reasons for wanting closure. And there’s That Ending, wrecked in the Hollywood remake which had a shovel fight!

The Lives of Others
In the repressive Socialist regime of the Stasi in East Berlin 1984, what happens if you discover that your most hated enemy has a better quality of life than you? If you back down, you’ll cease to believe in the system. The resulting tragedy inexorably unfolds to its fatalist conclusion. Proper storytelling for Christmas.

Y Tu Mama También
What it means to be young, dumb and up for anything. The road-trip movie that catches those ‘late nights, quick bites, party games’ that only happen when you’re unencumbered by the cares of the world. I wanted to be them and sit in those bars talking rubbish all night. And there’s That Kiss, which actually shocked me. Enjoy with tequila.

Supposedly, the only film that looks different from wherever you sat in the cinema, Jacques Tati’s portrait of the new Paris follows a group of tourists in a glittering new building that only reflects the old Paris in its surfaces. And you can even watch it with the sound off!

Hors De Prix (Priceless)
It looked like a standard French rom-com but this glamorous story of two Riviera chancers using each other and those around them to survive and make money is a bleak moral fable that also manages to be very funny and ultimately romantic.

Joyeux Noel (Happy Christmas)
This story of an armistice during the First World War is based on facts but is able to tug the heartstrings more outrageously in fictional form, as Germans, French, Scots and English, an opera singer and many Christmas trees meet between the trenches, carols are sung – and my family always ends up in floods of tears!

7 comments on “Ten Great Foreign Films For Christmas”

  1. Simon says:

    That’s my crimble viewing sorted out. Great choices.

  2. Gretta says:

    Possibly this may come across as a little more terse than intended, and apologies if it does, but there is more to ‘foreign’ than just Western Europe.

  3. Helen Martin says:

    In Joyeux Noel is there no football game?
    No Spain in your list? Russia? Yugoslavia(any part of it)? Africa?
    Gretta: Turkey, the Middle East and all of Asia work on a different construct.

  4. Roger says:

    ‘the … far-right regime of the Stasi in East Berlin 1984’

  5. admin says:

    Communism and fascism arrive at the same point, but I accept the clarification – changed.

  6. Gretta says:

    Helen, I’m a Kiwi, so pretty near every movie is ‘foreign’ to me(and most of our films are rubbish!). 🙂

  7. Richard Jenkins says:

    Looks like you may well have sorted my Christmas films (when I’m not watching the ones on the box!). Do any of them use subtitling or dubbing? I don’t mind the subtitling, but feel as though dubbing removes the atmosphere and authenticity of the film. Or maybe that’s just me being pick!

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