Netflix: Gems from Around the World

Want to travel the world from the comfort of your couch?

Well now you can, as we have curated a list of the top ten foreign language films on Netflix that will keep you entertained throughout your weekend marathon. Happy bingeing!

Train To Busan (2016)

This South Korean zombie-apocalypse film will undoubtedly be the best zombie film you will ever watch. Director Yeon Sang-ho’s skills are brought to life as he takes us on a thrill ride inside South Korea’s high-speed rail system at the same time a zombie apocalypse breaks out in the country, compromising the safety of passengers on board. Think Snowpiercer meets World War Z. The protagonist, a workaholic distant father, is taking his daughter to meet his estranged wife in Busan whilst the apocalypse breaks out onboard the train. What makes this film great is Yeon Sang-ho’s ability to create characters that the audience can’t help but deeply care about, his subtle depiction of societal prejudices, hierarchies and his restrained action scenes within the train and station, which highlights the sense of helplessness, fear and claustrophobia. There isn’t a single dull moment in the film thanks to its brilliant cinematography and well-orchestrated action sequences. The ending especially is deeply emotional and cathartic, and will linger on your minds for days. The film premiered in the Midnights screening section of the 2016 Cannes Film Festival and set a record as the first Korean film of 2016 to break 10 million theatregoers. This is a must-watch for anyone who enjoys zombies, thrillers and action genres – but be ready for some spine-chilling action scenes.

City of God (2002)

Nominated for four Academy Awards in 2004, this Brazilian crime film directed by Fernando Meirelles can be considered to be one of the best crime films ever made. An evergreen classic, the film depicts the growth of organised crime in the Cidade de Deus (City of God) suburb of Rio De Janeiro. Told through the eyes of Rocket, the film chronicles a time period from the end of the 1960s to the beginning of the 1980s. This film is a must-watch for its tight screenplay, flawless editing, gripping cinematography and exceptional direction. The opening sequence of the film, which includes the narrator, the rival crime lords of the favelas, police and a chicken, has to be one of the best opening sequences ever made.

Infernal Affairs (2002)

This crime thriller from Hong Kong tells the story of one cop who infiltrates a crime triad and another cop in the police department whose loyalty lies with the crime triad. What follows is a cat and mouse chase for the two moles within the crime triad and police department who are unaware that they are actually hunting for each other. With well-developed characters and well-executed cinematic techniques like jump-cuts, freeze-frame shots and fade outs to tell the visual story, this film is a nail-biting crime thriller. In 2006, this film was re-made in Hollywood, named The Departed, directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon as the moles, Jack Nicholson as the Irish Mob Boss and, Mark Wahlberg and Martin Sheen as police department officers.

The Wailing (2016)

This South Korean horror film is not for the faint hearted. Directed by Na Hong-jin, the story is about a Japanese man who arrives at a little village in the mountains of South Korea, while a deadly disease spreads among the villagers which causes rashes, violent murderous outbreaks, stupor and ultimately death. A police officer starts investigating the mysterious disease and chaos, and when his own daughter is infected, he consults a powerful shaman who reveals that there is demonic activity occurring. Saying anything more about this horror flick would give away the plot entirely. Na Hong-jin’s skillful direction along with the cinematography produces the kind of horror that would leave a chill down your spine making you feel eerie and uneasy. He doesn’t employ the usual horror techniques of using sound and jump scares to invoke fear, rather he leaves the audience wondering what’s next in a manner much like the virus in the film, gripping on slowly and incapacitating the defenses to cause serious damage.

He Even Has Your Eyes (2016)

This French comedy/drama by Lucien Jean-Baptiste is a laugh-riot. When Paul and Sali, a married French-African couple in their mid-30s and unable to have biological children, are contacted by their adoption agency saying that their adoption file has been approved and they have a baby for adoption, the couple couldn’t be happier. Upon reaching the adoption agency, they discover that their 4-month old baby boy, named Benjamin, is white! As expected, this leads to a series of trouble as Sali’s parents are not ready to accept the white child into their family.

The Intouchables (2011)

Based on an incredible true story, this film revolves around a wealthy quadriplegic who recruits an ex-convict as his caretaker. The film focuses on the prevalent divide between people in the society, in this case the divide caused by wealth and race, talks about friendship uniting us all despite our differences. This feel good movie was an immense commercial and critical success domestically as well as internationally, having won several awards and accolades. In 2017, Neil Burger made the Hollywood remake to this film, starring Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart in the titular roles.

Sand Storm (2016)

This Israeli drama film, directed by debutant Elite Zexer, speaks volumes about topics of feminism and patriarchy. Screened at the 66th Berlin International Film Festival and winner of the Grand Jury Prize in the World Cinema Dramatic section at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, Sand Storm follows the story of Layla, a teenager, her mother, Jalila, and her father, Suliman, who has decided to take a second, much younger wife. Set in a Bedouin village in Southern Israel, Sand Storm depicts the ways in which men in a tradition-bound Arab culture reap the benefits of a way of life which oppresses and belittles women, who in turn to oppress each other thereafter.

Palm Trees in The Snow (2015)

This Spanish romantic drama film directed by Fernando González Molina, will take you back to a time when colonialism still existed in the island of Bioko, Guinea. Based on the best-selling novel, Palmeras en la nieve, by Luz Gabás, this film tells the story of a Spanish colonial family through flashbacks. When young and idealistic Clarence finds out that her ageing uncle Killian has been secretly sending money to an island family, curiosity strikes, and she sets off on a journey to uncover the truth. Once she arrives on the island, the story unravels the truth and we’re introduced to a young Killian and Julia, Clarence’s mother. The highlight of this film is its stunning and beautiful cinematography, which does complete justice to setting the period of the film and carries the story forward. If you’re expecting a lot of action and colonial film clichés, then this one isn’t for you. The racism and colonial themes just form the backdrop of the story and not the crux of it. At its heart, the film is a pure love story.

Okja (2017)

Directed by Bong Joon-ho of The Host and Snowpiercer fame, Okja is an action adventure film which premiered at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival and competed for the Palme d’Or in the main competition section. The film revolves around a young girl, Mija, and her pet Okja, who is a super-pig, bred by the Mirando Corporation to revolutionise the meat industry. Each of the pigs are sent to be raised on farms for 10 years, and once fully grown killed for their meat. 10 years have passed and Okja is now being taken back to Mirando Corporation but Mija is not ready to leave her best friend and ensues her fight to bring Okja back to safety. She is helped by the Animal Liberation Front and the story which follows sheds light on the cruel behind-the-scenes happenings of consumerism and the friendly façade of corporate capitalism. This film will make you ask one question – where does our food come from? But it’s not a film that promotes vegetarianism or shames the meat industry. It only critiques the capitalist world we live in a satirical manner and is definitely a film worth watching.

Under the Sun (2015)

Directed by Vitaly Mansky, this documentary follows a year in the life of a family in Pyongyang, North Korea. In the documentary, the family’s daughter, Zin-mi prepares to join the Korean Children’s Union on the Day of The Shining Star (Kim Jong-il’s birthday). All the scenes, scripts, locations and characters featured in the documentary were pre-approved by the North Korean government and even during shooting the scenes, the makers were always escorted by North Korean officials who had final cut on all the footage. They would yell cut and instruct characters to stage appropriately for the camera, thereby portraying a false representation of the country. At the end of each day’s shoot they would delete any footage they thought inappropriate or would hurt the government. The makers were never left alone and were not allowed to interact with anyone without supervision. They saw this as an opportunity to spread propaganda, promoting North Korea as the ‘ideal’ country, where the nations people were happy with their ruler. However, the makers risked their lives to present the real story of North Korea with director Mansky continuing to roll the cameras in between shots and store all the footage on two memory cards, one of which he would hide. This way they captured what actually happens and how the people are forced to portray a happy and content image in front of the cameras,, and highlighted how children are brainwashed into believing a false reality. They managed to smuggle this footage out of the country and reveal the truth. This is a hard-hitting documentary and will leave you empathising with the people of North Korea.