9 Best international films to watch on Netflix

Us and Them, photo via Netflix Media Center
Us and Them, photo via Netflix Media Center /
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To the bilingual film buffs and cross-cultural cinephiles, Netflix has you covered with their international films, from documentaries to dramas.

While some of us have had a taste for them since the day we learned how to use a remote, for others, international films are like taking that first swig of hoppy beer or a sip of particularly ashy red wine. It’s a genre that can take some getting used to. But, like with most acquired tastes, the right quality makes all the difference.

Luckily, Netflix has a vast expanse of foreign movies–comedic, dramatic, action-packed and romantic–that appeal to both conditioned viewers and greenies.

Here’s a list of Netflix’s best international films that are worth a weekend binge, or two.

Bad Genius

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Having made it’s U.S. debut at the New York Asian Film Festival last year, this comedic Thai thriller stars Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying as Lynn, a genius high school student who makes a decent amount of money selling test answers to her friends. But the stakes get heated when the mathematician and her scheming gang have to distribute international STIC (SAT) answers from Sydney, Australia back to the students in Thailand.

Bad Genius entertains with satirical jabs at academic rebellion while also taking a more serious note on the lengths to which young students will go to ease the pressure of college entrance tests.

From the Land of the Moon

French romances are a must in the foreign cinema department, and this 1950s drama has it all, from loveless marriages to secret love letters. But despite the soap opera-esc story line, Midnight in Paris star Marion Cotillard brings sophistication and sincerity to her role as passionate and free-spirited Gabrielle.

The film is both a tragic and liberating story about Gabrielle struggling to break free from her obligatory domestic bonds. So, either way, it would be best to have tissues and ice-cream on hand.

Ladies First

Uraaz Bahl’s documentary short tells the survival story of Olympic gold-medalist Deepika Kumari. Born on the roadside in rural India to a deeply impoverished family, Kumari leaves home in search of food. On her journey, she discovers her skill for archery and, within four years, becomes the number one archer in the world.

Documentaries like Ladies First can make for some of the best international films. Not only does Bahl highlight both the strength and perseverance of the olympian, but she also makes a point to educate viewers on the social and economic constructs of the movie’s setting.

Masaan

The intricate, South Asian drama narrates four separate lives, which eventually intersect along the Ganges River. Hopeless love, guilt tragedy and fading morality plagues four stories of people who hope to one day escape the contstructs of their small town.

Accented by breath-taking golden-hour cinematography, this is a film all about self reflection and discovering one’s own desires through chance encounters.

Amelie

It’s been 16 years but this romantic French comedy still remains one of the most successful international films ever. Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet really set his movie apart with the use of extreme close-up camera angles, vibrant coloring and his mixing of live action with animation.

Amelie, is a film centered on humanity and what makes each person unique. The main character, played by french actress Audrey Tautou, experiences a lot of tragedy in her life—lack of fatherly affection, her fish attempting to commit suicide and her mother being killed by a suicidal human—and her neighbors, co-workers and love interests are no exception. Each character has experienced loss or sadness in their life and, “in such a dead world, Amelie prefers to dream.” It’s a light-hearted narration, but still emotionally and philosophically stimulating.

Us and Them

Ten years ago, while travelling home for Chinese New Year, fate brings college students Xiaoxiao (Dongyu Zhou) and Jianqing (Boran Jing) together. Like so many romance stories before, they meet, fall in love, and then the harsh realities of life set it, tearing them apart. Ten years later, the two run into each other again, different people than they were before.

Having released just this summer, Rene Liu’s Chinese romance is already making a mark on the Netflix radar, a credit to the superb acting by stars Jing and Zhou, as well as a testament to the way Liu makes viewers really care for her characters. Last week, it was reported that Us and Them became the first film by a mainland Chinese female director to gross more then 1 billion yuan.

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Headwinds

Another, yet more serious Audrey Tautou film, stars Benoît Magimel as Paul, a man who has to find a way to start a new life with his two children after his wife (Tautou) disappears.

The French mystery drama illustrates lost love in a dark and painful way, but draws on Paul’s mental and emotional rehabilitation out of depression and into his role as a father and forgiving husband.

The Lighthouse of the Orcas

Lola, played by Spanish actress Maribel Verdú, travels from Spain to the isolated Peninsula Valdes’ National Park in Argentina, hoping to help her autistic son to emotionally connect with the orcas that find sanctuary there.

Gerardo Olivares has created a celebration for the magic of nature and Pascal Gaigne has composed a truly beautiful score that only adds to the emotional heart bleeds.

It’s no easy feat taking on a story about mental disabilities, but Olivares should be applauded for turning a hot-button social topic into a work of pure art.

Sea Fog

The captain of a South Korean fishing trawler is offered a dangerous mission for a big payday. The job? To smuggle Chinese refugees off the mainland and bring them to South Korea. Captain Kang Chul-Joo (Yoon-Seok Kim) takes the job but chaos and tragedy ensues when his ship is bombarded with patrol ships and harsh weather.

Director Sung-bo Shim fantastically delivers a gripping thriller and high-suspense action film, while also giving critique of South Korea’s society and analysis of the numerous struggles illegal immigrants face everyday. It’s no surprise Shim’s film won Best Cinematography and the Halekulani Golden Orchid Award for Narrative Feature.

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Which international films are you checking out? Let me know in the comments below.