If the streaming revolution, and the corresponding decline of movie theaters, has a bright side, it’s easier access to foreign language films. In years past, it was almost impossible to see the best movies from overseas.
If you didn’t live in New York or L.A., your local theater would rarely play them, or play them for so short a time that you missed the window before you even realized it was open. And rental availability was never a guarantee.
Now, major streamers such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime routinely pick up foreign titles and make them available to anyone with a subscription.
The situation is still far from perfect. Five of the nine films on my 2021 watchlist are foreign films that currently have no digital distribution or upcoming dates at a theater near me. But I don’t know if I would have seen the eight foreign films I’ve watched this year without streaming.
Here they are, in alphabetical order:
This bizarre Swedish film features 31 short, often wordless, vignettes following people through everyday circumstances both mundane and profound. Little connects the stories apart from the gorgeous cinematography and a streak of dark humor.
The great provocateur Paul Verhoeven is right in his wheelhouse directing this tale, based on a true story, of a 17th century lesbian nun. Lots of nudity, sex, blood, and histrionics, yet somehow it feels a little paint-by-numbers.
I heard this film described as an “Indian Inside Llewyn Davis,” which is a sure-fire way to inflate expectations. It’s certainly not that. But this story of an aspiring classical vocalist who realizes he might not have the talent to fulfill his dream has some genuine moments of grace.
The first film I’ve seen by Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi, who has won two Best Foreign Film Oscars (for 2011’s A Separation and 2016’s The Salesman). Now I understand the hype. This is a melancholy but gripping morality tale about honesty, forgiveness, and the toxicity of social media.
I’m Your Man
One of my favorite films on this list, a German sci-fi rom-com about a woman testing out a lifelike robot companion. Dan Stevens is wonderful as the robot she can’t help falling for.
Riders of Justice
Mads Mikkelsen anchors this darkly comic revenge tale that manages to be both a Liam Neeson-style action thriller and a hilarious buddy comedy, with heart.
Another sumptuous melodrama from Pedro Almodovar, a filmmaker who feels like a genre unto himself. Penelope Cruz is never better than when she appears in his films, and this one is no exception. I loved how Almodovar used a soap opera story to explore the lingering wounds from Spain’s civil war.
Winner of the Palme d’Or at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, this twisted film follows a serial-killing female stripper who has sex with a car then impersonates a missing young man to enter the life of the mourning father. It’s certainly audacious, but a little much for my taste.