Thursday, December 31, 2020

Watching movies from around the world 2020

The world has much to offer which nobody gets to appreciate.  We are told by our financial advisors not to put all our money in any one country.  I am retired and although the Covid 19 pandemic restricts some of my activities the world has become more accessible.  My goal is to encourage more people to investigate foreign films and get used to dealing with subtitles.  My selections reflect my biases/prejudices and also my accessibility to the multitude of films.   The selected movies are worthy of your time and I have made my favorites with photos.  They all have merit.

The top film for me overall is the one on the left,  "Peranbu"  (2019) in the Tamil language.  See below for more information under Regional Movies from India.


The Best of Youth
"The Best of Youth" (2003) was recommended to me by Mary Ito (of CBC) several years ago.  It is a long film, 6 hours and covers Italy from Turin and Florence to Rome to Palermo with lots of relationships.  There are surprises, some of them pleasant, but some not.  One of the top ten.  

"Dogman" (2018) gets its title from the protagonist who is a dog groomer.  Mixed up with drug dealers and double crossing.  Violence.

"Sicilian Ghost Story" (2017) received mixed reviews, but did win a number of festival stories.  The story was adapted from a tragic set of events where the son of Mafiia informer was killed after a kidnapping failed to induce his father to change his testimony.  The film has been changed with a fictional character becoming the focus, but retaining the tragic element.

"Il Sorpasso" (1962) is a black and white road movie.  Lots of laughs, but you will be jolted--that's life.


"Transit"  (2018) was on Barrack Obama's list of best movies.  Although German it was set in Marseilles, France with many language shifts that without understanding most of the words could appreciate the transition.  It was framed uniquely--the original novel is about German nationals trying to escape Nazism, but is shown in modern day Marseilles with the script focusing on refugees needing to flee ahead of encroaching authoritarian military police.  The time was a mix--they deliberately kept the modern scenery except for computers and smart phones.  The special features were very helpful to not only understand this movie, but also in general.

"Never Look Away" (2018) was another excellent film by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck who directed, wrote and produced it.  Covers from Nazism from the racial superiority augmented by classism to Communism and art.  The three key roles are well acted.  Despite the political nature of the film an underlying theme is art.  At the beginning we are shown a young boy attending an art exhibit regarding degenerative art (as seen by Nazis) with his very supportive aunt.   After the war the Russians take over and the young boy is now trying to apply his artistic talent, but doing politically approved art.  His talent is recognized, but feeling hampered he escapes with his wife.  Once in West Germany he tries to find his art style and purpose and we encounter what to many would be weird art.  He eventually does find his style by harkening back to the horrors of Nazism by using old photos deliberately blurred.  Along the way we have a love story, a bit of mystery and lots of politics.

"The Axe of Wandsbek" (1951) actually comes from East Germany and is very political (anti Nazi) and was taken out of distribution by the Russians.  Concerns a town Hitler refused to visit until a prisoner was executed.   Distrust of the justice system.  A few of the characters were decent people trapped in the Nazis system.  The German director, Falk Harnack fought with the Greek resistance against the Nazis in WW II

"Generation War" (2013) told a story of five friends at the start of World War II from a German perspective where they assumed it would all be over in time for Christmas.  Five years to produce and it shows    read more at:






"The African Doctor" (2016) is based on a true story. A black doctor, born in Zaire, but educated in France accepts a job in a rural area of France and is soundly rejected.  Prospective patients  take a longer trip to another town.  Of course their reluctance eventaully diminishes after the villagers discover his daughter is a sensational soccer player.

"The Count of Monte Cristo" (1998) showed a slimmer Gerard Depardieu at his best with the classic story.  As a mini series they got into more details than I have seen with other versions.   I understand it is faithful to the text, except for one major change that would offend a purist.  I am a bit of a purist, but only a bit--I enjoyed it.

"Bad Seeds" (2019) is a comedy with a social message.  A slimmed down Catherine Deneuve  partners with an adopted son as con artists who get caught and forced to help with some troubled youths. 


"Blind Chance" (1987) directed and written by Krzystof Kieslowski at a time of relatively no censorship which lasted roughly from August 1980 when Lech Walesa gained right for independent trade union until December 13, 1981 when martial law was declared  The film was not finished before Dec 13 and was shelved.  A lot of Polish history.  Communist dictatorship, Catholic   Presents three random paths that were a product of chance.   The film went through different versions, but the uncensored version not released until the 1990's.    The different timelines concept borrowed -with "Sliding Doors" (1998),  "Mr Nobody" (2009) and  "Run Lola Run" (1998).




 "I do not not care if we go down in history as Barbarians" (2018)     An odd frame to demonstrate anti-Semitism, but effective.  We view an historical outdoor play about Romanian participation in the Holocaust.  The response to the burning of the Jews included applause.  Along the way we are treated to some gratuitous nudity   


"And Breathe Normally" (2018) Immigration problem--two women with problems

"Heartstone" (2018) was mostly about teenage anguish.  Of interest to me was showing Icelandic horses performing a tolt gait. 


"Sami Blood" (2016) is about discrimination against what we were taught are Laplanders, but which call themselves Sami.  Viewed on Canada's indigenous network, APTN.  Fitting in can be very difficult and demand sacrifices.

"The Silence" (1963) is Ingmar Bergman's film that typically is more symbolic about human relations.


"On Body and Soul" (2017)  This is not for the squeamish as the director and cinematographer chose to show some of the gruseome details of working in a slaughterhouse.  Two employees learn that they have had the same dream about deers that travel together, but do not mate.  The man is somewhat detached while the woman is asexual.    Check:


"The Fabulous Baron Muchausen" (1962) animation and live action?  special effects before computers took over  Karel Zeman     Science fiction--redited with inerpreting Jules Verne better than anyone else. connected to Bata shoes ad campaign  worked against Communist direction and censorship--
link to Czech


Not to be confused with the American state.  Was part of the Soviet Union (Stalin was born there) it became independent, but subject to Russian interference and intimidation.

"My Happy Family" (2017) a middle aged woman leaves her household that included her parents, her children and her husband.  Singing was shown as a communal activity.


With Andrey Zvagintsev, "The Banishment" (2007) is the missing feature for me.  It is predominantly Russian, but was filmed in Europe, based on American novel by William Saroyan, had the female lead from Sweden, but able to speak Russian, a Russian actor who had performed in American films.  Check out





The third most popular language in the world has many expressions worth knowing.

"A Twelve-Year Night." (2018)  Set in Uruguay.

"Palm Trees in The snow" (2015) located in a Spanish island in Africa with a dramatic story.

"Nobody Knows I'm Here" (2020) from Chile.  Story of a talented singer used as a backup for someone with better looks and connections.  Bitterness. The voice is beautiful.




"100 Metros" (2016) is an inspiring story about a man who has Multiple Sclerosis, based on a true story.  MS is a scary disease and it is encouraging that some people can live good lives under it.  It also relates how families can support one another in times of crisis (there is more than one crisis).



"Tia and Piujuq" (2018)  covers four languages; predominantly Inuktitu, Arabic with some French and English.  A children's film, using a fantasy conveyed some of the cross cultural streams in Canada.  A 10 year old Syrian refugee living in Montreal goes through a magical door and ends up in the Arctic to befriend another 10 year old girl.  They learn of some Inuit myths which are depicted in animated form.   It is a low budget film, but delivers for children a glimpse of the diversity of not only Canada, but also the world.

"Funny Boy" (2020), could be classed as still another outstanding Tamil film, but is heavy on English and also has some Sinhalese as it deals with the racial tensions in Sri Lanka.  It also deals with homophobia (or really a gay story).  Very well done with last shot taken at the Toronto Airport.   Directed and co-written by Deepa Mehta.     


The opportunity to add a unique indigenous movie "Anori"(2018)  to my collection was too interesting to pass up.  The star, Nukaka Coster-Waldau was one of the more attractive female leads anywhere and is a prominent singer.  The plot confused me and I am not certain I recall it right.  The first part was a re-telling of how a couple first met, starting with a concert and then an airplane ride progressing to consensual sex and marriage up to a comatose recovery in a hospital.  Like in a murder mystery revisiting the same events, but from the perspective of a different man, one who felt he lost out.  Fate is depicted as either destiny or random.  Makes one think of all the fluky things that had to happen to connect you to your present circumstances.


'Sand Storm" (2016)  Bedouin living in Israel mother daughter without power--the daughter tries to push against, but is forced to marry her father's choice--the last scene with a younger sister who hopefully will have more control over her future.

"ZoZo"  (2005) a joint project involving Lebanon and Sweden.   A young refugee finds it difficult to adjust to his new life in Sweden.

"The White Helmets" (2016)  won the Oscar for documentary short.  It made us aware of the relentless bombing in innocent Syrians and the valiant attempts to rescue those victims of bomging.


"7 Kongustake Mucise'" (2019) was a remake of a Korean movie  "Miracle in Cell No. 7" (2013) that got my attention as one of the top Korean films of all time.  Netflix gave me access to this version.   Simply it is about a mentally challenged father who is thrown in jail keeping him separate from his 6 year old daughter  There are a lot of twists that will bring tears before the story is concluded.  Read more:





"3 Faces" (2018) mainly in recognition of the difficulties in bypassing censorship and reaching an international audience.  Jafer Panihi has done a number of good movies but has been restricted

"Where is the Friend's House" (1987) directed by Abbass Kiarstami, well known Iranian film-maker.  This one done with non actors is a very simple one about a young boy trying to return a note book to a friend so their teacher would not punish him.  Well done. In the sequel, "And Life Goes On" a special feature explains how Kiarstami prepares the non actors the night before a scene by setting up the emotion he wants to depict and not letting them know the script.  In this sequel a director goes looking for some of the actors that appeared in "Where's is The Friends House," who were in an area hit by a killer earthquake. Special features are enlightening.  Kiarstami has directed movies outside, one with Juliette Binoche and one in Japan.


"37 Seconds" (2019) A would be Manga artist with cerebral palsy is told she needs to experience sex for her art.  Easier said than done.  She pays for sex, but it doesn't go as she hoped.  She hooks up with a prostitute who serves a handicapped man and then later develops her own caretaker.  A different perspective that lets one perhaps understand a little better the dilemma of disabled people.. 


"Parasite" (2019)  first foreign film to win best Oscar film  winning three Oscars.  It starts with a humorous procedure, but you become aware of a class struggle. 




"Crash Landing on You" (2019) A daughter of a rich man who is self accomplished, accidentally ends up in North Korea with a group of sympathetic North Korean soldiers who try to get her back home.  Lots of humor mixed in with corruption, snobbery, cultural clashes on both sides of the border and above all romance.  Used mini flashbacks to give background as the complicated plot moves forward.  Very addictive--probably watched close to 20 hours in less than a week.

Since then have watched 6 other Korean series and have come to appreciate their style.  They drag it out, but do a lot of character development and flashbacks to keep it interesting.  I also like some of the music.

"Hyena"(2020) a corporate lawyer series brought about one of the biggest laughs of the year for me although more of a courtroom drama.

Another one I recommend is "Stranger" 2017/2020) which is a murder mystery enveloped inside corruption scandal.  No romance, but many layers that are very well uncovered.

Regional Movies from India

There is more to Indian cinema than Bollywood

Tamil:  "Peranbu" (2019) was listed as top film from India for 2019--devoid of the usual crowd pleaser, but very moving.  Very well told.  Top overall movie of the year.  A father who had abandoned his family for ten years tries to re-enter the life of his spastic daughter with many challenges.




 "Dharala Prabhu" (2020) get more details and comparison with "Vicky Donor" at   This was my most popular blog overall.

The original was very funny and touching at the end.  The remake was a little more serious, but still lots of laughs and the same touching ending.

A third Tamil movie that is exceptional. "Soorarai Pottru" (2020) came in November.  It had very high ratings but in the beginning I was regretting my selection as it had some stereotypical song and dance and the two main characters seemed comical, not in a nice way.  However sticking with it was one of the most tense movies I have watched and it had nothing to do with murder.  A business movie about the obstacles for a startup airline.  A rich ruthless businessman did everything he could to crush a startup and almost succeeded.  The sideline romance/marriage became more realistic and you could feel tension within the protagonist's family.



Bengali:  "Gawre Bairey Aaj  (2019 ) a love triangle based on a story by Tagore Rabindranath, but updated.  Don't know what the original had, this version depicts Hindu nationalists and secularists.  Caste snobbery. with the woman being a Dalit.  A lot of English which is considered the mark of an educated Indian.  Three main actors very good.  Switch to past using black and white.

"Buro Sandhu" (2019) The ending sneaks up on you.  Protagonist is presented as alcoholic, but stumbles onto working for film and finally having a script accepted. Given a chance to progress he develops a writers block, but then stumbles on a ready made script that becomes a big success.  You might imagine you know what happens, but you are not quite right.

Malayalam:  "Kettiyolaanu Ente Maalakha  (2019) was about a sexually inexperienced man who decided he needed to marry to help his aging mother.  He was a gentle, hard working, considerate man, but very nervous about having sex with his new wife and after hearing other men's joking he got drunk and raped her.  The viewer felt for him because he was unusually decent.  The actor was the same one who was the villain in my last year's second top overall movie.  Well worth seeing:

"Vikrithi" (2019)  About the serious problems that can result from mischievious social media.  Two parallel running together with one shy man finally marrying his love after having taken a cell phone photo of an exhausted man on a train (who appeared drunk).  When he realizes the suffering of the photo subject the newly married man fails to consummate his marriage .

"Kappela" (2020) is a very simple, but deceptive story.  The viewers follow a young woman's romance and her parent's interference.  The twist is a bit hard to adjust to, but believable.


"Mahaniti" (2018) was about a famous movie star Savitri in India.  She was a Telegu speaker, but a bigger star in Tamil and was often caught up in conflicts.  Her husband who had another wife was jealous.  Samantha Ruth Prabhu played in the framing story.


"Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo" (2020) is perhaps a little too Masala for the western taste, but has a few interesting points.  The producers assured movie theatre goers that the film would not be shown on Netflix in the hopes of getting a larger theatre audience.  It succeeded, but they went back on their word and did offer it thru Netflix.  A slight variation on switched babies in that the father of the poorer one put his own son in the rich family and was able to hide it for over 25 years.  Apparently a lot of fans really liked the dancing of Allu Arjun.  One appeal for me was Tabu, one of my favorite actresses.

"Jaanu" (2020) a remake of "96 (2018)."  Samantha Ruth Prabhu becoming a favorite.   About two high school sweethearts who meet after 22 years.

"Krishna and his Leela" (2020) received a lot of nasty reviews that seemed to think the movie was criticizing religion.  I felt engaged and the script at the end was clever.  It appeared the protagonist was a two timer, but in reality he had been dumped by each of two women and they both wanted him back and he felt love for each.  But of course he had to make a choice. 

" Ye Maaya Chesave" (2010) is something I looked for as it had Samantha Ruth Prabhu and it turned out to be her first and she ended up marrying her co-star.  A typical romance from India where there is religious conflict with parents objecting.  A.R. Rahman provided songs.  Very well done.





One of the best love stories, "Dia" (2020) is in a classic plot line, but with a few twists.  Your expectations may not be met, but nonetheless the beautiful moments are there.  Very well executed.

"Malgudi Days" (2020).  An established writer retires and shortly after his wife dies.  A young woman quits her job and the two on impulse decide to travel and he decides to head towards his home town that he has not visited for several decades.  Along the way they tell their stories.  They run into her first love and his wife (they all get along) and also to her true love that had split because of a quarrel.  Facebook plays a role.  Things don't work out poetically, but as they say love is all around. With some stunning cinematography.


"Cycle" (2018) A horoscope expert has a cherished bicycle stolen.  We follow his efforts and that of the two thieves.  We learn he is very beloved and has a young daughter who is skeptical about horoscopes.  Exceptional cinematography.  Simple moralistic story well told.

"Harishchandrachi Factory" (2009) is noteworthy as it recounts the beginnings of the film industry in India.  Did not really emphasize the difficulties there must have been, but suggest the driving force was an opportunistic man who did see it.

"Saavat" (2019) started out to be horror movie, but took off to a natural explanation to uncover an anti-female conspiracy.  Underlying theme was that women are easy to demonize.  Impressed with Smita Tambe


"Ventilator" is a serious movie with comic relief starring Jackie Shroff and appearance with favorite actress, Juhi Chawla.  In a life threatening situation there are family stresses and with one unique to immigrants.  More at:



"Dhunki" (2019) seemed a low key movie about a startup company, but one could feel tension more realistically than in action or romance dramas.  When you see a man with an attractive woman going into business together you sense there likely will be a romance with some tension, but the tension comes from a different angle.  The man is in a stable marriage and the woman is engaged to a medical student with wealthy parents.  Both the marriage and the engagement are under stress because of problems associated with the startup, but the two partners/friends stick together.  The ending is slightly ambiguous, but realistic in that startups by nature are precarious.  Pratik Gandhi plays a leading role as in "Ventilator" and is quite good and well supported by the other three main roles.

Urdu: "Hamid" (2018) set in Kashmir.  Kashmir is one tof he hot spots with two nuclear nations disputing it.  A young boy whose father has disappeared wants to talk to Allah and flukely ends up talking to a soldier sent to control the population that is hostile.  The soldier is early established as anti Muslim, but soften as the naive boy reminds him of his daughter.  The movie doesn't take sides so much but provides the tension.


"Madaani 2" (2019) deals with rape.  Rani Mukerji has found a new niche after being mostly a leading lady.  She now is in action movies with a message.  This one deals with a rapist who also is a hit man.  It also deals about the poor treatment of women in India.  Suspenseful.  Rani's husband, Aditya Chopra produced.

"Good Newwz"(2019) is a very funny movie, but with a message.  Read more

"Sacred Games" (2018) based on book I bought many years ago.  Like many great books it has too much material for a typical movie, but well done as a mini series.

"Gour Hari Dastaan" (2015)  is about an old man who wanted to get official recognition as a freedom fighter overcoming bureaucratic tape.   A quote by Gandhi  in the end credits got my attention:  "If I had no sense of humor I would long ago have committed suicide."  Vinay Pathak continues to amaze me.

"The Lift Boy" (2019) Seemed like a frivolous subject, but is really a well told coming of age story.

"Thappad" (2020)  translates to the English "slap" and refers to one delivered by her husband.  It is more complicated and ties in relations with in-laws (not what you might expect) and more.  Taapsee Pannu delivers a masterpiece role.

"Har Kisse Ke Hisse: Kaamyaab" (2018)  "you got a better option?"a retired character actor realizes he has been n 499 films and wants to round it off, but problems with family and has trouble controlling nerves and remembering lines.  As a tribute the credits at the end show many character actors. that appear in Bollywood films.

"Axone" (2019) showed a part of Indian culture not often seen.  The Northeastern India is racially and culturally different, but many of their citizens head to the big city, in this case New Delhi.  One of them is getting married.  They encounter some prejudice which seems to be focused on a special dish that has a pungent smell that is repulsive to most others.  A few familiar faces, Vinay Pathak, Adil Husain and Sanyana Gupta.  India is perhaps the most populous countriy in the world and has a diversity of religions, races and cultures that makes it one of the most fascinating nations.

"Dil Bechara" (2020) is a very sad movie made more so with the knowledge that the lead male who dies in the film killed himself before the movie was released.  A remake of "The Fault in Our Stars,"  This one has the advantage of music by A.R. Rahman.

"Raat Akeli Hai" (2020) is a murder mystery with some twists.  One of the hi-lites is the performance of Nawzuddin Siddiqui. 


Have seen a few Pakistani films, but none I remember.  I know there is a bit of an exchange between India and Pakistan and I hope this will be boosted as they have much in common.  "Saawan" (2016) was based on a true story, but was probably selected to highlight a concern over polio.  In attempt to quell an outbreak Pakistan hired many medical staff to give out vaccinations, but because one of them led to the assassination of Osama bin Laden others were killed.  This is a bit of a thriller and inspirational story and you will feel some honest tension.


"Habibie and Ainun" (2012) was really a biopic based on memory of Habibie for his wife Ainun.  He took advanced engineering education in Germany and earned some patents while there.  He and Ainun lived there for a few years and had two boys.  He returned to Indonesia where he helped develop airplane manufacturing.  Eventually he became Prime Minister.  His wife had cancer and the movie ends with her death in Germany.  There were indications that they were Muslim, but I was not conscious of it until near the end.  The movie is based on some writings of Habibie. The actress who played Ainun was a singer and sung a background song that was very touching. and I would add in a quiet way she is stunningly beautiful.  

"Kartini" (2017) is about a woman who led a feminist movement, but with help from a Dutch colonizer. Read more:





"First they Killed My Father" (2017) was film directed and produced by Angelina Jolie and financed by Americans presented a Cambodian history in their language and hired large numbers as crew.  The Khmer Rouge wiped out the Cambodian film industry, but one survivor wrote a book about her experience as a seven year old.  Some of the crew was Cambodian and most of the extras.  a frightening movie where it is hard to imagine how anyone could survive.  One knowledgeable reviewer said it was not as historically accurate as "The Killing Fields" (1984). 


"Us and Them"(2018) used the annual Chinese New Year's trek for city workers to their hometowns as a frame.  A young couple have their share of ups and downs in a precarious (capitalist) society and eventually break up and come across each other on another New Years trek a few years later.

"A Sun" (2019) from Taiwan is a family drama with some dysfunctional elements and a few unexpected events. 

Shinjuku Incident" (2009)  shows Jackie Chan in a little different light.  He is not a martial arts master, but nonetheless gets involved with violence and discrimination against the Chinese in Japan.  Jackie is more than just martial arts, check out:




"The Captain" (2019) about a airplane mishap and saving--realistic airport, airplane, airport procedures with meticulous detail.  The mishap is very realistic and scary.






 "Ash is the Purest White" (2018)  was seen from a list by Barrack Obama.  A woman stands by her man including a prison stay and another woman.


"Happy Old Year" (2019) starred  Chutimon Chuengharoensukying who impressed me in "Bad Genius."  This movie is slow, but evolves in unpredictable ways.  An underlying theme is throwing things out, but it turns out to be harder than thought and comes with emotional baggage.  It is sad, but unfortunately realistic for some people who aren't able to make the connections that make life worth while.  To better appreciate why I was drawn to the star see:


"The Third Wife" (2018) gives some insight into 19th century Vietnam.  Sexual curiosity is a driving force, but also gender relationships.   The writer/director/producer, Ash Mayfair was born and raised in Vietnam, but educated in Australia, United Kingdom and United States drew upon family history to develop story that encompassed child brides, polygamy, arranged marriages, importance of male children and of the relations between the women.  Sexual action involving a 13 year old actress.


"Ordinary People" (2016)is not really about ordinary people, but Ordinaryo is a family name.  Very gritty.


Separate  from Africa as has its own large cinema.  Although most films are 90% English, they do subtitle some national languages--Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo.  Also not quite competitive with English market with a few exceptions.  

 Nigeria is gradually making progress outside their borders.  The film industry really started at DVD and VHS level where movies were distributed almost exclusively at a retail level.  Over time expertise is developed and competition encourages creativity.  Lately noticed that Netflix is picking up some of their movies.  "Elevator Baby" (2019) and "4th Republic"(2019)"and Light in the Dark" (2019) were worthy of your time.   

"In My Country" (2017) is a gem . A sensitive topic about a wife concerned about her husband's reaction after she is raped at gunpoint in his presence.. The two leads are well done with a good supporting cast.


Another noteworthy Nollywood film that depicts an effort to solve health care problems, especially of poor people.  Some honest dialogue.

For more on Nollywood:


"The Boy who Harnessed the Wind" (2019 )is a British product in many ways, but it is set in Malawi  and uses subtitles for different languages as well as dominantly English.  Chiwetel Ejiofor is writer, director and actor

"Atlantics" (2019) was included on a list of favorite movies by Barrack Obama.   It was a French-Senegal production using Wolof and French dialogue with subtitles.  After colonial breakups France did in fact give some support for cinema in their former colonies.

"Material (2012 ) set in Johannesburg, South Africa with a mostly Muslim caste with one man wanting to be a standup comic behind his father's back.

Check out my English films for this year here:

You can check last year's favorites:

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