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7 foreign-language films that are worth the subtitles


A Møøse once bit my sister...


Spoorloos (1988)

Hollywood is always saying that film is a visual and not a literary medium. But sometimes it's worth fighting your way past the subtitles barrier to find, among other gems, some of the inspirations and originals that Tinseltown has been inspired by...

[Spoilers follow]

1. Kontroll (2003)

Kontroll (2003)Set in the Hungarian underground system, this cracking film follows a gang of ticket inspectors led by Sándor Csányi, who plays streetwise ticket inspector Bulcsú. From the start of this movie - when one of the gang falls face first into a plate of food - you’re hooked.

Why you should watch it:
- For the brilliant 'railing' scene. Railing, or rail running, is a deadly game whereby the participants run along the track after the last passenger train in a race against time to beat the express train that speeds through the station. I won’t give the game away, but in this scene there’s some pants-wetting action.
- The mysterious girl in the bear costume.
- To remind yourself that your job ain't all that bad. Well, you don’t get beaten up and abused on a daily basis and have to run the gauntlet of football hooligans and pimps, and have curses placed on you by gypsies.
- To see the grisly end of Bootsie, the elusive fare dodger, with the spray can who regularly taunts the inspectors.
- For the scene where a ticket inspector loses it and takes out his anger on an abusive passenger. Well, that’ll teach him to be rude.

Watch the trailer here.

2. Jar City (2006)

Jar City (2006)A brooding crime drama, set against a bleak Icelandic backdrop, the movie takes its name from the place where they keep preserved specimens like brains. Jar City centres on troubled cop Inspector Erlendur, who is sickened by all the senseless murders he sees. In Jar City, he investigates the murder of an old man called Holberg, who along with his two friends had allegedly raped a woman 30 years before.

Why you should watch it:
- To see the mesmerising performance of the lead character; if it had a ‘made in Hollywood’ stamp, Ingvar Eggert Sigurdsson would have been dusting off his dinner jacket and heading onstage to be handed a well-deserved Oscar.
- For the occasional bits of humour that come when Sawyer look alike Sigurður Óli (brilliantly played by Björn Hlynur Haraldsson) is onscreen, like the section when he has to go to an old woman’s door asking if she was raped 30 years before - and her thinking she was on Candid Camera. Also when he’s spent hours in a car with his superior and has the audacity to moan about his boss’s smoking.
- To watch Inspector Erlendur eating the eyeballs from a sheep's head.
- To see the most repulsive psycho since Hannibal Lecter in the bloated form of human cesspit Ellidi. There’s a great scene where he’s chased by Oli and then turns round and starts chasing the cop back.
- To see how a seasoned cop deals with two criminal types who come to his door looking for his drug addict daughter. Just as you fear for the ageing cop, he jams one yob's arm in the door and kicks him down the stairs. Being a good guy, he does call an ambulance.
- So, you can scream ‘look under the floorboards’ at the screen. The cops should have done it on their first visit to the crime scene. The smell was so bad you could catch a whiff through your TV screen.

Watch the trailer here.

3. Italian for Beginners (2002)

Italian For Beginners (2002)Centring on a mismatched group of Danish singles going to an Italian class, this movie doesn’t have the most gripping premise, but this is a quirky little treat. Mainly because of the likeability of the characters and your desire to see them have some happiness in their humdrum lives.

Why you should watch it:
- To watch football mad waiter Hal-Finn’s way of dealing with rude customers in his bar. He tells one woman to ‘Up yours you stupid bitch. He asks a male customer if they want ‘a bloody nose.’
- To watch Hal-Finn’s boss, nice guy Jorgen try and tell him he’s sacked. Hal-Finn responds by asking his boss if he’s impotent and he says yes.
- To see Juventus mad Hal-Finn taking over the Italian class after their teacher dies of a heart attack.

Watch the trailer here.

4. Harry, He’s Here to Help (2000)

Harry, He's Here To Help (2000)When Michel meets Harry (brilliantly played by Sergi Lopez), a former schoolmate, things quickly take a sinister turn. Deluded Harry believes that it’s his mission to make sure Michel gets enough time to write - even if it’s at the expense of his family. This is a French thriller not to be missed.

Why you should watch it:
- To watch Harry’s transformation from nice guy to maniac. It’s subtly done.
- To see how Harry manages to work his way into the unwitting Michel’s life. Harry is not here to help.
- For the creepy ending (I won’t spoil it).

Watch the trailer here.

5. Kitchen Stories (2003)

Kitchen Stories (2003)Scandinavian comedies aren't thick on the ground, but this one is a gem. Based on a 1950s household survey where housewives were observed as they went about their daily chores, this movie features single men who have their kitchen habits observed by watchers. The job of the watchers is to observe, and nothing more. They weren’t even supposed to talk to their subjects.

Why you should watch it:
- To see the friendship develop between the grouchy old householder and his watcher, a man not without his own problems.
- To see what it’s like to sit up a ladder in someone’s kitchen and be completely ignored.
- To realise that your job isn’t all that bad. At least you don’t have to watch an old man take a bath or stay in the back end of nowhere in a tiny caravan with the wind blowing a gale.

Watch the trailer here.

6. Spoorloos (1988)

Spoorloos (1988)This Dutch/French movie racks up the tension in a way that the 1993 Kiefer Sutherland remake The Vanishing never does. Young French couple Rex and Saskia are on vacation in Denmark and have stopped at a service station. He goes one way, she goes another - and that’s the last time Rex ever sees her. Haunted by her disappearance, three years later Rex starts to receive letters from her abductor who offers him a proposition: do exactly as I tell you, and I will show you what happened to your girlfriend.

Why you should watch it:
- To see how easy it is for a creepy, psychopath to abduct you in a public place.
- To see how a killer conducts his family life by torturing his own family. He gets a kick out of other people’s fear.
- For the terrifying end where Rex finds out exactly what happened to his girlfriend. The ending will haunt you long after you watch this thriller.

Watch the trailer here.

7. The Man on the Train (2002)

The Man On The Train (2002)What could an elderly teacher and an armed robber who he meets by chance in a pharmacy possibly have in common? Yet a friendship develops when the old man invites the criminal to stay.

Why you should watch it:

- Great actors make great movies, and the stars of this French movie Jean Rochefort and Johnny Hallyday, are great actors.
- To see that the two main characters aren’t all that different. If things had been different they could have led each other’s lives.
- The High Noon ending.

Watch the trailer here.

See also:

The Yellow Sea review

Troll Hunter review

The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec review

Lost in translation: the fallacy of dubbing and subtitling

Are Americans afraid of everything foreign?

In Praise of Watching Movies Dubbed into Spanish

10 actors who got dubbed out of their movies

The loneliness of the long-distance 'B'-movie fan

Nine Non-Mainstream Movies Worth Seeing This Summer

Lists at Shadowlocked


If you're interested in writing for Shadowlocked (disc and screening reviews, etc, or just getting some extra coverage for your extraordinary writing talent, get in touch with us.



#1 RE: 7 foreign-language films that are worth the subtitles ELBSeattle 2011-08-01 06:40
I've seen several of these films. I have to say that dubbing a film is a practice that should be banned. I have never seen a dubbed film that has worked. Not once.

Subtitles forever.
#2 2 good danish movies A Great Dane 2011-08-01 13:26
I've seen Itailian for beginners, and it's a ok movie, but there are a couple of danish films I find better.
Here's 2 of my favorites:

Den Eneste Ene (The One And Only) by Susanne Bier.
Lars Kaalund, who play Hal-Finn in italian for beginners, have a great part in this movie, and with a lot of good, funny comments.
Here a trailer, in danish, but I'm sure You'll get the picture:

Blinkende Lygter (Flickering Lights) by Anders Thomas Jensen
Basically a film about friendship, with a lot of fun scenes and starring 2 James Bond villains: Mads Mikkelsen and Ulrich Thomsen.
The trailer in danish:
And here is a scene with english subs:

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