Hollywood may dominate the movie-making world, but year on year, we’re exposed to more and more absolute gems from around the globe, with 2017 in particular featuring some absolute modern classics. So, here are my picks for the top 10 best foreign movies of 2017.
(Note: we’re only including films not in the English language and that originate from a non-English-language majority speaking country.)
10. First They Killed My Father – Cambodia
Directed by Angelina Jolie, First They Killed My Father is the first time that we’ve seen a Cambodian production hit the world stage, and not without a truly enthralling story to tell.
Centring on the true story of Loung Ung, a young girl caught up in the Khmer Rouge’s takeover of Cambodia in the mid-1970s, the film is an absolutely fascinating account of some truly horrifying atrocities, and although it’s not quite on the level of The Killing Fields, it offers some absolutely heartbreaking scenes and themes in which we see a young girl’s innocence utterly destroyed by a group of fanatics.
It’s a long film, at over two hours, and it isn’t the fastest-moving, however that patient pacing blends well with passionate directing from Jolie, and makes for a both historically fascinating and emotionally enthralling watch throughout.
7.6/10 – Read full review here.
9. Lu Over The Wall – Japan
We’re now into our second full year of Studio Ghibli’s indefinite ‘break’, and many films have done well to fill the void, but it’s Masaaki Yuasa’s delightful Lu Over The Wall that takes the crown as the best anime of the year.
A fantastically light-hearted and endlessly delightful movie, Lu Over The Wall follows the story of a boy who befriends a mermaid in a small harbour town, and must do all he can to protect her from the townspeople.
Although it may not have the consistent emotional depth that some of the best Studio Ghibli movies do, Lu Over The Wall is a film that will undoubtedly make you beam with joy from beginning to end, thanks to its delightful and soft animation, imaginative story line, excellent humour and even a great soundtrack. Yes, it’s not an Oscar-worthy drama, but if there’s one foreign film this year to sit back and relax with, it’s definitely this one.
7.7/10 – Read full review here.
8. Angels Wear White – China
Nominated in a slew of categories at the Golden Horse Awards (the Oscars of the Chinese-speaking world), Angels Wear White is a real surprise, but one that doesn’t come without a very heavy-going and dramatic story.
Following the story of a teenager who witnesses a man abusing two young girls in a small motel, the film delves into all sorts of harrowing and devastating social themes, but makes for an absolutely enthralling watch. On the one hand, we follow the struggles of one girl who can barely survive without a government-issued identity card, while we also see the consequences for one victim of the abuse, and how ideals in modern Chinese society can still lead to significant problems in this regard.
Angels Wear White isn’t a film for the faint-hearted, and it definitely doesn’t hold back when talking about some very uncomfortable issues, but the fact that it does it so frankly, along with a collection of brilliant performances and Dardennes-esque directing, makes it an enthralling watch all the same.
7.7/10 – Read full review here.
7. Survival Family – Japan
From Shinobu Yaguchi, the director of a collection of ridiculously silly comedies including Waterboys and Swing Girls, comes a film that’s just as manic, but actually has some fascinating depth and drama to it as well: Survival Family.
The film tells the story of the consequences of a nationwide power outage in Japan, and how one Tokyo family decide to walk the length of the country in search of electricity. Now, going into the film I expected a combination of Yaguchi’s typically silly comedy and slapstick (which I definitely got), and the odd message about our over-reliance on technology etc.
However, this isn’t anywhere near as didactic as you might think, and instead features some brilliantly crafted messages about the importance of family and communication, with some striking emotional power, all the while offering a genuinely fascinating insight into how our modern civilisation would fall apart just without electricity. In that, Survival Family is not only a fantastically funny comedy, and one that you won’t fail to laugh at throughout, but a film with brilliant brains and depth, making for an equally fascinating watch.
7.8/10 – Read full review here.
6. Love Education – China
Another film that picked up a few nominations at this year’s Golden Horse Awards, Love Education is a truly intimate and beautifully tender family drama.
The film follows the story of a woman who aims to move her father’s grave from a rural village back to the big city, however faces opposition from her father’s former lover, a story that creates a major media storm in the country, and begins to involve her whole family.
That central story makes for a fascinating watch, but it’s breadth of the film that’s most impressive, as it offers up a riveting collection of insights into all walks of life in China, from the rural lifestyle of the elderly generation, to the stressful and intense lives of the middle ages, and the ever-increasing importance of young people, all the while featuring emotionally enthralling drama from beginning to end.
7.9/10 – Read full review here.
5. The Bar – Spain
To be honest, I’m still not entirely sure whether The Bar is meant to be more of a comedy or a thriller, but all I know is that it’s two hours of non-stop excitement and brilliant entertainment.
Moving at the speed of light, the film follows a group of mismatched individuals holed up in a Madrid bar who begin turning on one another after a series of murders right outside the door. From beginning to end, the film is a massively entertaining survival thriller that’s full of brilliant twists and turns throughout, and although its plot does go to some ridiculous lengths (particularly in the final act), you won’t be able to help sitting on the edge of your seat right the way through.
Complete with a whole host of fantastic performances that give the story an Agatha Christe-esque mystery feel, it’s just as exciting and intriguing a thriller as it is a massively entertaining black comedy, and although it really doesn’t hold back when it comes to some utterly bizarre and insane twists, it makes for a thoroughly entertaining watch from start to finish.
8.0/10 – Read full review here.
4. When Will You Return – Japan
Moving, heartfelt, elegant and absolutely adorable, When Will You Return is arguably 2017’s most wonderful film of all, featuring a truly touching story about the strength of family love in times of hardship.
Following a husband and wife who return from a wealthy lifestyle in China to a devastated Japan after the Second World War, the story centres on their attempts to rebuild a life for themselves and their children, despite facing a constant string of hardships and struggles over the years.
Above all, this is a film to really make your heart sing. The central story may feature all sorts of tragedies and struggles for our main characters, but its main message is much brighter, and shows that those difficulties that people face play a part in coming out better and stronger in the end. Directed beautifully from start to finish, and featuring gorgeous visuals, wonderful music and a stunning central performance from Machiko Ono, When Will You Return is the film to make you smile, cry, and then smile all over again; a truly wonderful experience that shouldn’t be missed.
8.2/10 – Read full review here.
3. Confession Of Murder – Japan
Based on a 2003 South Korean film, Confession Of Murder is another one of 2017’s fantastically entertaining thrillers, combining slick and fast-paced directing with great mystery and twists from start to finish.
It’s the story of a TV reporter and a detective who both try to find the identity of the notorious Tokyo Strangler, after one man suddenly comes out with a memoir confessing to all of the crimes and murders, leading to a desperate search for answers as the confession of murder becomes a major media story.
Above all, this film is simply huge fun to watch. It’s a really fast-paced thriller, and combined with pulsating and stylish directing throughout, you definitely won’t be bored at any moment. However, it’s more than just a pretty face, as it features a genuinely exciting plot filled with twists and turns at every moment, and although it goes a little mad at times with some rather violent and gritty action, it always comes back down to earth and shines as a simply brilliant thriller.
8.4/10 – Read full review here.
2. Bad Genius – Thailand
In reality a heist movie, Bad Genius is a film that will have you on the edge of your seat from the word go, and thanks to its thrilling tightrope act of a story, will have you utterly enthralled at every moment.
Loosely based on true stories, the film follows a group of Thai students who form a highly complex plot to cheat the international SAT exams by travelling to Australia to sit the test before those in Thailand do, and then send back the answers to her classmates.
In short, Bad Genius is an enormously exciting film that doesn’t let up for even a moment throughout. Featuring peaks and troughs of thrilling drama and twists, its first act alone is enough to have you out of breath, but it keeps going and going over the course of 130 exhilarating minutes, with a rapid-fire pace, strong drama, good humour, slick directing, and a cast of fantastic performances, all of which come together to make one of the most exciting and relentlessly entertaining movies in recent years.
8.7/10 – Read full review here.
1. The Handmaiden – South Korea
In 2017, there’s been one film that’s constantly been on my mind ever since I saw it. A shocking, psychotic, intense, riveting and absolutely exhilarating thriller: Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden.
From the director of the insane thriller Oldboy, comes the tale of a young Korean girl who is recruited to work as a handmaiden for a Japanese heiress in the early 20th Century, but is secretly working as part of a plot to undermine and defraud her.
In short, this film is absolutely psychotic. Some of its scenes are so intense and often shocking that you’ll be covering your eyes for minutes on end, while some of its twists and turns are so unpredictable and so thrilling that you won’t be able to take your eyes off the screen. From beginning to end, The Handmaiden is a film that has no limits when it comes to being intense and unpredictable. It’s not an easy watch, and some of its more explicit scenes in particular are very intense, however it’s a film that manages to deliver an exceptionally exciting story over the course of two and a half unbelievable hours.
With stunning directing, beautiful sets and costumes, amazing performances and pinpoint screenwriting, The Handmaiden is a near-perfect thriller that you definitely won’t be able to forget in a long time, and that’s why it’s my pick for the best foreign film of 2017.