This post is kind of random, but I thought I should list these out. I’m a bit of an avid film goer and ever since junior year I started watching a whole lot of different international movies. I ventured through everything from Fellini to Bergman, to Truffaut, to Lang. It was a little difficult to pick out a top ten, but here it goes:
10. Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972)
The opening shots of a band of explorers traveling down a steep, enormous mountainside are enough to draw any casual viewer into the movie. Aguirre is the tale of a mad conquistador and his fleet of soldiers traveling through the slopes of Peru as they wander in search of El Dorado, the fabled city of gold. It a story driven by its protagonist, Don Lope de Aguirre, as he delves further and further into greed and insanity in his search for the lost city. There are betrayals, mutinies, and a long journey through the Amazon that is very reminiscent of Apocalypse Now (in fact Coppola admitted to taking inspiration from it). Everything from the imagery to the unearthly quiet that seems to occupy certain scenes before erupting suddenly will leave the viewer engrossed from start to finish.
9. La Strada (1954)
Fellini, in all his films, manages to create something very dreamlike and almost farcical. La Strada is the tale of a young woman who goes away to join a circus and has to deal with all the struggles of playing second fiddle to a feature performer named Zampano. Throughout the film Zampano constantly mistreats her, dragging her along with him as no more than a servant. The film is sprinkled with both tragic and lighthearted moments, but it’s best scene comes at the very end when we realize, as Zampano does, the damning toll of living in solitude. La Strada literally shows us the tears of a clown: all the loneliness and longing hidden away in the mind of the entertainer.
8. Metropolis (1927)
This is the greatest science fiction movie of all time. Why: because it proceeded all the others and laid the groundwork for sci-fi movies today (Star Wars, Blade Runner, etc.) Not to mention it has a very strong message about class: the dichotomy of the rich living in grand towers and technological splendor while the poor live in caverns underground. A mad scientist creates a robot duplicate of a woman, Maria, who sermonizes to the beleaguered workers, promising the coming of a Christ-like “mediator” who will come and deliver them from the darkness. The robot duplicate, instead, encourages the laborers to rise up and destroy the machines they’ve been working on. Perfect plot for a sci-fi film, right? And we can see all the elements in Metropolis, despite its age: giant, postmodern cities, android clones, and large super-machines. What drove me in as a viewer was how large scale the movie was for its time and still is. Almost every small bit of classic sci-fi can in some way be traced back to Metropolis.
7. The Wages of Fear (1953)
Suspense, suspense, suspense. That’s what you get when you have a movie with two people who have to drive a truck loaded with nitroglycerine across miles of mountain and rugged terrain. You’ve got that one breathless moment where the truck is sitting near the edge of a mountain and nearly tumbles off. You’ve got the moment where the two men have to blow a boulder just to made a trail in the mountainside. All throughout the movie there is the feeling of something impending, so strong that even for its leisurely pace, the film makes up for it by throwing you constant curveballs that leave you on the edge of your seat. The first hour or so is mostly buildup, while the second takes place entirely on the road. While the destination is reached, the journey ultimately comes at a cost for its two protagonists.
6. Grand Illusion (1937)
This Renoir-directed masterpiece tells the story of several French soldiers who are captured as prisoners of war during World War I and then plot a daring escape. It’s very reminiscent of the Great Escape: there are underground tunnels, late-night escapes, and journeys across the countryside into unknown fates. We get an up-close view at the lives of the soldiers as they bond in captivity, forming relationships that shape the rest of the movie. There is a scene, after the escape, where two men stay at a house and one of them falls in love with the woman who lives there. Remembering duty, he walks away and we see the full sacrifice that comes with war: not just life, but attachment. Grande Illusion is a uniquely human film that goes behind the lines, rather than the forefront, to show an intimate picture of life under wartime.