Netflix's best foreign language films
Oscars history was made when Bong Joon-Ho and the rest of the cast and crew of Parasite won Best Picture. Joon-Ho won a host of other Oscars for the film, and while none of the actors in the film were even nominated for acting awards, it was still a major step forward — Parasite was the first non-English film to ever win the Academy’s most prestigious award. But it’s certainly not the first international film to merit that level of recognition. Parasite wasn’t even the only international film of 2019 to be worthy of accolades, though its win was amply deserved and a crucial breaking of barriers.
But if Parasite was your entry into the wonders of international film and you’re looking to get further acquainted, you’re in luck. Netflix currently has an excellent collection of films from recent years and further back — if you’re ready to read subtitles.
Based on the book Barn Burning by Haruki Murakami, director Lee Chang-dong delivered this stunning psychological thriller about working-class anxiety in Korea, through the story of three characters. Starring Steven Yeun, Yoo Ah‑in, and Jeon Jong‑seo, this a movie Rolling Stone said you “won’t be able to get out of your head.”
Mati Diop made one of the most incredible films of 2019, and her exclusion from nearly every major awards show was a disgrace for those voting bodies. Telling the supernatural story of Ada (Mame Bineta Sane) and Souleimane (Ibrahima Traoré), Diop’s haunting story is as beautiful as it is powerful, exploring injustice and love in the same breath.
Y Tu Mamá También (2001)
Before Roma, Alfonso Cuarón’s most famous film (that wasn’t part of the Harry Potter franchise) was Y Tu Mamá También, which is an incredibly sensual film that is set between in the stretches between Mexico City and Huatulco, Oaxaca. The film launched the careers of Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal and might be the best film about a road trip ever made.
Nominated for multiple Academy Awards, Roma ultimately lost to Green Book (lol) for Best Picture. Shot in black and white and telling the story of a domestic worker named Cleo’s role in a wealthy Mexican family’s rapidly changing household, Cuarón’s film was semi-autobiographical, and launched actress Yaltizia Aparicio into the international spotlight. Like many other excellent films on this list, Roma explores racial and class dynamics, and while it is incredibly beautiful, it is deeply rooted in Cuarón’s experiences more than the subject of his story.
Train to Busan (2016)
This isn’t the only movie about taking a journey on this list, and it’s not even the only one about trains. But it is the only one about zombies, and it is both fun and terrifying. Director Yeon Sang-ho doesn’t preoccupy the film with any messaging, though there’s still social commentary immersed in the flashes of outright horror.
Bong Joon-Ho didn’t become an excellent director overnight. Snowpiercer is one of his most recent films and is the other movie set on a train on this list. Like Parasite, this film is a critique of capitalism and what it does to us. The film is based on the book Le Transperceneige and follows a star-studded cast on a long, icy, and violent train ride around the world.
Ip Man (2008)
An essential if you love martial art films, and an essential if you don’t. Directed by Wilson Yip, this is the first in a series. “This film deserves a place among the very best of not only contemporary martial arts movies, but martial arts movies of all time,” one reviewer wrote.
Divines follows 15-year-old Dounia in the outskirts of Paris, as she becomes a runner for a neighborhood drug dealer. After she meets a dancer, she’s shown a possibility for a different life. From director Houda Benyamina, this is a gripping movie about power.
Fire At Sea (2016)
Fire at Sea is a documentary, not a feature film, but it is an important watch nonetheless. Taking the immigration conversation outside the United States, this documentary takes place on Lampedusa, an island in Sicily. Tracking the dangerous journey migrants make across the Mediterranean to reach Europe, the film shows how xenophobia and racism have contributed to an international crisis.
The Square (2013)
The other documentary on this list focuses on the Egyptian revolution, telling some of the complicated stories through the eyes of six different protesters. Filmed in Tahrir Square in Cairo, the documentary is a compassionate capture of history. It was the first film released by Netflix to earn an Oscar nomination.
You thought Bong Joon-Ho was only going to be on this list once? Ha. Okja is softer and more dreamlike than Joon-Ho’s other films, but it doesn’t lack violence either. Like any other Joon-Ho film, Okja includes sharp social commentary, this time about capitalism and multinational corporations.
Everybody Knows (2019)
This isn’t Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi’s best or most well-known film. But it is his most recent work, and even when Farhadi isn’t at his best, he’s still creating worthy moving films. With Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, and Argentinian acting legend Ricardo Darin at the lead, this transnational kidnap drama is as moving as it is beautiful. It was nominated for the Palme D’Or, and Cruz received a Best Actress nod at Cannes.
A Separation (2011)
You cannot mention Asghar Farhadi without mentioning his 2011 film A Separation, which won the Best Foreign Film award that year at the Oscars. Married couple Nader Payman Maadi and Leila Hatami navigate increasingly difficult choices as their interests diverge and their choices cause disaster in their own lives and others.
The Mustang (2015)
The Mustang is a film that is both beautiful and terrifying. Led by a stunning and young cast of women and girls, the horror of this movie begins as subtle and routine. By the final moments of the film, you’ll be emotionally raw but thankful for the film. A nominee for the 2016 Best Foreign Film Oscar, director Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s debut film will sit with you long after it’s over.