I started this post a few days ago, and mistakenly pressed ‘publish’ before the end. I recalled it, and deleted the whole thing, but I apologise to anyone who may have received the half-completed article. These recommendations are for films from countries not necessarily known for their cinema industry, or output. They still have merit though, and their themes and story-lines have often been ‘borrowed’ by other film-makers.
The Vanishing. A couple stop at a motorway services, for fuel and a snack. When he returns to the car, the man finds the girl is missing. He searches frantically for her, but it is all in vain. A long time later, and he receives a communication from someone, claiming to be able to show him where she is. He must meet the man, and go with him. Sound familiar? This is the original, the first in a long line of pale imitations, remakes, and stolen plots. It is riveting, disturbing, uncomfortable to watch, and a thriller that will leave you feeling that you have seen something completely fresh. At least that was how I felt in 1988, when I first saw this Dutch/French film. Even today, after many years of plot spoilers, it proves the old adage that he original is still the best. Here is the complete film, subtitles available by allowing ‘captions on’ from the bottom bar menu.
Babette’s Feast. In 19th Century Denmark, there is a strict Protestant community, living a hard life, with Puritan ideals. One day, a French Catholic refugee arrives, asking to be taken in. In return, she will work for them, as cook and housekeeper. They agree to do this, and some time later, Babette, the Frenchwoman (played by the wonderful Stephane Audran) comes into a large some of money. She resolves to spend it on a gastronomic feast for the family, and an important villager. The resulting banquet changes the lives, and the attitudes of those attending. Does this sound as dull as dishwater? Not a chance. It is simply a delight, with first class performances from all involved, and a story that remains unique in film-making. This 1987 film from Denmark, won an Oscar the following year, and still seems as good today as I remember it, 26 years ago. Here is the cinema trailer, with subtitles in English.
Man bites dog. Years before the common theme of ‘fly on the wall’ film-making became popular, this 1992 film from Belgium came as a sharp satire on the whole idea of reality TV, and documentary films. A film crew decide to shadow the ‘work’ of a mundane serial killer. They go everywhere with him, and film his ramblings, as well as his frequent, and often very violent murders. Their involvement with him begins to spiral out of control, as they sink ever deeper into his dark world. This is not a comfortable subject, nor is it filmed sympathetically. However, as an idea, and as the film shows, it just works. This is the whole film, with English subtitles. Warnings for content apply.
Closely Observed Trains. Another Oscar winner, this 1966 film from Czechoslovakia (as it was then), is set during the German occupation of that country, during the mid 1940’s. A young man starts his career with the railway, following in his family’s footsteps. This is a tale of officialdom, bureaucracy, and sexual frustration, set during a time of war, and social upheaval. There are moments of comedy, and eroticism, yet a bleak feel is maintained, as we know it cannot last. Eventually, our young hero is involved in a partisan attack on a train, as he can see no other way to prove himself, or his courage. This is a classic film in black and white; the subject of many years of critical acclaim, yet almost unheard of in the UK, since its release. This is one of the most famous scenes.
Funny Games. This refers to the Austrian film from 1997, written and directed by Michael Haneke. Though he later remade the film with an American (and English) cast ten years later, in exactly the same style, this is by far the superior version. This is a difficult film to recommend, and one that is even harder to watch. A family are holidaying at a nice summer vacation house. One day, two polite and presentable young men appear at the door, apparent friends of the neighbours. Very soon, they have imprisoned the family, subjecting them all to both mental, and physical torture. Most of this is either implied, or happens ‘off screen’ but it is no less disturbing for that. Some argued that it was a pointless film, with no story of any merit, and that it showed sadistic psychopaths without good reason. They could be right. Whatever the criticism, it is a powerful, thought-provoking film, with incredibly good performances from all the cast. If you think that it would not concern you too greatly, give it a try. Just don’t blame me later. Here is the short cinema trailer.
There you have five films, from countries not normally first on anyone’s list of cinema history. Yet they all have very unusual plots and stories, and though some are disturbing, others are life-enhancing. Watch these, and begin your journey into the world of the film buff.