The so Frenchy so chic Julia Zemiro is a renowned connoisseur of all things European and cinema is no exception: "I’ll always go for English or foreign [movies], because they’re still going to be a bit dangerous and gritty," she says.
"Foreign films grab you in a way that a big blockbuster doesn’t. You have to work a little bit with a foreign film."
As she gets set to call the Eurovision Song Contest, we've asked Julia to choose her favourites from among the 600 free movies available at SBS On Demand.
As It Is In Heaven
(Kay Pollak, 2004, Sweden)
A 2005 Foreign Language Oscar nominee, As It Is in Heaven won audience hearts the world over (particularly in Australia) with the story of a successful conductor who, after suffering from a massive heart failure on stage, puts his career on hold and goes back to live in his childhood village. There, the small local choir asks him if he can provide professional training, which he does - reluctantly. What Julia loves most about this beautiful Swedish film, is that the main character has to "get away from it all and go back to the beginning."
(Niels Arden Oplev, 2008, Denmark)
Julia is a big fan of Danish movies, mostly for the fact that "they don’t sugar-coat" hardship. That's especially true of this realistic representation of the ostracisation people can face when going against their religion. Based on a true story, World's Apart follows young Sara, a member of Jehovah's Witnesses, whose love for an outsider upends her life. Her relationship doesn't go down well with her parents and is forced to choose between the man she loves and her family.
All About My Mother
(Pedro Almodovar, 1999, Spain)
In one of Pedro Almodovar's most acclaimed films, Manuela, a nurse and single mother in her late thirties must come to terms with the tragic loss of her only son Esteban when he is struck by a car. In memory of her son, Manuela goes to Barcelona in search of Esteban's father. However, the man that she left behind 18 years ago, when she was pregnant, is now a transvestite named Lola. Even though Julia loves European cinema's "less is more" approach, she loves Pedro Almodovar's over-the-top movies, "because that’s his style and that’s what he does – it's for a reason."
(Vittorio De Sica, 1948, Italy)
Set in post-World War II Italy, this neo-realist masterpiece, which received an Academy Honorary Award in 1950, tells the story of an unemployed man, who finally manages to find work. However, shortly after, he's devastated to find out that his bike has been stolen. Together with his son, they walk the streets of Rome to look for his bicycle, which he desperately needs to keep his job. A poignant and heartbreaking story, illustrating how far an individual is prepared to go out of desperation.
(Baltasar Kormákur, 2006, Iceland)
A huge hit in Iceland, this riveting thriller follows a detective's attempts at solving a brutal murder case, whilst a biologist goes to extreme measures to cure his daughter's rare and fatal disease. Their two stories become intertwined with an unexpected twist that follows deep into the maze of the genetic bloodline of a whole nation. Julia especially enjoyed the "fantastic soundtrack": "American films tend to have musical soundtracks that tell me how I have to feel. You know, European films use music really carefully."
I've Loved You So Long
(Philippe Claudel, 2008, France)
Juliette Fontaine is an ex-doctor who's a shell of her former self. Having served 15 years in prison for an unspeakable crime, she's back on the outside and with nowhere else to go, she comes to live with her loving but estranged sister Lea. Together, the sisters embark on a painful but redemptive journey back from life's darkest edge. It's "about losing something – again – and having to pay for it, and how you integrate yourself back into society". This powerful drama stars British actress Kristin Scott Thomas and it's "fantastic just to hear her speak French," says Julia, who was born in France.
The Red Balloon
(Albert Lamorisse, 1956, France)
Albert Lamorisse celebrates the experience of childhood in his 1957 Oscar winning short classic about a young boy's affinity with a red balloon that follows him around the gloomy streets of post-war Paris. Julia loves the fact that Lamorisse managed to capture this area of Paris (Ménilmontant) at this particular time: "I’m quite sentimental and nostalgic I think!" She finds this story about the friendship between boy and balloon, "just so beautiful and magical."
Letters to Father Jacob
(Klaus Härö, 2009, Finland)
In the 1970s, Leila, a newly pardoned convict, agrees to work as an assistant to a blind pastor. Father Jacob spends his days answering the letters of the needy, which Leila finds pointless. She is not happy to be there and makes no efforts to engage with him, nor does any more than her job requires her to. But one day, the letters stop, and the pastor is devastated. Leila finally understands their importance and finds herself cast in a new role. A heart-warming, philosophical story of redemption.
The Lives of Others
(Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006, Germany)
In the early 1980s, Georg Dreyman and his longtime companion Christa-Maria Sieland were huge intellectual stars in East Germany, although they secretly don't always toe the party line. One day, the minister of culture becomes interested in Christa, and instructs the secret service agent Wiesler to observe and sound out the couple, but their life fascinates him more and more. One of Julia's all-time favourites, which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2007.
(Stefan Ruzowitzky, 2007, Austria)
Salomon 'Sally' Sorowitsch is an expert Jewish counterfeiter enjoying the good life, until he’s sent to a concentration camp. Sally manages to survive for five years before transfer to Sachsenhausen, where he is assigned to produce perfect forgeries of British and US banknotes for the Third Reich. He will soon face a crucial dilemma, as his position brings him relative comfort, but also a unique opportunity to sabotage the Nazis war effort. The Counterfeiters was awarded the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar at the 2008 Academy Awards for Austria.
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