World cinema is a playground of diverse and exciting cinematic cultures that, regrettably, many never choose to experience. From Bergman to Bong, the landscape of films made outside of the Hollywood sphere can open your eyes to a range of fresh perspectives. Earlier this year Parasite became the first film not in the English language to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, so we at The Edge thought it appropriate to select some of our other favourite international flicks. Here’s what we came up with…
Persona (1966), dir. Ingmar Bergman
Described as the ‘Mount Everest of Cinematic Analysis’ by many, Ingmar Bergman’s Persona is an enigmatic Swedish psychological drama about stage actress Elisabet (Liv Ullmann), who suddenly stops speaking and retreats to a seaside cottage with young nurse Alma (Bibi Andersson) in order to recover. The abstract opening sees a projector bursting into life, showing disconnected images such as an upside-down, black-and-white cartoon and a man being chased into his bed by supernatural forces, before cutting to a boy waking up in a morgue and seeing a blurry image of two women’s faces. If that wasn’t weird enough, the film literally breaks down halfway through before snapping back into focus like it never happened. During a brief 84-minute runtime, Persona explores themes of duality and identity (as the title suggests) through its complex duel between the two central characters. Bergman never shows all his cards, which can make for a frustrating watch if you want easy answers. However, the film’s deliberate ambiguity is greatly rewarding if you allow it to be. This is one that demands multiple rewatches.
Dark Habits/Entre tinieblas (1983), dir. Pedro Almodóvar
One of the early films from the celebrated Spanish director, Dark Habits has Pedro Almodóvar written all over it. A drug-addicted Mother Superior of a dissolving convent, nuns writing erotica, a tiger living in the courtyard: these are just a few of the provocative subversions so typical of Almodóvar’s unique thematic interests. Released at the height of ‘La Movida Madrileña’, the counter-culture movement that took place in post-Franco Madrid, Dark Habits is an altogether surreal and confusing experience that needs to be seen to be believed.
The film follows Yolanda, a cabaret singer on the run after her boyfriend’s overdose, taking refuge at the convent. The co-dependency that grows between Yolanda and the Mother Superior, to whom she confides, is a fascinating dynamic. We are left in the dark about how to interpret their relationship, which shows signs of an unhealthy parasocial connection between an entertainer and their crazed fan. As the nuns attempt to keep the convent alive through several unusual means, Almodóvar brings alive the saying ‘you never know what’s happening behind closed doors’. Intrigue and provocation lies within every scene.
Battle Royale (2000), dir. Kinji Fukasaku
Set in bankrupt Japan, the world of Battle Royale is one where youth delinquency is on the rise. To curve this, a yearly competition is created, with a class of students selected to fight in a battle to the death until there is only one student left standing. By this point, the premise of Battle Royale has become its own genre. There are countless video games (Fortnite), movies (The Hunger Games) and TV shows utilising the set-up. All the same, it is the Japanese original that remains unrivalled in its exploration of the concept.
Both exhilarating and tense, Battle Royale is remarkable due to its narrative structure. Rather than following a single protagonist’s journey, Battle Royale gives the majority of the sick game’s competitors their own mini-narratives. This allows for the audience to grow connections with a wide range of characters, heightening the scale of the horror as their paths inevitably overlap. In humanising most of the students fighting for their lives on the island, Battle Royale still feels fresh today with its character-oriented take on a concept that has become excessively linked with dehumanising action and spectacle. That isn’t to say that Battle Royale doesn’t have its own spectacular action. As the kids hesitantly battle it out, the choreography is visceral. Kinji Fukasaku’s film makes you feel for its characters in every possible way.
The Invisible Guest/Contratiempo (2016), dir. Oriol Paulo
A Spanish mystery thriller from a few years ago, The Invisible Guest sees Mario Casas play successful businessman Adrián, accused of the murder of his lover – who was found in a locked room with thousands of Euros spread over her corpse, Adrián the only suspect. The Spanish title, Contratiempo, means ‘setback’. Adrián is prodded to tell the whole truth to his lawyer Virginia, whose reputation in coaching defendants precedes her. The mystery of the murder and the snowballing process of events that lead to such a bloody conclusion are the crux of this gripping drama.
The performances – particularly from José Coronado, playing a key part in the dark series of developments – are excellent and are able to cross the language barrier effortlessly. The Invisible Guest manages to pack in plenty of twists and turns in a relatively short runtime (106 minutes), producing some truly reprehensible villains and empathetic heroes along the way. On a budget shy of $5 million, the film’s style and production design is very impressive, convincingly managing to depict Adrián’s millionaire lifestyle before his life falls apart. While the best overseas crime dramas are usually concentrated in the Nordic countries, Spain’s The Invisible Guest is one you won’t forget about for a long time.