The 25 Best Non-English Films of 2016
17. Aquarius | Brazil | Drama
Sensual, snobbish, audacious, stubborn and intellectual, a retired music teacher – Clara, played commandingly by Sonia Braga – still likes to listen to music on Vinyl. She lives in a sea-facing apartment “Aquarius.” The plot thickens when a property dealer buys out all the flats, and all tenants clutch to the thick dough & leave, except for Clara. Clara stands stubborn, even when she is threatened, pushed to the edge of sanity. Director Filho doesn’t use the premise to simply unload his socioeconomic messages.
He subtly observes Clara’s casual interactions with sons, daughters, and extended family; her quotidian activities; her desires and fear. Director Filho offers a profound personal portrait that doubles up as a political allegory. In a way, Aquarius is about people who invade and bully their way to get what they want. The parallel for this could be seen in current Brazilian politics.
16. Aloys | Switzerland | Fantasy, Drama
A loner’s catalogue, a big conformist shout in a void for his existence to satiate his introvert soul, a dream-like fantasy that cut open conscious behavioural routines, Aloys is a rare trip inside the psyche of an alienated soul, enclosed in itself. Aloys is a staggering, ambiguous clash between reality and self-created reality. The film opens with the random scenes of running tape, an empty bedroom and the lead protagonist, Adorn Aloys (Georg Friedrich), shooting the funeral of his father.
It hints at how lonely and empties his life is. He is so devoid of human connection that he finds solace in watching the tapes over and over again, thus in a way, we as an inquisitive audience watch his life unfolding like a puzzle. It’s a strange psychological mystery of a private investigator’s attempt to unearth an alluring anonymous woman caller who blackmails him into “phone-walking.” Aloys is surreal, aesthetically melancholic & eccentric, which carries the layers of creative imaginations and delusions wrapped in profoundly stark images.
15. Endless Poetry | Chile, France | Fantasy, Drama
Bewildering and exciting, exuding infectious energy of a cinematic nerd, Endless Poetry – the second part in Alejandro Jodorowsky’s autobiography- is an apparent nosedive in absurdist & surrealist cinematic universe. Latching on his fetish instincts for narrating his life in the most creative possible way, Jodorowsky has let his imagination run wild in this immersive cinema that never ceases to amaze its audiences. Endless Poetry sees the bohemian life of Jodorowsky from the time he left home, dabbling in poetry and performance, before finally moving on to Paris in the 50s.
14. Smoke and Mirrors | Spain | Biography, Thriller
Alberto Rodriguez of ‘Marshland’ fame returns to celluloid with a sleek and engaging espionage thriller bolstered with heart-throbbing, retro music based on a true story of mid-1990s Spanish political corruption scandal that helped to bring down the country’s Socialist government in 1996. An ex-secret agent, part-mercenary, part-businessman is framed by his government who goes into hiding until the Commissioner of Police offers him a deal to safeguard embezzled money. Dazzling with colourful characters, and a bravura performance by Eduard Fernández as a sly, smart and crooked spy, Smoke and Mirrors is a perfect blend of arthouse cinema with commercial elements that don’t disrespect its targeted audience. Stream it on Netflix.
13. The Handmaiden | South Korea | Erotic Thriller, Drama
Every frame in The Handmaiden looks like a portrait. The deprived women species has been shown to be materialized, sodomized and liberated, all together. It’s a masterful work by Park Chan-Wook, as he puts his audiences in the midst of a large puzzle spread all over the floor where they are forced to question every action, feel distressed by some of them & in a very dark, hilarious way, feel greatly amused by them.
12. Neruda | Chile | Biography, Crime, Drama
What makes Neruda a great film lies in the way Pablo Larrain & co-writer Guillermo Calderón playfully engaged us out of the biographic element, to present a meta, sometimes poetic dream of a storyteller. It’s a biopic that almost defies its own subject matter to become a subtle investigation of how and why a person decides to romanticize with words and phrases, why he makes his characters fall in love and above all, why he makes something so starkly breathtaking that even with low oxygen, the heart dies and resurrects on a white sheet of snow that has never-ending lifelines.
11. Toni Erdmann | Germany | Drama
Toni Erdmann is a subtle and genuinely moving piece that personifies loneliness and the necessity of happiness. It has layers to be peeled and hidden underneath its humour is an aching heart, waiting to be accepted, waiting to be loved. It balances the comic with the poignant and asks us to shun the existing paradigm of shame and humiliation. It nudges us, ever so gently, to fully embrace our pitiful human condition of longing, despair and above all, the king of absurdities, love.