Must-watch foreign language films in 2019
South Korea: Burning
Yoo Ah-in, Jeon Jong-seo and Steven Yeun in Burning
South Korea’s film star is shining bright: Burning competed for the Palme d’Or at Cannes and it’s been shortlisted for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards. The mystery drama, directed by Lee Chang-dong – whose previous film Poetry won the best screenplay award at Cannes in 2010 – propels Haruki Murakami’s short story Barn Burning to the Korean border.
Juggling sex, male rage and pyromania, Burning tells a tale of obsessive love in modern consumerist Korea, where ostentatiously rich and poor young people are driven to ground by credit card debt. The enigmatic, riveting mystery has been praised as ‘superbly shot and sensuously scored’ – Lee is certainly on fire.
Burning will be released in UK cinemas on 1 February 2019
Boluwatife Treasure Bankole and Zain al Rafeea in Capernaum
Nadine Labaki’s third film is reaping praise at festivals and putting childhood poverty into the spotlight. Capernaum prompted a 15-minute standing ovation at Cannes in May, won the Jury Prize at the same festival, bagged a Golden Globe nomination for best foreign-language film, and is now shortlisted for an Oscar in the same category.
12-year-old Zain (newcomer Zain al Rafeea) embittered by poverty, sues his parents for the fact that he has been born. A heart-wrenching tale from the streets of Beirut, Capernaum continues in the vein of Labaki’s previous films, Caramel and Where Do We Go Now, in tackling societal ills and making a statement on screen.
Capernaum will be released in UK cinemas on 1 February 2019
Director Samuel Maoz sparked controversy among Israeli viewers with his breakthrough film Lebanon. The 2009 Golden Lion-winner depicted warfare exclusively from within a tank, with only a gunsight view of the world. His latest, Foxtrot, follows firmly in its predecessor's footsteps: its way of tackling the boredom and banal prejudices that spring up on the Israel Defense Forces frontline has got it condemned by Israel’s Minister of Culture.
Foxtrot is a grimly funny nightmare of waste, loss and grief, centering on an affluent Tel Aviv couple who are informed that their son is killed in action. Not everyone would agree with the Minister of Culture, though: the film was shortlisted for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2018, and bagged the Grand Jury Prize Silver Lion at the Venice International Film Festival in 2017.
Foxtrot will be released in UK cinemas on 1 March 2019
Spain: Everybody Knows
Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem in Everybody Knows
Nothing says ‘heavyweight’ more than Everybody Knows from Spain. The director Asghar Farhadi’s trophy cabinet includes two Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film for A Separation in 2012 and The Salesman in 2016, and in the lead roles he’s cast fellow Academy Award-winners Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz.
The backdrop to the psychological thriller is a Spanish village, to which Laura (Cruz) returns for a family wedding after a long time away in her new home country of Argentina. It’s not all confetti and wedding bells, though, as the past rears its ugly head when Laura’s teen daughter disappears, after being made privy to a secret about her mother’s history in the village.
Everybody Knows will be released in UK cinemas on 8 March 2019
France: Sauvage, Sorry Angel
Felix Maritaud in Sauvage
French filmmaker Camille Vidal-Naquet premiered his debut feature Sauvage in the Critic's Week section at this year's Cannes Film Festival. The pulsating portrait of a young male sex worker in Strasbourg won over audiences and critics, as lead actor Felix Maritaud won the Louis Roederer Foundation Rising Star Award for his performance.
Sauvage will be released in UK cinemas on 1 March 2019
Vincent Lacoste and Pierre Deladonchamps in Sorry Angel
Christophe Honoré is no stranger to the festival circuit – in 2002, his feature Seventeen Times Cecile Cassard competed for the Un Certain Regard prize in Cannes, before he entered his 2007 film Love Songs in the official competition for the first time. Sorry Angel tells the story of a student, Arthur (Vincent Lacoste), who has a love affair with Jacques (Pierre Deladonchamps), a 39-year-old writer.
Sorry Angel will be released in UK cinemas on 22 March 2019
Eva Melander in Border
From the director of Let the Right One In comes a peculiar horror-fantasy in the shape of Border. Critics are saying to go in blind, to immerse yourself in the unicity of this twisted fairytale. It's a divisive watch, but undoubtedly a conversation starter whichever way you sway.
Border will be released in UK cinemas on 8 March 2019
Iran: 3 Faces
Marziyeh Rezaei in 3 Faces
The award for Best Screenplay in Cannes in 2018 went to Iranian director Jafar Panahi for his self-starring drama 3 Faces. The director plays himself, alongside actors Behnaz Jafari, as the pair embark on a search for a young girl who posted a video of herself when she decided to leave her family, who prevented her from studying at the Tehran drama conservatory.
The fun of a road trip faces the rigid obligations of tradition in a peculiar study of humanity and compassion.
3 Faces will be released in UK cinemas on 29 March 2019
Italy: Happy As Lazzaro, Loro
Adriano Tardiolo in Happy as Lazzaro
Following the success of My Brilliant Friend, 2019 continues to treat italophiles. Happy as Lazzaro brings magical realism to cinemas in a tale about a sharecropping community, who live in a cut-off crumbling village under the aegis of a local tobacco magnate. It’s a thematic follow-up to director Alice Rohrwacher’s previous film, The Wonders, a pastoral comedy that received the Cannes Grand Prix.
Happy as Lazzaro will be released in UK cinemas on 15 March 2019
Toni Servillo as Berlusconi in Loro
There’s nothing pastoral about Paolo Sorrentino’s two-part Berlusconi biopic Loro, which has been described as ‘a porn film without a moral issue’.The former prime minister is portrayed by Toni Servillo, who also starred in Sorrentino’s Oscar-winning The Great Beauty.
Loro will be released in UK cinemas on 12 April 2019
Iceland: Woman at War
Halldóra Geirharõsdóttir in Woman at War
Actor-turned-director Benedikt Erlingsson hit cult status with his 2013 Of Horses and Men, where horses are the facilitators of human romance. His new eco-drama Woman at War moves away from equine themes, but otherwise it continues on the quirky path set by its predecessor.
40-something choir conductor Halla (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir) doubles secretly as an eco-activist who campaigns against energy corporations moving to Iceland. But she has to think twice about her pylon-slashing activities, as her all but forgotten application to adopt an orphan Ukrainian baby is suddenly accepted.
Woman at War will be released in UK cinemas on 3 May 2019