The 100 Greatest Foreign Films

The Bicycle Thief

If you don’t mind reading subtitles, Movieline magazine compiled a list of what they considered to be the 100 Greatest Foreign Films at that time for the July 1996 issue.  Obviously, nothing released in the last twenty years qualifies.  If you’re not well-versed in world cinema, you can take this as a list of suggestions.  If you are, see how Movieline’s list compares with the one you might have made two decades ago.

L’Age d’Or (1930)/Un Chien Andalou (1928) Luis Bunuel’s two semishort surrealist hand grenades (cowritten in varying degrees with Salvador Dali) make a double bill that can restore your faith in the subversions off youth. Pure Spanish-Parisian piss and vinegar. (M.A.)

Aguirre, Wrath of God (1972) Gonzo German director Werner Herzog goes to the Amazon with the conquistadors in the early 16th century and returns with an unforgettable hallucination of the New World–rusted armor, deadly whirlpools, dying aristocrats and 10,000 monkeys. (M.A.)

The American Friend (1977) Wim Wenders doesn’t film Patricia Highsmith’s splendid Ripley’s Game so much as lance the boil to release its rancid inner life. A picture-framer, convinced he’s dying and in need of money to leave to his wife and child, agrees to assassinate a Mafia man. Steely German skies menace. Everyone lies. Directors Nicholas Ray and Sam Fuller make cameo appearances. (S.R.)

À Nous la Liberté (1931) Two carefree French hoboes meet the modem fortress of industry, searching all the while for freedom and romance. A perfect summer-afternoon movie; afterwards, get a bottle of wine and make love in a field. Chaplin stole from it and got sued for his trouble. (M.A.)

Ashes and Diamonds (1958) Andrzej Wajda’s vivid gut-wrencher about postwar Poland made an Eastern European James Dean out of Zbigniew Cybulski, whose red-hot, rebel-with-a-cause-so-big-his-head-might-explode resistance fighter refuses to let the war end. Cybulski died under a train nine years later, and a generation of Polish war babies mourn to this day. (M.A.)

L’Atatante (1934) Just a couple of awkward newlyweds on a river barge, but Jean Vigo’s dreamy movie-poem has the lilt and surreal force of a modern myth. (M.A.)

L’Avventura (1960) Ever found sex wanting as your only means of reaching out? Ever wandered in a dead, aimless calm where nothing ever happens? Michelangelo Antonioni knows where you live. After the inexplicable vanishing of her friend on an island, mesmerizingly vacant Monica Vitti attempts a search, gets distracted, and takes up with her friend’s old lover instead. How like our lives. (S.R.)

Belle de Jour (1967) Marnie Turns a Trick, someone once called this elegantly shocking comedy directed by Luis Buñuel. Catherine Deneuve, in peak form, glides like Hitch-cock’s coolest blonde through a bizarre series of sex tableaux, scratching her itch for humiliation by servicing bourgeois whorehouse patrons while her blandly hunky husband is off doing surgery. Sadomasochistic role-playing, dressed by Chanel, never looked so radically chic. (S.R.)

La Belle et la Bête (1946) Part fairy tale, part Gothic horror. Jean Cocteau’s poetry on celluloid is also one of the screen’s great erotic tales. As the Beast, the ravishing Jean Marais imprisons porcelain Josette Day’s Beauty in his enchanted castle. No wonder she learns to sing in her chains. If you’ve never seen this unfussily magical movie, you’ll be surprised how much of it you recognize–not just because it’s been remade by Disney in animated form, but because it’s been borrowed and stolen from so extensively. (S.R.)

The Bicycle Thief (1947) A poor slob searches for his stolen bike. You can go to other great Vittorio De Sica movies (Miracle in Milan, Shoeshine) for soar-ing, ragged lyricism and poetry. This one, set among Rome’s poor people, losers and crooks, fish-eyes the world with ruthless dispassion and virtually defines Italian neorealism. (S.R.)

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972) German writer-director Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s sourest, funniest and most glamorous film is a remake of an American melodrama. It is decadently beautiful, humorously corrupt, claustrophobic/ally inti-mate, and so acidic it can bring tears to your eyes. (D.T.)

The Blue Angel (1930) Josef von Sternberg went to Berlin to do a story of a pompous teacher who is seduced and humiliated by a cabaret singer. The great actor Emil Jannings was the teacher, and for the woman, Lola-Lola, Sternberg “discovered” and fell in love with a strapping blonde singer who could look at a man as if his clothes were feathers–it was Marlene Dietrich, who was a genius for von Sternberg and rather ordinary for anyone else. (D.T.)

Le Boucher (1969) First you figure that Claude Chabrol’s muted movie will set its sights on a nice enough-seeming guy who, when he isn’t butchering animals, butchers women. Things grow richer and stranger when the murderer becomes involved with, and trans- formed by, a sexually repressed village schoolteacher. A two-hander brilliantly played by Jean Yanne and the essential Stéphane Audran. (S.R.)

Boudu Saved From Drowning (1932) Jean Renoir’s acidly humane comedy about an ungrateful bum taken up as a charity case by a bourgeois family is enough to make you sucker punch the next panhandler who bums change from you. Some of the movie’s glories found their way into the inspired 1936 screwball comedy My Man Godfrey. Many years later Paul Mazursky hope-lessly muddled the same raw material in Down and Out in Beverly Hills. (S.R.)

Breathless (1960) Jean-Luc Godard’s first feature has much to account for. Its breezy amorality, its fusion of Keystone Kops with film noir, its made-it-up-as-we-went-along zing, and its simultaneous deconstruction/worshipping of Hollywood genres have infected an extraordinary number of key movies, from A Hard Day’s Night to Bonnie and Clyde to Pulp Fiction. Don’t let the movie’s lofty reputation scare you off; it’s amiably cheesy, likable, innovative and, with smashing-looking Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg in the leads, fatally glamorous. (S.R.)

The Burmese Harp (1956) Masquerading as a Buddhist monk in order to return to his unit, a Japanese soldier travels through the WWII killing fields and eventually commits himself to burying the uncountable dead. A decade after WWII ended, the Japanese made the most heartbreaking antiwar film ever. (M.A.)

Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974) Celine and Julie are a pair of madcap Alices looking for Wonder-land. Their friendship leads first to a house, and then to the drama that is forever occurring, or playing, there. Can they rescue the little girl who seems to be trapped in this story? Hilarious, profound, a metaphor for filmgoing and fiction as a whole–this is a sublime film. But in this best of all possible worlds, our America, it is both unavailable and hardly heard of. Perhaps we have made it up? (D.T.)

La Chienne (1931) Early sound film by Jean Renoir about a timid, married clerk (the unique Michel Simon) who takes up with a cheap whore and finds himself a murderer. It’s as if, all at once, poetic realism and tragicomic anecdote had been invented for the first time. Renoir’s vision is still as fresh and startling as a cut lemon. (D.T.)

Children of Paradise (1945) How great is Marcel Carné’s once-in-a-lifetime epic set among a ragtag 19th-century theatrical troupe? Put it this way: its hero is a lovestruck mime and we still love it. Heart-piercing performances by Jean-Louis Barrault and Arletty, playing mismatched lovers. Sumptuous and sublime, top to bottom. (S.R.)

The Conformist (1971) A tale that identifies ordinary guilt and sexual shame as the roots of fascism. The best work of director Bernardo Bertolucci, cameraman Vittorio Storaro, designer Ferdinando Scarfiotti and actor Jean-Louis Trintignant. And that is saying something. Beautiful, sinister and hugely influential. (D.T.)

Contempt (1963) One of cinema’s snarkier in-jokes, Jean-Luc Godard’s bleakly funny movie about trashy movie people making a hash out of The Odyssey in Europe was aimed at the time at cigar-chomping vulgarian types like producer Joseph E. Levine, but it could just as well have been Joel Silver and company making Hudson Hawk. As, respectively, the producer and bubble-headed star, Jack Palance and Brigitie Bardot turn in perfect accounts of themselves. (S.R.)

Cria! (1975) Geraldine Chaplin and young Ana Torrent play the same woman, at different ages, barraged and self-imprisoned in a miserable, shadowy past. Chaplin’s performance is over-whelming; director Carlos Saura’s movie is magnificent. Saura and Chaplin were lovers at the time, and neither was ever better than here when they were together. (S.R.)

The Decalogue (1988) Some movies provoke people to alter haircuts, attitudes or musical tastes. This one will change the way you look at movies. Each segment of Krzystof Kieslowski’s 10-hour film (made to be shown in installments on Polish TV) presents a moral dilemma based on one of the Ten Commandments. A random murder, a diagnosis of cancer, the death of a dog, all are interwoven, all given equal weight. Consider-ably more uplifting than William Bennett’s The Book of Virtues. (S.R.)

Les Diaboliques (1954) Henri-Georges Clouzot’s pitiless, icily enthralling shocker is famed for its bathtub murder, dankly perverse atmosphere (water, water, everywhere), irredeemable characters and much-imitated surprise ending. Simone Signoret’s sangfroid and sunglasses nearly steal the whole show in this obvious forerunner of Psycho. The recent American remake is a travesty. (S.R.)

Diary of a Country Priest (1950) A young priest suffers and sickens when his parishioners neither trust nor accept his piety. Rigorous austerity, scalpel-precise imagery, and sparsity of spoken word give Robert Bresson’s film the searing purity of a brilliant silent film. (S.R.)

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) Buñuel’s riotous late-career masterpiece about a gaggle of self-infatuated Parisians whose attempts at having dinner together are forever frustrated by terrorist attacks, army invasions, sexual liaisons, dream sequences, etc. For a perfect bad-dream double bill, rent it with Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel, where the dinner guests never get to leave the dining room. (M.A.)

Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler (1922) An evil genius, heroes and innocents, cops and crooks, rival gangs, mind readers, mesmerists, spies, femmes fatales, car chases–no, not Die Hard, but a silent masterwork, so Full of action that modem audiences would be exhausted. Director Fritz Lang has never had an equal for inventing and framing lethal situations. Among the first amazed audiences were Hitler and Goebbels. Don’t say movies can’t influence people. (D.T.)

La Dolce Vita (1960) Brilliant and caustic for nearly all of its three hours of glamorous moral rot and cynicism, Federico Fellini’s seminal epic is never more inspired than when a helicopter flies over Rome dangling a statue of Christ, or when Amazonian Anita Ekberg, dancing through the night streets with a white kitten in her arms, hoists up her gown to wade through the Trevi Fountain. That’s Italian. (S.R.)

The Double Life of Veronique (1991) Many people tout Kieslowski’s Red/White/Blue trilogy, but his greatest movie came before those three. The Double Life is the real thing, a deeply mysterious essay on self, fate and Irene Jacob squared. The music alone gives you the shivers. (M.A.)

The Earrings of Madame de… (1953) 19th-century France. A marriage (Danielle Darrieux, Charles Boyer); a lover (Vittorio De Sica). It starts as comic intrigue, moves through high romance, and turns to tragedy. No one ever moved the camera better than Max Ophüls, or took so ambivalent a view of beauty. One wonders why succeeding generations have bothered to try to match this glory. (D.T.)

Earth (1930) The soil, the ground, its growth, the sunlight–and the human society from the grassy plains of the Ukraine. Alexander Dovzhenko was less a communist or a Soviet than a poet of the seasons and human renewal. This is the cine-ma of Vivaldi and van Gogh. (D.T.)

L’Eclisse (1962) The third part of Antonioni’s extraordinary trilogy on the chance for feeling in modern limes (the first two parts are L’Axventura and La Notte). This one concerns the strug-gle between idealism and materialism. Monica Vitti and Alain Delon are the protagonists. He’s a dealer on the exchange, and there are astonishing scenes of financial activity. But nothing matches the conclusion, when the characters fail to make a rendezvous and the camera helplessly notes the patience and perpetuity of life. (D.T.)

(1963) The narrative of Fellini’s prescient, all-over-the-map phantasmagoria deals with the perils of giving carte blanche to a successful director. Mandatory viewing for everyone, not to mention any director blindsided by fame. (S.R.)

Europa ’51 (1952) When Ingrid Bergman gave up on Hollywood, she married Italian director Roberto Rossellini, Their films together are a meeting of old-fashioned romance and modern skepticism. In this one, Ingrid is a society wife whose child dies. She goes mad (or is it sane?) and begins to work among the poor and the afflicted. She becomes a saint and an outcast. (D.T.)

Eyes Without a Face (1959) No, not the Michael Jackson story, but, in its fixation on better living through plastic surgery, pretty close. A young woman, horribly disfigured in a car crash, becomes the obsession of her plastic surgeon father, who begins “borrowing” the faces off other young women and grafting them onto her. The face-peeling scene packs a visceral punch akin to the razor-slitting-the-eye image in Un Chien Andalou. Georges Franju’s waking nightmare finds terrible beamy in unexpected places: caged animals awaiting vivisection, the wraithlike heroine sleepwalking in a featureless mask. (S.R.)

Fanny and Alexander (1983) Childhood, family, life, death, art, love, ghosts–the Bergman movie as Christmas feast for 30, all the way from the stuffed goose to the plum pudding. This luxuriously upholstered, three-hour-plus tour de force, Bergman’s next-to-last, is both a summation of a career and the most user-friendly film he ever made. (M.A.)

Floating Weeds (1959) Director Yasujiro Ozu had one subject–people, or family (which is to say, people seen through time). He had one way of watching–at a distance, detached, attentive, respectful. There has never been a truer style, or one capable of seeing so much. Take a trip into Japanese cinema and you will never go back to the American with your old complacency and confidence. (D.T.)

Forbidden Games (1952) René Clément’s flat-out exquisite movie about how children create a fantasy bulwark against reality. While Europe is hammered by the Second World War and grown-ups all around them seem petty and small, a newly orphaned, homeless young girl and a peasant boy find grace, beauty and solace in burying dead animals. (S.R.)

The Four Hundred Blows (1959} Raw, unpolished, shot on the run and true to the bone. Francois Truffaut’s autobio directorial debut is still the most desperate movie ever made about childhood. (M.A.)

Gertrud (1964) In Carl Dreyer’s last film, a married woman gives up her husband and a life of order for a younger man. a musician. It seems like just a small story, a women’s picture of the sort that Joan Craw-ford made. But Dreyer sees the situ-ation as a model for every drama of liberty and happiness. In the end, as in the beginning, the great subject in movies is the human face as it begins to think and feel. (D.T.)

The Golden Coach (1952) Jean Renoir loved actors and the notion that acting was just a metaphor for life. He was also drawn to the subject of whether an artist or an actor can lead a real life–as opposed to following his calling. This is the enactment of those thoughts, with Anna Magnani as the woman in a troupe of traveling play-ers, loved by so many, yet, finally, incapable of loving people as much as she loves her work. (D.T.)

The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964) Pier Paolo Pasolini’s cinéma vérité-style life of Christ features a cranky Jesus, the ferocious beauty of Southern Italy and a freaked-out, eclectic musical score with a little Prokofiev, a little Bach. A nifty, iconoclastic antidote to the cheeseball, velvet Jesus piety ofThe Greatest Story Ever Told. (S.R.)

Ikiru (1952) The word means “to live,” but a petty bureaucrat discovers he is dying of cancer. He searches for company and meaning. This is somber, plain and everyday, but the realism is lit up by the performance of Takashi Shimura and the sympathy of director Akira Kurosawa. A movie to be seen after any one of those American epics involving massive, spectacular and inhuman slaughter. (D.T.)

Le Jour Se Lève (1939) Why is Jean Gabin holed up in a room with a gun? He has done a murder. Why? Because the world is rotten and hopeless. Director Marcel Carné’s 1939 (all made in the studio) is different from Renoir’s 1939 (The Rules of the Game, shot mostly on location). Starring two epitomes of worldliness–Arletty and Jules Berry. (D.T.)

Jules and Jim (1961) Boys meet girl. Boys love girl. One boy gets girl, then loses her. Other boy tries for girl. And so on, and so on. There’s rarely been a wiser movie about unspoken love among messy, self-indulgent bohemians–or about love, period. Jeanne Moreau’s Catherine is extraordinary: captivating, crackers, inspiring, tyrannical. Francois Truffaut’s romantic masterpiece lives a universe apart from Paul Mazursky’s Americanized version. Willie and Phil. (S.R.)

The Kingdom (1994) Lars von Trier’s gruesome, poetic four-and-a-half hour movie (it was a miniseries in Denmark) about a haunted Danish hospital is a sting-ing rejoinder to anyone who says long foreign films are no fun. (M.A.)

Lamerica (1994) Neo-neorealist Gianni Amelio takes an irascible Italian yuppie and strands him in Albania, one of the most fabulously desolate and fearsome countries in the world and home to three-and-a-half million people who seem to want nothing more than to get the hell out. A political movie with a throbbing, pan-icky, bloody human heart. (M.A.)

Landscape in the Mist (1988) Two children wander across the Greek industrial wastelands to find an irrevocably lost father. Theo Angelopoulos’s awesome, devastating movies make you hold your breath for fear of missing a frame; this one could change your life. (M.A.)

Last Year at Marienbad (1961) Or was it Friedrichshad? In Alain Resnais’s enigma wrapped in an enigma–the visuals are like a 93-minute Calvin Klein commercial where no one’s trying to sell you anything–gorgeous, ghostly sleepwalkers float through the hallways, lounges and restaurants of the grandest of grand hotels. Giorgio Albertazzi, for instance, can’t remember whether, or even where, he and sleek Delphine Seyrig had an affair. Silly boy, with a face and trend-setting haircut like Seyrig’s, who could possibly forget? (S.R.)

Lola (1961) A fairy-tale romance, but filmed in the gritty realism of Nantes, the seaport where director Jacques Demy grew up. It’s a tribute to Max Ophüls, and a hymn to Anouk Aimée, as well as to comic irony, coincidence, wide screen, black and white and the sheer radiance of cinema. (D.T.)

Lola Montès (1955) Near death, the great 19th-century adventuress and courtesan Lola Montes sold herself to the circus as an attraction. This movie uses her circus act as a framework, and so Montes appears in tableaux from her life, allowing flashbacks to the past. This leads to a superb portrait of the struggle between love {or liberty) and confinement (or des-tiny). The last film–in CinemaScope–by the unrivaled Max Ophüls. (D.T.)

M (1931) Fritz Lang’s famous prenoir creeper is one of the earliest and most profoundly compassionate serial killer thrillers ever made. Sixty years before Hannibal Lecter, Peter Lorre gave us a classic self-loathing, compulsive child slayer. (M.A.)

Masculin-Féminin (1966) Jean-Luc Godard’s disarmingly sweet, intimate and blazingly smart exploration of The Mating Game. Even if the name Godard makes your temples pound, this movie can charm its way right up your leg. (M.A.)

Metropolis (1926) Lang’s antiquated vision of a dystopia ripped up at the roots by class warfare may not be sophisticated politics, but the sci-fi images of mob con-duct and architectural madness remain unsurpassed. It’s been plundered so often that even if you haven’t seen it, you’ve sort of seen it. So really see it. (M.A.)

Le Million (1931) René Clair loved prettiness, song and music, comic confu-sion and Paris–they are all here in this delicious confection about young lovers in search of a winning lottery ticket. (D.T.)

Murmur of the Heart (1971) Louis Malle’s sunny, beautifully controlled comedy about the sensual coming-of-age of a 14-year-old, jazz-obsessed boy radiates the knowing, worldly sensuality of a good Colette yarn. The controversy at the time of the film’s release about the theme of “incest” was pure flapdoodle–this is not what the movie’s about. Still, Lord help sons if all mothers were as gorgeous and blithely sensual as Lea Massari. (S.R.)

Napoléon (1927) An eye-roasting epic of the type even David Lean never made. Abel Gance used every filmmaking trope in the book and then invented a few of his own. Keep an eye peeled for surrealist nutcase Antonin Artaud as Marat. (M.A.)

Night and Fog (1955) Yes, you’ve heard already–the concentration camps were a bad thing. But Alain Resnais’s documentary on Auschwitz is only 31 minutes–so you can make time. (D.T.)

The Night of the Shooting Stars (1982) Paolo and Vittorio Taviani’s wonder-working paisan fable about a platoon of Italian peas-ants in the last days of WWII escaping their ravaged village in the night and searching for the liberating American forces. Filled with those lyrical, meaning-packed moments you could grow old, die and turn to dust waiting to see in American movies. (M.A.)

1900 (1977) This is Bernardo Bertolucci’s War and Peace. Robert De Niro, Gerard Depardieu, Dominique Sanda and Donald Sutherland amid Italy’s political vomitings from the beginning of the century to the ill-fated rise of communism, all shot tike a Flemish painting and laid out like a Parmesan wedding banquet. (M.A.)

Nosferatu (1922) F.W. Murnau’s film of the Dracula tale was the first of its kind and is still the scariest, moodiest vampire film ever made. The original surrealists loved the famous title card that read, “When he crossed the bridge, the phantoms came to meet him.” The bald, rat-faced Count Orlock is played by an actor named “Max Schreck,” which in German translates as “maximum terror”; who this man really was is still a mystery. (M.A.)

La Notte (1961) Antonioni’s examination of the pathology of modem marriage, lust and alienation, all beheld in the space of a day. Jeanne Moreau and Marcello Mastroianni are the couple–and here is moviemaking as layered and complex as the best modern fiction. (D.T.)

Pandora’s Box (1928) Minor Hollywood actress went to Germany and became the supreme femme fatale, Lulu, in an adaptation of two of Franz Wedekind’s plays. G.W. Pabst directed. Who she? She Louise Brooks–still undefeated champion of the lethal look. (D.T.)

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) Danish giant Carl Dreyer re-creates a medieval tug-of-war between ignorant orthodoxy and human grace, almost entirely in close-ups. As Joan, Maria Falconetti will never be forgot-ten; look out for Antonin Artaud again as a sympathetic priest. (M.A.)

Persona (1966) An actress (Liv Ullmann) stops speaking, on stage. In her breakdown, she is cared for by a nurse (Bibi Andersson). The nurse talks, acting up for the actress. Slowly, their characters become intertwined, dependent, in love and full of enmity. This is Ingmar Bergman’s most lucid analysis of the psyche that has to be actor or audience, and both. (D.T.)

Pierrot le Fou (1965) Jean-Luc Godard’s bitter homage to Hollywood, to painting, to the novel, to the South of France, and to his own wife, Anna Karina, who was leaving him when he made this film. This is Godard’s adventure film–film noir in the blaze of noon. Godard deconstructed film in the ’60s, and in ignoring him now we have all agreed to be blind, stupid and uneducated. (D.T.)

Playtime (1967) Jacques Tad’s Monsieur Hulot finds himself in the ulti-mate modem city. No one ever conceived or built sight gags with more care, and so these wondrous comic spectacles clash intriguingly with the deter-mined, organized and humorless insanity of the city. (D.T.)

Raise the Red Lantern (1991) This color-drenched melodrama of a young concubine serves as a lesson in social order, love, resignation and the kinship of women. Zhang Yimou’s film is part of the recent flowering of Chinese cinema, and Gong Li, his actress, is established here as one of the great stars. (D.T.)

Ran (1985) Akira Kurosawa should have retired after this awesome transcription of King Lear (mixed with a little Macbeth), which, thank God, jettisons the texts and just tells a helluva story. The battle scenes will unhinge your jaw. (M.A.)

Rashomon (1950) Four strange people in feudal Japan tell self-serving versions of the same incident: the rape of a nobleman’s bride by a lusty out-law and the subsequent death of the nobleman. A classic about no less a subject than the slipperiness of truth. Hollywood’s remake was titled, aptly, The Outrage. (S.R.)

The Red and the White (1967) Bolsheviks and counter-revolutionaries battle it out in the hills along the Volga. Abstract and monolithic, and I mean that in a good way. Hungarian Miklós Jancsó makes movies without charac-ters but with crowds you can actually identify with. The power struggles of history are played out in mesmerizing, long, uncut tracking shots. A steam-roller movie–it’s a visceral antidote to the easy homilies and melodrama of most antiwar films. (M.A.)

Red Desert (1964) It’s Monica Vitti again on the verge of a nervous breakdown in Michelangelo Antonioni’s painterly study of social disintegration, Italian-style. Depending on your mind’s state, the movie’s harrowing evocation and inspection of despair could soak into your bones, promote hilarity or send you scrambling for the nearest bottle of Prozac. (S.R.)

Repulsion (1965) Roman Polanski’s jittery thriller takes a clinician’s delight in documenting the process of a lonely, exquisitely beautiful manicurist (Catherine Deneuve) going nuts in her apartment. Queasiest moments: the dead rabbit, the hands coming out of the walls, and Deneuve slashing a guy to kingdom come. With its cool, crazy Chico Hamilton score, this is first-class Grand Guignol, tailor-made to watch with someone you love to grab. (S.R.)

Rocco and His Brothers (1960) Or, Why I’m Glad To Have Been an Only Child. In Luchino Visconti’s sprawling saga (surely an influence on The Godfather), fate uproots and urbanizes a peasant mother and her five sons, most of whom go to hell in a handbasket in the big city. Tragic, wrenching, operatic. (S.R.)

La Roue (1922) Napoleon is Abel Gance’s best known film–because it has been restored and given a new musical score. But La Roue is at least as good, a love story about a locomotive driver–it’s over-the-top, sentimental, yet it shows the passion of story, imagery and cutting in those early 1920s when the motion picture was the new craze. (D.T.)

The Rules of the Game (1939) The working definition of tragicomedy (an un-American form based on the notion that nothing ever means only one thing). Europe in 1939, The edge of disaster as seen through the mishaps of a country house party. Jean Renoir directed and starred, playing the good-natured but bumbling friend to all and the helpless trigger of tragedy. Nearly 60 years later, this movie is years ahead of film today. (D.T.)

Sansho Dayu (1954) In 11th-century Japan, an exiled governor’s wife gets sold into prostitution, his son and daughter into slavery. Director Kenji Mizoguchi knows no superior in using image and composition to express emotional profundities. If there is anywhere in film a sequence more throat-catching than the one in which the long-suffering son is reunited with his martyred mother, who is too far gone to remember him, bring it on. (S.R.)

Senso (1954) Luchino Visconti loved the 19th century–clothes, decor, opera, aristocratic ways, foppish men and doomed women–and all are in the tale of a fatal love between Farley Granger and Alida Valli. (D.T.)

Seven Samurai (1954) A Japanese village of the 16th century is threatened by bandits. The villagers hire seven samurai. It sums to rain. Akira Kurosawa filmed it, and battle, swordplay, action and spectacle have never been the same again. (D.T.)

Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors (1964) A Ukrainian epic set in the Carpathian Mountains, this landmark movie directed by Sergo Paradjanov feels like it was actually shot deep in the pagan, premovie past. (M.A.)

Shame (1968) The Bergman movie for people who hate Bergman movies–no symbolism, no spiritual agony, just a very real husband and wife (Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann) trying to stay alive when war suddenly explodes right into their front yard (the country this takes place in is unspecified). What happens when you find a dead paratrooper hanging from a tree, and the woods near your house are in flames? A great war film for people whose country has never been invaded. (M.A.)

Shoah (1985) Yes, you’ve been told this before–the concentration cramps were a wicked thing. Still, Claude Lanzmann’s documentary is only 8½ hours–so you’ve got the time. So many lost theirs. (D.T.)

Smiles of a Summer Night (1955) Ingmar Bergman, in an uncharacteristically Mozartian mood, sends in the clowns as pairs of mismatched lovers spark, misfire, scheme, wreak emotional havoc and, in the end, reconfigure. An elegantly witty, deeply moving work of tragicomic art, it inspired Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. You may find its scalpel-like Scandinavian irony preferable to the self-satisfied Gallic schematics of La Ronde. (S.R.)

Solaris (1972) A forgotten space station’s crew is haunted by their dead loved ones. In making this film, which includes the most heartrending antigravity scene in film history, Andrei Tarkovsky reinvented science fiction. (M.A.)

The Spider’s Stratagem (1970) The atmosphere is so cryptic and the behaviors so furtive in Bernardo Bertolucci’s take on a Jorge Luis Borges short story that you find yourself as baffled as the hero investigating the 30-year-old slaying of his antifascist father. The star is a cipher, but Alida Valli supplies more than presence, even if she seems startled to realize she is no longer the sleek enchantress of The Third Man or The Paradine Case. The whole thing is so gorgeously color-drenched you may want to paint your walls in homage. (S.R.)

The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) Why aren’t there more great movies about kids? Kid actors, for starters. This wonderfully insular movie about the power of imagination, a companion to Forbidden Games, To Kill a Mockingbird and The Night of the Hunter, presents dolefully radiant, poised Ana Torrent as a young girl who runs away from her village home in search of the Frankenstein monster after seeing the Boris Karloff movie for the first time. Torrent’s resemblance to the little actress drowned by Karloff in the original only adds to the weirdness. (S.R.)

Strike (1924) Sergei Eisenstein was a graphic artist on a par with Picasso, and a member of experimental theater groups in the new Soviet Union. All these talents led him to film, the new means of reaching the public through image, montage and symbol. And so for a few years Soviet cinema was on fire with its enthusiasm for an art of all the people. The epically titled film is about a strike. (D.T.)

Throne of Blood (1957) Noh meets Shakespeare. Akira Kurosawa’s samurai take on Macbeth is spooky, elemental, visceral. The bloodcurdling finale features Toshiro Mifune pierced, St. Sebastian-like, by arrows. (S.R.)

Through a Glass Darkly (1961) A family vacations on a Swedish island–but the grown daughter (the astonishing Harriet Andersson) is a borderline schizo who has visions of God as a giant spider. Bergman goes for the throat. (M.A.)

Tokyo Stay (1953) Ozu’s quietest, most devastating left hook, in which an elderly couple discover there’s no room for them in their self-involved children’s busy lives. Where other directors babble like brats, Ozu whispers like a wise man. (M.A.)

Tristana (1970) Luis Buñuel reunites with his belle de jour, Catherine Deneuve, in this less-famous, equally perverse meditation on sex, Catholicism, obsession, aging, Franco-ism and amputation. Deneuve is an implacably obscure object of desire both for her elderly guardian and for a young, studly suitor. The claustrophobic, Hollywood-spoofing perfection of the photography, sets and costumes only heightens the surrealistic kick. (S.R.)

Two English Girls (1971) A young Frenchman goes to England and meets two sisters (both passionate, creative and tragically inclined). His love for them lasts over the years, as he shifts from one to the other. This is Francois Truflaut’s most subtle work, pieced together out of fragments, but with underlying emotional patterns rising to the surface. With Jean-Pierre Léaud, Kika Markham and Stacey Tendeter. One of the great testaments to the elusiveness of happiness. (D.T.)

Ugetsu Monogatari (1953) Kenji Mizoguchi’s gentle but breathtaking medieval Japanese ghost story. Two fortune-seeking fools launch out into a chaotic world where chance, vanity and cruelty twist their destinies. The film is so ethereal and mysterious that every scene seems to take place in the comer of your eye. (M.A.)

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) Jacques Demy was the last filmmaker anywhere who made movies about nothing but the plea-sure and grace of the medium. This is a love story in which all the dialogue is sung (to music by Michel Legrand). Enchanting, ravishing, and with Catherine Deneuve in that blush of youth that signaled the fairy princess. Demy is dead now, but surely he was the man who could have filmed Stephen Sondheim. (D.T.)

Vampyr (1932) Dreyer does a vampire movie, more or less, and comes up with the equivalent of a choked nightmare endured while sleepwalking across the bottom of a stagnant lake. Jeepers. Creepers. (M.A.)

Viridiana (1961) Luis Bunuel’s scathingly funny, surrealist tale of a religious novice (Silvia Pinal) violated by her horny uncle (Fernando Rey) is a field day for lapsed Catholics. The Spanish master seldom wielded his impeccable technique, his anticlerical, antifascist savagely or his withering view of sexuality to such devastating effect. Favorite moment: the orgy of beggars staged as an obscene parody of the Last Supper. (S.R.)

Weekend (1967) Godard’s apocalyptic vision of modem society, where life is one long traffic jam and a fender dent is reason enough to blow away the road hog who put it there. Cannibalism, Marxists, Emily Bronte, sex– what more could you want? (M.A.)

Wings of Desire (1988) Quotidian life in wall-divided Berlin as seen through the eyes and ears of sympathetic angels in overcoats. A great, priceless gift to filmgoers, however shamelessly ripped off for that R.E.M. “Everybody Hurts” video. (M.A.)

The World of Apu (1959) The concluding part of the Apu trilogy, in which the boy has grown and gone to the big city, Calcutta, and is married. Then comes tragedy and recovery. With this trilogy, Satyajit Ray made India a film-making nation for the rest of the world–and helped to show Western audiences the potential for a life of the spirit in the observation of a camera. (D.T.)

Zéro de Conduite (1933) Jean Vigo’s notorious, semisurreal paean to schoolyard anarchy. Four wild kids rebel against their boarding school’s oppressive rules and end up provoking a full-scale revolution. A graceful, hilarious testament to the snot-nosed preteen in all of us. (M.A.)


Posted on July 22, 2016, in Movieline Articles, Movies. Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. Any greatest foreign films list that won’t include The Road Warrior (Australian film) is automatically a fail in my book.


    • Yeah, that list totally ignores Australian New Wave. No British films either. A better title for that list would be “The 100 Greatest Non-English Language Films.”


    • It seems fairly clear from the contents of the list that, as lebeau suggests, “foreign” meant foreign language to the authors of this piece; othewise there would have been a whole raft of British films that would demand inclusion.


      • Technically, the full name of the category at the Oscars is Best Foreign Language Film, but I think most people abbreviate it to Best Forign Film. I think the same thought process is at work here.

        Best Movies With Subtitles may have been more descriptive.


        • But of course some of these are silent films. Do title cards count the same as subtitles?

          I would argue it is a different thing because the use of title cards is typically much more economical than that of subtitles and those films rely much more heavily on visual storytelling.


  2. I’ve seen several of these and can recommend them almost without concern.

    • This Halloween make time for Vampyr. It is a truly haunting piece of silent film horror.
    • Same goes for Nosferatu. Its imagery is extraordinary and iconic. A must if you want to be culturally literate.

    • Disney fans may be interested in La Belle et la Bete, not just because they famously retold the story, but because some of the imagery from the film shows up in spots in the Haunted Mansion.

    • M offers a fascinatingly complex idea and a truly revelatory performance from Peter Lorre

    • Metropolis is another silent masterpiece that must be part of your visual vocabulary

    • Both The Seven Samurai and Ran are extraordinary in their own ways, with Ran an amazing visual retelling of Shakespeare’s King Lear. Just awesome filmmaking.

    There are a few more I have seen and plenty more I want to see.


  3. I would second daffy’s recommendations of Nosferatu, La Belle et la Bete, M and Seven Samurai, and would add some others:

    -L’Atalante–a very simple story told with tremendous visual power

    -Breathless and Pierrot le Fou; the former is incredibly influential, the latter a dazzling visual kaleidoscope that showcases the bewitching quality of Godard’s longtime muse, Anna Karina.

    -The Double Life of Veronique–a beautiful and mysterious film from Kieslowski (although I like the Three Colors trilogy somewhat better).

    -Jules and Jim–one of, if not the, great love triangle films.

    -The Rules of the Game and Ugetsu Monogatari–the greatest films by, respectively, the greatest directors from France and Japan.

    -Wings of Desire–so magical it almost defies description.

    A few other comments:

    -My Ingmar Bergman watching experience does not overlap with any of the films on this list, but I would say that some Bergman is pretty much a necessity if you want to have a reasonably complete foreign film experience.

    -While The Rules of the Game is Renoir’s greatest film, La Grande Illusion is very nearly as great, really should have been on this list, and is almost certainly going to be more accessible to most viewers than Rules; if you’ve never seen any Renoir, Grand Illusion is where to start.

    -The authors of this list seem to lean towards art-house style foreign language films for the most part; there’s nothing wrong with that, but foreign genre films shouldn’t be overlooked. Melville’s Le Samourai is not only excellent, it has been hugely influential–on the likes of John Woo, Tarantino, etc.–and belongs on a list like this for both those reasons.

    -Asian cinema outside of Japan seems seriously underrepresented in this list.


  4. Of the films I spotted on this list, I’ve viewed “Rashomon”, “Nosferatu”, “M”, and “Metropolis”. Like others have said, I was expecting something different in the article due to the title.


  5. It is typical how the overrated Ingmar Bergman is the only Swedish director mentoned in the list. Okay, I guess that “Fanny & Alexander” is good. But his older “deeper” movies aren’t my cup of tea at all.

    Anita Ekberg of “La Dolce Vita” was Swedish as well, but she would live in Italy for a huge part of her life


  6. Great post. So many excellent films listed, but I had to make sure that my favourite foreign film (“Ikiru”) was on the list. Thankfully, it is! I recently wrote a blog post on this very powerful film for anyone who wants to read.


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