The Non-English Language Film Survey

Ah, lists! Like all fans, film aficionados are collectors, and every now and then, all collectors enjoy sifting through their stash to trot out their favorite baubles, arranged one way or another, to show them off to the world. Look! I’ve got three of the ultra-rare green kind, and oh, how that marbled one catches the sunlight just so! Toying with the objects of our affection in this way makes us feel happy and safe. In the world of movies, that’s what we call a list.

The movies we’ve seen (and can remember) are our stash and currency, and the best and shiniest of them will have to bear the scrutiny of any passers-by. As members of NYFCO, Marcy and I do this once a year, and recently, I’ve been asked, along with a number of bloggers and critics, to help put together a list of best films made in a language other than English before 2002. The list of nominations is out now at Edward Copeland’s site, and it’s a good one. You can go vote on your favorites, and a final tally will be published soon.

For the goal-oriented, that should be the end of the story, but I always find that democracy and criticism make an uneasy fit, and to me, the final result is somewhat beside the point. Instead, you might be happier taking a look at the individual ballots (or adding your own) here, at Jim Emerson’s site, at the House Next Door, or on your own damn blog. The fun is in the arranging of the marbles, the weighing of their comparative beauty, the debates over which ones have been overlooked or could be traded in for shinier ones. (It’s also a terrific way to fatten up your Netflix queue.) For the avid collector, the list is never an end in itself — it’s just a way to spend a little bit more time with some of our favorite things.

So here’s the snapshot of movies I considered worthy of inclusion according to this particular set of parameters on this particular day–culled from a much longer list of close contenders while LH 182, after three hours delay, finally began its initial descent on Berlin-Tegel, a fact I mention only because it may help explain the heavy Teutonic emphasis: I literally found myself in the Himmel über Berlin. Feel free to add your 25 favorites in the comments, and don’t forget to vote at Edward Copeland’s site. In alphabetical order:

8 1/2 Federico Fellini, 1963
Aguirre, The Wrath of God Werner Herzog, 1972
Akira Katsuhiro Otomo, 1988
Au Hasard Balthazar Robert Bresson, 1966
Band of Outsiders Jean-Luc Godard, 1964
Black Orpheus Marcel Camus, 1959
City of God Fernando Meirelles, 2002
Day for Night Francois Truffaut, 1973
M Fritz Lang, 1931
Nights of Cabiria Federico Fellini, 1957
Run Lola Run Tom Tykwer, 1998
Seven Samurai Akira Kurosawa, 1954
Solaris Andrei Tarkovsky, 1972
Spirited Away Hayao Miyazaki, 2001
Stolen Kisses Francois Truffaut, 1968
The Lovers on the Bridge Leos Carax, 1991
The Man Without a Past Aki Kaurismaki, 2002
The Rules of the Game Jean Renoir, 1939
The Seventh Seal Ingmar Bergman, 1957
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg Jacques Demy, 1964
The Wages of Fear Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1953
Wings of Desire Wim Wenders, 1987
Y Tu Mama Tambien Alfonso Cuaron, 2001
Yojimbo Akira Kurosawa, 1961
Zur Sache, Schätzchen May Spils, 1968

Mississippi Mermaid

Even a “minor” Truffaut is still a delight. Jean-Paul Belmondo plays the owner of a tobacco plantation on Reunion who places an ad for a bride… and Catherine Deneuve gets off the boat. But much like in 2001’s overlooked Birthday Girl, the mysterious stranger is no innocent. There’s murder, international intrigue, and a man so smitten with the young Deneuve he’s willing to throw his life away. What else do you need?

La Sirène du Mississippi. François Truffaut, 1969. ***

Day for Night

Been meaning to make a top ten list of the best films about filmmaking for a while, and Truffaut’s love letter to the movies remains firmly perched in the top spot. It’s so overstuffed with large and small disasters, throwaway gags, and winking allusions to great films that makes rewatching it an endless pleasure. With Jacqueline Bisset, Jean-Pierre Leaud, Truffaut himself, and Nathalie Baye as the production’s R2-D2.

La Nuit américaine. François Truffaut, 1973. *****

[tags]film, 5 stars, francois truffaut, jacqueline bisset, jean-pierre leaud, nathalie baye, filmmaking, france[/tags]


Every hormone-addled boy wants to join a rock band because “the chicks are great.” But those kids don’t know that becoming a director is an even better way to get laid. This biography, by a bunch of Cahiers du cinema writers, drives home that point beautifully, and it names names: Jeanne Moreau, Claude Jade, Fanny Ardant, Catherine Deneuve, and pretty much every other beautiful woman who ever acted for Truffaut.

If that’s not inspiring, the book traces FT’s growth from street punk and syphilitic deserter to Oscar-winning independent auteur with admirable style. The part about his flame-out with Godard is fascinating, but I have to admit that I had to skim the clinical and terribly depressing description of his last brain-tumor infested months.