When Oscar-sweeping champion Bong Joon-ho (Parasite) was a teenager growing up in South Korea, he’d sneak into the living room after dark to watch horror films and B-movies on the American Forces Korean Network.
Lapping up forbidden gems from the likes of Brian De Palma and John Carpenter, these films profoundly affected the course of his future career. His worldwide success goes to show that films from all over the globe can ignite our imaginations.
So take a trip with us as we whizz around 20 countries in as many movies thanks to SBS on Demand.
Strange Colours (Australia)
After a tough summer in Australia, take a cinematic trip to the remote Opal-mining community of Lightning Ridge in Russian-born, Melbourne-based writer/director Alena Lodkina’s mesmerising debut. A dreamy slow-burn emotional voyage, at its heart are magnetic turns by Kate Cheel and Daniel P. Jones (Hail) as an estranged daughter trying to reconnect with her terminally ill father.
Nominated for six Oscars – including Best Picture, Best Actor for Dev Patel, and Supporting Actress for Nicole Kidman – Australian filmmaker Garth Davis’ emotional gut-punch spans continents. Adapted from Saroo Brierley’s memoir A Long Way Home by Candy scribe Luke Davies, this beautiful biopic relays the real-life story of an Indian boy lost far from home. Ultimately adopted by an Australian couple, he never loses sight of returning.
Ash is the Purest White (China)
Nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, writer/director Jia Zhangke’s sprawling epic has at its glittering centre an incredible performance by Zhao Tao. She plays a gangster’s moll who goes to jail but never gives up on reuniting with her dubious lover (Liao Fan). So much bigger than the sum of its parts, this is a sweeping ode to a China in eternal flux.
Ip Man (Hong Kong)
An entertaining tribute to classic kung fu movies, this stars a nimble-footed Donnie Yen as the fabled Chinese martial artist who once trained Bruce Lee. While director Wilson Yip’s rousing tribute may play fast-and-loose with the truth, his take on the legend’s imprisonment by occupying Japanese forces and subsequent harnessing of people power is a rollicking ride. You can also catch the sequels here and here.
A Separation (Iran)
Director Asghar Farhadi’s Oscar and Golden Globe-winning masterpiece is an exhilarating ride and a pinnacle of the taut domestic thriller subgenre. It sees a married couple (Peyman Moadi and Leila Hatami) duel over leaving Iran to secure a better life for their daughter. Sparking a series of unfortunate events, can the law of the land secure peace amidst the shattering fragments of fact?
Sticking with familial drama deeply rooted in fraught legal territory, Lebanese writer/director Nadine Labaki’s Oscar-nominated movie sees a young Beirut man (Zain Al Rafeea) sue his parents for divorce. His grounds? That they should not have brought him into an impoverished, hard-scrabble world that drove him to crime. Taking home the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, it’s gobsmacking.
If you thought the faux one-take visceral race of 1917 instilled the horrors of war, then buckle up for this behemoth-budget bloodbath brought to you by Russian director Fedor Bondarchuk. Sparing no expense in recreating one of the most brutal battles of WWII, this bombastic horror, like all good war stories, focuses on a small band of heroes trying to stay alive behind enemy lines.
Tuesday 3 March, 9:30pm on SBS World Movies (at SBS On Demand after broadcast)
Woman at War (Iceland)
This bittersweet dramedy with pleasing chunky knits, from Icelandic filmmaker Benedikt Erlingsson, has a fierce feminist take on the climate crisis. With a wicked glint in her eye, Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir plays a choir leader who takes on electricity pylons single-handedly armed with her bow and arrow. But what price her crusade when an adoption agency accepts both her and her twin sister (also Halldóra)?
Thursday 27 February, 7:35pm on SBS World Movies (at SBS On Demand after broadcast)
Let the Right One In (Sweden)
Forget the ill-advised remake, Swedish director Tomas Alfredson’s unnerving horror makes us complicit in our sympathy for the devil. Working from John Ajvide Lindqvist’s chilling adaptation of his bestselling novel, Lina Leandersson is Eli, a vampiric girl with an unending thirst who nevertheless falls for bullied young neighbour Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant). More Stephen King than Stephanie Meyer.
Land of Mine (Denmark)
Think you’ve heard just about every war story there is to be told? Think again. Writer/director Martin Zandvliet’s Oscar-nominated heartbreaker opens a murky chapter in a shattered post-World War II Denmark that will blow your mind. Roland Møller is incredible as an angry army sergeant in charge of young German POWs tasked with clearing Nazi-placed landmines. How long can he view them as inhuman in the face of cruel and unrelenting tragedy?
The Counterfeiters (Germany)
Speaking of eye-opening war stories, you can bank on raising a brow or two during filmmaker Stefan Ruzowitzky’s Oscar-winning recreation of out-there Nazi plot Operation Bernhard. The scheme involved press-ganging concentration camp prisoners into forging British and American banknotes to undermine enemy economies. It’s a devastating examination of what we do to survive.
Erik & Erika (Austria)
With heavy-handed policing of gender by sporting codes still causing serious debate today, Reinhold Bilgeri’s biopic about intersex Austrian Erik Schinegger is compelling. As played by Markus Freistätter, the film details how his life was upended when, then living as Erika, he was medically disqualified from the 1968 Winter Olympics by the International Olympic Committee, before ultimately transitioning to male.
Monday 24 February, 9:45pm on SBS World Movies (at SBS On Demand after broadcast)
Call Me By Your Name (Italy)
Luca Guadagnino’s sensual love story set during a sticky hot Italian summer in 1983 is a modern-day classic coming-of-ager. Adapted with loving care from the novel by André Aciman by James Ivory himself, nabbing an Oscar for his troubles, it casts a cutglass-cheeked Timothée Chalamet as lovelorn teen Elio, lusting after Armie Hammer as older family friend and academic Oliver. It’s the sort of film you lose yourself in. The final scene will break you.
While we’re on startlingly good adaptations with show-stopping performances, Isabelle Huppert will leave you breathless in this very French thriller corralled from the bestselling Philippe Djian novel by Dutch enfant terrible Paul Verhoeven. Closest in spirit to his classic Basic Instinct, Huppert took home a Golden Globe and was Oscar-nominated for her turn as a computer game CEO-turned sleuth, determined to unmask and wreak revenge on her rapist. Buckle up, because it’s a wild, darkly comic ride.
The Skin I Live In (Spain)
Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar knows a thing or two about twisting the knife. He nabbed a Golden Globe nom for this gothic horror of sorts that takes a swipe at impossible beauty standards. Tapping regular muse Antonio Banderas to play an emotionally mad scientist/plastic surgeon, stunning Elena Anaya is his unwitting guinea pig in this Hitchcockian drama by way of Wuthering Heights. It’s a dark delight.
Night Train to Lisbon (Portugal)
It’s all about the destination here as Jeremy Irons plays a fusty Swiss professor who gives it all up. Inspired by a book of poetry left in a jacket abandoned by a young woman, he jumps a train to Portugal in Bille August’s classic take on the Pascal Mercier novel. Turning into something of a literary treasure hunt, we meet Charlotte Rampling, Christopher Lee, Bruno Ganz and Mélanie Laurent along the way.
Love & Friendship (England)
One of the zippiest takes on Jane Austen ever committed to film, Whit Stillman’s gleeful adaptation of posthumously-published epistolary novella Lady Susan soars on the shoulders of a career-best Kate Beckinsale. Like Dangerous Liaisons’ Marquise de Merteuil, the rules of polite society are there for subverting, with marriage for financial gain and power only. Chloe Sevigny is also fun as Lady Susan’s confidante.
The First Grader (Kenya)
Forget the saying you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Oliver Litondo is delightful as a Kenyan octogenarian and former fighter against British colonialism who turns up to primary school ready to learn in this heart-warming true story. Directed with a dollop of cheery cheese by Justin Chadwick (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom), it also features Bond star Naomie Harris as his supportive headmistress.
A Fantastic Woman (Chile)
Proud trans woman Daniela Vega is sublime in Chilean writer/director Sebastián Lelio’s Oscar-winning triumph, which casts her as a waitress and nightclub singer who refuses to bow down when her older lover dies and his family throws her out of the home they shared. A soaring tribute to surviving and thriving in the face of adversity, both Vega and the movie are a revelation.
Certain Women (USA)
Speaking of sublime, our last stop on this global tour drops in on American indie genius Kelly Reichardt. Her aching triptych about the subtly intersecting lives of three Montana women stars Michelle Williams, Laura Dern and introduces Native American newcomer Lily Gladstone, who steals the show alongside Kristen Stewart in an unrequited-love queer narrative. Adapted from the short stories of Maile Meloy, it’s a quietly beautiful tearjerker.
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