Don’t you get bored of watching the same old action films or romantic comedies that don’t serve any purpose other than just wasting your time? If you can ravage around the trash that is constantly served to you on OTT platforms, you just might find some of the most brilliant films you will ever see. Re-quoting Bong Joon-ho here, if you can look past the 2-inch barrier of subtitles, foreign films from around the world have stories that are worth watching. In cohesion with that thought, Amazon Prime Video has an interesting (though limited) slate of foreign films that are worth checking out. In the following list, I explore those foreign films that truly ring true to every person on this planet and are varied in the stories they tell.
Please note that the following films can be found on Prime Video (US), and their availability may vary depending on the country you are in.
1. Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970)
The story of Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion revolves around a high-ranking police officer named Inspector Giulio Galliano (played by Gian Maria Volonté), who is well known for his ruthless and authoritarian methods. When he gets tangled in a murder case, instead of solving the crime, he decides to commit the murder himself. Leaving behind deliberate clues and evidence to incriminate himself, Giuilo remains confident that he will escape suspicion and punishment due to his elevated status in society.
Exploring the concept of power and the extent to which individuals in positions of authority can act with impunity, Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion also examines the dynamics of corruption and the manipulation of justice. Galliano’s actions challenge the assumption that those in power are held accountable for their actions, highlighting the flaws and biases within the criminal justice system.
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2. Let the Right One In (2008)
Directed by Tomas Alfredson and based on the novel of the same name by John Ajvide Lindqvist, the Swedish horror movie Let the Right One In follows the relationship between Oskar, a lonely and bullied 12-year-old boy, and Eli, a centuries-old vampire girl who appears to be his age.
Oskar lives in a suburb of Stockholm, and one night, he encounters Eli in the courtyard of his apartment complex. Despite Eli’s strange behavior and peculiar nature, the two form a bond and develop a deep friendship.
As their relationship grows, Oskar discovers Eli’s dark secret and her need to drink human blood to survive. While Oskar wrestles with his own personal struggles and desires for revenge against his bullies, Eli’s presence introduces a supernatural and sinister aspect to their lives. Together, they navigate the complexities of friendship, loyalty, and the blurred boundaries between good and evil.
While it is easy to put the film under a typical vampire movie archetype, it also serves as a poignant exploration of loneliness, alienation, and the search for connection. Blending the elements of horror, at its core, this is a tender and unconventional love story between two outsiders.
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3. I Saw the Devil (2010)
The South Korean thriller I Saw the Devil revolves around two main characters: Kim Soo-hyun (played by Lee Byung-hun), an intelligent and highly skilled secret agent, and Kyung-chul (played by Choi Min-sik), a sadistic and merciless serial killer. When Kyung-chul brutally murders Kim Soo-hyun’s fiancee, the agent embarks on a quest for vengeance.
However, instead of just catching the killer, Kim Soo-hyun decides to inflict the same level of pain and suffering on Kyung-chul that he caused others. He begins a relentless and sadistic pursuit, playing a cat-and-mouse game with the killer. Kim Soo-hyun’s actions push the boundaries of morality as he descends into darkness while attempting to exact his revenge.
The film cleverly pushes genre boundaries and delves into the psychological toll that revenge takes on both the hunter and the hunted. Director Kim Jee-woon, known for its intense and brutal storytelling, raises questions about the nature of violence, the consequences of seeking revenge, and the potential loss of one’s humanity in the process.
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4. I Wish (2011)
Japanese master filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda’s I Wish is about two brothers, Koichi and Ryu, who have been separated due to their parent’s divorce. Koichi lives with his mother and grandparents in Kagoshima, while Ryu resides with his father in Hakata. In spite of the distance, maintain a strong bond and communicate through letters.
When a new bullet train line connecting their cities is set to open, it is believed that if two trains passing each other at high speed make a wish, it will come true. Inspired by this notion, Koichi and Ryu hatch a plan to meet at the exact moment the trains pass and make their wishes in the hope that it will reunite their family.
As the film unfolds, it presents a heartfelt portrayal of childhood innocence and resilience. It explores the dreams and desires of the two brothers, as well as the challenges they face in pursuing their wishes.
While not abandoning its central character, Korea also delves into the lives of other characters, including their friends, schoolmates, and the adults in their lives, capturing a slice of contemporary Japanese society.
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5. Ida (2013)
Polish director Paweł Pawlikowski shoots his 2013 film Ida in beautiful black and white. Following Anna, a young novitiate nun who is preparing to take her vows in a convent, this 1960s set story is about self-discovery as she explores complex family history. The film kicks in right before she takes the big step and is urged by the Mother Superior to visit her only living relative, her aunt Wanda Gruz (played by Agata Kulesza).
Upon her visit, Anna’s aunt reveals a family secret that forces her to question her own identity and religious commitment. Together, Anna and Wanda set out on a road trip to uncover the truth about their family’s past. Along the way, they encounter people who offer glimpses into the dark history of World War II and the Holocaust in Poland.
Grappling with questions of faith, guilt, and identity, Ida is about the human condition and the thin line between religious devotion and personal freedom.
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6. The Salesman (2016)
Written and directed by Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, The Salesman follows the life of Emad and Rana, a couple who are both actors involved in a production of Arthur Miller’s play “Death of a Salesman.”
Due to their apartment building undergoing structural repairs, they are forced to temporarily move into a new apartment provided by a fellow actor from the theater. However, the previous tenant, unknown to the couple, had a dubious reputation.
One night, while Emad is away, an intruder enters the apartment and assaults Rana. The incident leaves her traumatized and the couple struggling to cope with its aftermath. Emad gets consumed with a desire for revenge and sets out to identify the attacker. Their lives intertwine with the investigation and their personal lives go out for a toss.
Farhad’s film delves into themes of morality, pride, and the consequences of seeking retribution. It raises questions about the nature of forgiveness, the complexities of human behavior, and the power dynamics within a marriage.
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7. The Handmaiden (2016)
Park Chan-wook’s 2016 film The Handmaiden takes place in 1930s Korea during the Japanese occupation and tells a complex tale of deception, betrayal, and unexpected connections.
Based on the novel “Fingersmith” by Sarah Waters, the movie centers around three main characters: Sook-hee, a young pickpocket; Count Fujiwara, a con man posing as a Japanese aristocrat; and Lady Hideko, a wealthy Japanese heiress who lives in a secluded mansion. Sook-hee is hired as Lady Hideko’s handmaiden, and she becomes an integral part of Fujiwara’s plan to marry the heiress and steal her fortune. However, as the plot unfolds, the relationships between the characters become more intricate and layered as Park Chan-wook weaves a web of manipulation.
The sexy, kinky stylistic flourishes are used under the guise of a suspenseful narrative to explore the themes of power, sexuality, and the fluidity of identity. The Handmaiden subverts expectations and challenges traditional gender roles and societal norms, often blurring the line between victim and perpetrator.
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8. House of Hummingbird (2018)
Set in 1994 Seoul, Kim Bora’s House of Hummingbird is, at its core, a coming-of-age story that explores the experiences and emotions of a young girl during a period of personal and societal change.
Following a 14-year-old Eun-hee navigating the challenges of adolescence and the complexities of her family life, the story shows us her struggles with her studies as she gets more and more alienated at school. Bearing the weight of her family’s high expectations, Eun-hee deals with her parents’ strained relationship, with her only solace being the company of her best friend.
As more things change in her life, she faces the ups and downs of adolescence, encountering significant moments of self-discovery and connection. Director Kim Bora captures the nuances of Eun-hee’s experiences while also exploring themes of identity, loneliness, and the search for personal meaning.
Since the movie comes from a very personal space, I can affirm its authenticity and portrayal of teenage confusion as one of the best.
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9. Les Misérables (2019)
The Academy Award nominated French drama by Lady Ly tells a very urgent and contemporary tale set in the suburbs of Paris. Taking Stéphane’s POV (a newly transferred police officer who joinsthe anti-crime brigade in the impoverished neighborhood of Montfermeil), the film mostly follows the dramatic turn of event when a confrontation between a group of young boys and an influential local gang escalates into a full-blown incident.
Stéphane, along with his experienced colleagues Chris and Gwada try to maintain order and investigate the situation, only to find themselves caught in a volatile and dangerous environment.
Capturing the escalating tensions, power struggles and and the impact of their actions on the lives of the residents of the community, Les Misérables examines the complexities of contemporary society, focusing on issues of poverty, discrimination, and the abuse of authority.
Shedding a piercing light on the disparities and injustices faced by marginalized communities, particularly the experiences of immigrant families living in the suburbs, Ladj Ly’s narrative takes a disturbing look at the grey nature of morality and puts us in a situation where the lines between right and wrong blur.
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10. The Girl with A Bracelet (2019)
The sneering French courtroom drama takes a cryptic murder mystery as the central plot progression. The movie follows Lise, a teenager accused of murdering her best friend, Flora. The question mark that hangs to the narrative thread poses more intrigue than anything else. Did Lise really kill her best friend? Do parents really know their children inside out?
As the trial unfolds, the film examines the events leading up to the crime and delves into the lives of Lise and her family. Throughout the trial, Lise’s parents, her younger sister, and her lawyer struggle to come to terms with the accusations against her. The film presents a narrative that challenges preconceived notions and explores the gaps between perception and reality, truth and fabrication. It delves into the complexities of teenage relationships, family secrets, and the hidden lives of those closest to us.
Remaking the Argentian drama, The Accused, french filmmaker Stéphane Demoustier puts breaks on the overtly melodramatic original to look beyond the mystery that surrounds the story. The result is an engaging film that tackles difficult themes while drawing a clear line between judgment and justice.