|Fanny Ardant as Maria Callas|
Below find a short list of foreign films that will rival any to be found on the usual year-end “ten best” lists.
All of the films on the list are personal favorites of mine. I must confess that I have a preference for “feel good” films. For example, I understand the greatness of Italian neo-realist films but find them almost unbearable to watch. Also, I avoid films where the emphasis is on violence and eroticism.
Although I am a great fan of American films, I believe that foreign films provide an opportunity to see and understand other cultures. In addition to being great stories with great characters, they can open up a window to other worlds. For example, the Israeli film “The Band Visits” not only depicts current tensions in Israel and Egypt but also shows that ordinary Israelis and Egyptians are not much different from each other or anyone else.
The Band Returns: A charming comedy from Israel that depicts a day in the life of a small band of Egyptian musicians that mistakenly winds up in a remote Israeli settlement.
The Importance of Being Earnest: The classic version of Oscar Wilde’s play of the same name. It stars Michael Redgrace and the inimitable Joan Greenwood.
Wings of Desire: A German film that began as a homage to post-war Berlin but ended up as a homage to life and love. It stars Bruno Ganz and Peter Falk in a surprising role.
Bread and Tulips: A modern Italian comedy that depicts the adventures and travails of a housewife stranded in Venice.
Callas, Forever: Franco Zeffirelli’s homage to Maria Callas depicts his imaginary understanding of the last year of her life. French actress Fanny Ardant is magnificent as Maria Callas.
Mao’s Last Dancer: This Australian film is based on the true story of a Chinese ballet dancer who after getting permission from the Chinese authorities to perform with the Houston ballet, decides to stay in America.
Johnny Stecchino: This film stars famed Italian comic Roberto Benigni in a dual role as a simple school bus driver and as a Mafioso. One of the great comedies of all time but only available in VHS.
Always: Sunset on Third Ave.: A charming Japanese film set in 1958 as Japan is emerging from the devastation of WWII. It provides an eye opening view of Japanese culture while at the same time showing that the hopes and dreams of ordinary Japanese were not much different from those of Americans of the same era. This film is hard to find.
I realize that the great majority of foreign films are probably just as trashy as most American films. But this list is taken from the cream of the crop. They were made by adults for adults.
Finally, I will throw in one American film that today seems so foreign to our own time. For New Year’s Eve I always like to watch Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in “Swing Time”. The story is set in the midst of the Great Depression but the dancing and singing of the two great stars transported Americans into another world during that era. It is still the greatest musical of all time. Here is a brief clip of one of the numbers. ###