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When browsing Netflix Instant, it’s easy to overlook the “international” section. After all, it can be difficult to appreciate a film that’s not in your native language, and sometimes you simply don’t want to spend two hours reading subtitles. We get it. That said, there are lots of foreign productions that are worth your attention — you just have to know where to look. With that in mind, we’ve scoured the deepest reaches of Netflix to find the best movies made outside America, so you don’t have to. Below, check out a short list of the best international movies on Netflix.
Audrey Tautou stars in this 2001 French flick about a woman who strives to enrich the lives of those around her, while simultaneously dealing with her own naiveté and shyness. During her quest to help other people, Amelie quickly realizes she continues to neglect improving herself, and is no closer to finding love than she was when she moved to Paris as a young woman. This self awareness allows her to take initiative in her daily life, and leads her to a photograph collector who strikes her fancy. Widely considered one of the greatest foreign language films of the last several decades, Amelie is an absolute joy to watch.
Troll Hunter (2010)
Although the found-footage approach felt like a novel idea when The Blair Witch Project premiered, the genre became stagnant after years of imitators. After all, there are only so many times one can stand to watch someone run through a dingy house while screaming at nothing in particular. Thankfully, the Norwegian film Troll Hunter takes the genre to new heights with the inclusion of various fantasy elements. The film opens with a trio of students investigating a suspected poacher. After finding the alleged poacher, Hans (Otto Jespersen), they follow him on one of his nightly excursions. What they discover is that Hans is not hunting bears — he’s hunting trolls, massive creatures that turn to stone in the sunlight. The students then decide to document his mission, despite the danger. Although the film falls victim to some typical horror movie cliches, the unique creature designs set it far above the latest Paranormal Activity clones.
The Dragon Tattoo Trilogy (2009)
After Swedish author Steig Larsson died suddenly of a heart attack, the three completed entries in his Millennium series — originally intended to span 10 books — were posthumously published, earning immediate acclaim in Sweden and later internationally. In 2009, the three novels were adapted into films, split into a six-part miniseries and produced for television. While the movies were well received, many viewers felt that the removal of scenes due to time constraints had hamstrung the story, leaving the films disjointed. Netflix, thankfully, acquired the rights to the trilogy and made the full, nine-hour collection available for your viewing pleasure. The psychological thrillers star Noomi Rapace as damaged hacker Lisbeth Salander, who is drawn into a dark mystery alongside journalist Michael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist). The films are stylish and violent, and the performances spectacular.
Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013)
Based on Juliae Maroh’s novel of the same name, Blue is the Warmest Colour follows a French teen (Adèle Exarchopoulos) who begins to explore her sexuality after encountering a blue-haired girl (Lea Seydoux) on the street. The two begin a relationship, and before long must deal with conflicting feelings, finding that sexual chemistry and romantic chemistry can be independent of one another. The film received overwhelmingly positive reviews — it even earned the 2013 Palme d’Or at Cannes — with particular praise paid to Exarchopoulos and Seydoux for their raw, emotional performances. Few movies are as willing to dip into graphic sex, especially among lesbians, and fewer still are able to incorporate it without feeling tasteless or crude. Blue is one of those movies.
Downfall (Der Untergang in German) chronicles Adolf Hitler’s final days in command of the Third Reich, which he spent mostly inside a bleak underground bunker with other high-ranking Nazi officers and scientists. The film opens and closes with commentary from Traudl Junge, Hitler’s final personal secretary, who displays regret at her naïve attitude during the war, despite being clearly aware of the Führer’s unhinged nature. Bruno Ganz plays the role of Hitler with great aplomb, ranting and raving with an authentic sense of lunacy while offering a subtler, more (dare we say) sympathetic vision of the dictator at times. Downfall was viewed controversially by critics for its measured depiction of the Nazi party and its leaders, but it’s an excellent watch nonetheless.
The Legend of Drunken Master (1994)
The Legend of Drunken Master is a reboot of 1978’s Drunken Master, one of Jackie Chan’s earliest leading roles and one of the films that launched him to superstardom. The movie features some outlandish fight scenes, along with the intricate choreography Chan has become known for. Sure, there’s a throwaway plot here involving evil foreigners and valuable artifacts, but let’s not kid ourselves: Like most martial arts movies, the story is only here as a vehicle for the fight scenes, and here, the fight scenes are spectacular. It also helps that Chan is insistent upon performing his own stunts and, despite nearing 40 at the time of filming, he’s as spry as ever. His character even fights better when drunk, so most of the scenes have small twists based on the premise.
Valhalla Rising (2009)
Valhalla Rising is a violent affair that features Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal, Rogue One) as a mute Norse warrior named One-Eye, who escapes capture by murdering his captors and joining a group of Christian crusaders who are on the hunt for heathens in Scotland. The film is gritty and minimalist, with very few lines of dialogue to speak of and graphic death scenes that will test even the most gore-hardened viewers. The film’s spectacular cinematography shows off the misty, desolate landscape of Scotland, and a distinct feeling of despair pervades the film’s events. Valhalla Rising doesn’t skimp on the blood, either, and draws a stark contrast to many of the subtler entries on our list.
Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)
This affectionate story follows renowned actress Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche), who rose to stardom in a production called Maloja Snake, where she plays a young girl who becomes embroiled in a complex affair with an older woman. Years later, she is asked to star in Maloja Snake again, but this time in the role of the older woman. Meanwhile, the real-life relationship between Maria and her young personal assistant (Kristen Stewart) begins to flourish, mirroring the events of the play in more ways than one. The film’s leading women — including Chloe Moretz, who plays the younger foil to Maria — were lauded for their nuanced performances. Stewart, in particular, earned high praise for her subtlety and range.
Evolution is a disturbing tale reminiscent of American Horror Story, one centered upon a young boy named Nicolas (Max Brebant) who finds the body of a child in the ocean and is subsequently taken to a hospital by his mother for an operation. As you might expect, things aren’t quite what they seem at the hospital, though we won’t give anything away. Nicolas and the other boys in the hospital ward quickly begin to wonder what’s really going on, and when Nicolas meets a friendly nurse named Stella, he begins to see the truth. The film is vague and abstract, combining elements of horror and fantasy, which, surprising, make for a satisfying experience.
Red Cliff (2008)
John Woo is normally known for creating modern crime thrillers with energetic gun fights, but with Red Cliff, he takes a stab at the historical epic genre. The film begins in the waning days of the Han dynasty, as Chancellor Cao Cao (Zhang Fengyi) mobilizes his army and orders an assault on two southern warlords, Sun Quan (Chang Chen) and Liu Bei (You Yong). The two quickly form an alliance, and rely on genius strategist Zhou Yu (Tony Leung) to lead their forces against the massive Imperial army. Red Cliff is a bombastic spectacle, with grand action sequences and excellent performances.
City of God (2002)
Far from the bright lights and seemingly endless joy of Rio de Janeiro, a favela known as the City of God sprawls outward. In this slum, a man named Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues) grows up amid crime and poverty. As an adult, he tries to escape the cycle of violence that consumes so many of his peers, but a growing conflict between rival drug dealers always hovers at the edge of his life. At times brutal, at others beautiful, City of God presents a vibrant view of a world outside the margins.
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