The 10 Best Foreign Language Movies of 2022: 2022 has been an unpredictable year for the world of cinema. Top Gun: Maverick, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, and Avatar: The Way of Water turned out to be big blockbusters churning huge numbers at the box office.
Other films like Tar and The Fabelmans didn’t see the kind of returns that were otherwise acclaimed by critics and audiences alike. Meanwhile, some truly beautiful movies in foreign languages across diverse regions depict their distinct cultures and artistic inclinations, making it imperative for cinephiles like us to explore this expansive space of world-class cinema from the comfort of our homes. Whether you are a fan of gritty dramas, historical war epics, or psychological thrillers, there is something for everyone on this list.
I have comfortably crossed that ‘one-inch-hurdle’ of subtitles, and here’s hoping that you guys will be able to do the same and see what the rest of the world has to offer in terms of meaningful cinema. So to help with that, here are the top 10 international (non-English language) movies of 2022, in my opinion, in no particular order.
Hirokazu Koreeda has widely told stories of families that have unique dynamics and configurations, be it 2013’s ‘Like Father, Like Son’ or 2018’s ‘Shoplifters.’ That last film’s theme is somewhat echoed here in Broker, which is a bittersweet and melancholic take on the serious issue of human trafficking. The film follows Sang Hyeon (Song Kang-ho), a middle-aged owner of a laundry shop in debt to loan sharks, who steals an infant from the city’s ‘baby box’ for unwanted children. Assisted by his friend (Gang Dong-won), he embarks on a journey to find adoptive parents for the boy.
The fine ensemble really sticks the landing, with Koreeda taking the road-trip approach for storytelling along with elements of bonding, evolving attitudes, and tense altercations. With the given theme, this movie had a lot of potentials to be dark and explosive. But in the hands of Koreeda, it is more humane and empathetic in its approach, which is poignant and relatable. Though slightly overlong with an ending that might seem too hopeful to some, Broker is yet another soul-stirring piece of cinema from Koreeda. And yes, Song Kang-ho is one of the best actors of our generation, period.
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RRR has everything you would expect from an SS Rajamouli film; dazzling visuals, over-the-top action sequences, and beautiful choreography. This is all layered within a powerful story of two distinct freedom fighters (Rajamouli has taken the creative freedom of tweaking the characters for fable-like storytelling) who fought the British Raj in the 1920s. Bheem is a member of the Gond tribe, and Raju is an Indian member of the British police, and both characters get a breathless introductory sequence that sets the tone for the entire movie.
With two earnest yet full-blown charismatic and hyper-physical performances from NT Rama Rao Jr. (Bheem) and Ram Charan (Raju), the screen bursts from their crackling chemistry and gives us probably the most vivid bromance we’ve ever seen on-screen. I watched it in the theater, and there is no second doubt that it was one of the most rewarding movie-going experiences I’ve had in my life. With every single frame bordering on amazeballs, this wildly creative extravaganza from India’s most promising visionary will not let you get bored, even for a nano-second!
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3. Argentina, 1985
A movie on ‘Trial of the Juntas’ – the trial of the military leaders of Argentina for their crimes against humanity – can incline towards being solemn and dreadful but not in the hands of Santiago Mitre. The plot follows Julio Strassera (an exceptional Ricardo Darin) and Luis Moreno Ocampo (Peter Lanzani) putting together a team of lawyers, most of them fresh out of law school, to gather proof of the crimes of the former regime in just a few months. With a light approach to the dramatization of real-life events sprinkled with wry humor, Mitre manages to make Argentina, 1985, a smooth, thought-provoking, and effective courtroom drama.
Not to say that the film is devoid of gut-wrenching moments. There is a heartbreaking testimony from a woman and a rousing finale where the prosecutor gives his closing statement. These are dramatic pieces of sheer excellence. We naturally root for the group of young lawyers recruited by Strassera, while Mitre weaves the story as a desperate quest for extraordinary justice. A compelling and timely take on a pivotal historical event!
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4. All Quiet on the Western Front
Watching ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ is not entertaining at all. It is not supposed to be. Every frame of this movie gives you only one singular line of thought; war is hell. Adapted from Erich Maria Remarque’s 1929 novel of the same name, this film ably reboots the chaos and hysteria of war. The gradual change in the protagonist’s (Felix Kammerer in a startling debut) perspective, from an excited child who will fight for his country to a soldier who is distraught and horrified at his actions, is harrowing, to say the least.
Edward Berger deftly handles the brutal war scenes, making this anti-war film transcend the boundaries of spreading propaganda and being preachy. Moreover, the talented ensemble cast of young actors adds a touch of warmth to the film. To top this, the panoramic and unsettling cinematography emphasizes the haunting atmosphere. ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ nails the message that war is truly unnecessary, and its gut-wrenching impact rings true even after the sound of bullets and explosions dies down and the smoke from the war field clears.
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Impeccably casted and directed with a dream-like visual flair, Lukas Dhont’s ‘Close’ deserves all the praise it is getting at the festival circuit. With a fairly straightforward narrative of two boys transitioning to teenage years, Close becomes a deep-rooted, bittersweet, and painful reflection of a fallout from a momentary choice. The story is about two 13-year-olds, Leo (Eden Dambrine) and Remi (Gustav De Waele), who are longtime best friends and inseparable, spending most of their time playing across the countryside.
Dhont, in a subtle way, dramatizes the boyhood intimacy and also shows the touch of cruelty that children are capable of once the two protagonists start school. What starts as innocent teasing manifests into unwelcome attention, making the boys grow apart as they fail to comprehend their feelings. Close is universal in its appeal thanks to Dhont’s first-rate film-making and performances from Eden Dambrine and Gustav De Waele. The film addresses the themes of unguarded innocence and pressures of masculinity in a gentle and refreshing way. It makes us think how wondrous and fragile an intimate friendship can be.
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6. Decision To Leave
Park Chan-Wook is one of my favorite directors, and he is at his manipulative best here with a supremely sensuous take on the murder mystery genre. He takes the typical noir premise of an investigator falling for the woman he is investigating and cleverly crafts it with flashbacks and surprising cuts to keep us enthralled and guessing until the end. Tang Wei as the femme fatale and Park Hae-il as the homicide detective are excellent as leads and totally complement the romantic obsession arc.
Decision to Leave provides Park with a great canvas to build his usual narrative with elements of mystery, lust, and caution, and he nails it perfectly. The film seems like a slow-burn homage to the Hitchcockian era, and Park has meticulously detailed every frame, which lingers on our minds even after the credits have rolled. I think, in totality, ‘Decision to Leave’ was not as infectious-ly gripping as Park’s previous works (Vengeance trilogy). Still, the ones who surrender to his masterful filmmaking will be satisfactorily rewarded.
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Directed by Romain Gavras, Athena is relentlessly dazzling from the get-go. The film’s opening moments are electrifying as the 11-minute jaw-dropping long tracking shot weaves us in and out of the chaos created by some kids at a police press conference. Athena is a non-stop composition of lengthy takes like these, broadly examining the themes of inequality, racism, and police brutality in a french community of color. It follows the story of three French-Algerian brothers whose lives are thrown into disarray in the aftermath of a tragedy.
Your entire viewing experience will be emotionally charged as you see the two brothers, Abdel (Dali Benssalah) and Karim (Sami Slimane in an electrifying debut), leading opposite fronts of police and rioters, respectively. Style takes precedence over substance here, but in hindsight, style is also the substance. Director Gavras and cameraman Matias Boucard keep it visceral and breathless throughout the erratic camera movements across the housing project where the story unfolds. Exquisitely choreographed and emotionally rousing, Athena is one of the most underrated pieces of cinema of 2022.
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8. Holy Spider
Holy Spider, directed by Copenhagen-based Iranian director Ali Abbasi couldn’t be released at a better time, highlighting the plight of women in Iranian society with respect to their rights. Based on a real-life serial killer who murdered 16 sex workers in the holy city of Mashhad, Holy Spider’s real monster is not the killer himself but the broader culture of misogyny prevalent in Iran. Powered by two impressive performances by Mehdi Bajestani and Zar Amir Ebrahimi, the film makes for a thought-provoking viewing experience with its gripping narrative.
The story follows Saeed (Mehdi), who works as a builder in the morning but lives a double life as a serial killer, ‘cleansing’ the streets of Mashhad at night. Simultaneously, it follows Arezoo (Ebrahimi), a journalist from Tehran who is investigating the famous spider killer case, showing visible annoyance at the dismissals and restrictions she faces from men. As we dig deep into the case and interwoven narrative of the leads, there are dramatically tense moments that are powerful and, simultaneously, uneasy to watch. The scenes which hint at the collective mindset of agreeing with the greater purpose of the killer are shocking, to say the least, and Abbasi takes a less-subtle approach to all this, making the film more taut and striking.
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The winner of this year’s Un Certain Regard Jury Prize and Queer Palm at Cannes, Joyland offers a nuanced and melancholic take on sexuality and gender roles in a patriarchal society. In his debut directorial feature, Saim Sadiq takes a very humane approach to lay bare the melodrama of secrets and joys of self-discovery aligned with taboo desires in a Muslim country. The story follows the protagonist Haider, the scrappy younger son of the Rana family who can never please his traditional father, along with his fairly modern and independent wife (a superb Rasti Farooq), his brother, and his sister-in-law. He lands a job under the wing of a trans female performer (an excellent Alina Khan) in a nightclub and, desperate to prove his worth, defies the so-called social convention and takes it up.
What follows is the impact of this decision on every character’s life which is portrayed as a fresh and genuine family story. Cinematographer Joe Saade accentuates Sadiq’s visual wit with candy-colored compositions and flickering light-play to tell an intimate and provocative story of patriarchal crisis and repression in different forms. Moreover, the way Saim shows a deep fondness for his characters lets Joyland make a quiet, anguished, yet bold statement.
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10. No Bears
Provocative, Scathing, and Captivating, No Bears is yet another reminder of how art is still being oppressed and makes us wonder about the misogynistic and fascist political scenario in Iran. Directed by Jafar Panahi, the Iranian director who was recently arrested and given a jail sentence of 6 years for only inquiring about a fellow filmmaker, this film follows Panahi playing a version of himself and secretly shooting a movie with only a phone and a shitty wi-fi connection in a village situated on Iran-Turkey border. He is assisted by Reza (his assistant) on the Turkish side of the border, where he is filming a story of two lovers, Zara and Bakhtiar, who are striving to leave Iran and settle in France.
Panahi himself is embroiled in a scandal with the villagers, and both these stories align with Panahi’s real-life predicament of getting entrapped. I read a bit about Jafar Panahi’s journey from when he was jailed in 2010 by the Iranian government for spreading propaganda and how his so-called ‘illegal movies’ have made it to film festivals. In conclusion, I can only say this; his brave and artful protest against the repressive regime must go on, by hook or by crook.