Through the Looking Glass: Foreign Film Selections


          With 2016's arrival came a newfound desire to become well-versed in foreign film. On my list of resolutions, I scribbled a sub-list of intriguing foreign films to appreciate in the new year. This interest grew from my wish to improve my Italian language speaking and comprehension skills, but once I began to delve into the unique character that the films of different cultures prove to offer, I found myself further drawn into the world of i film stranieri for varying reasons.

          Films of distant lands are a window of sorts; a looking glass if you will. They provide a way to peek into other cultures and become exposed to all those little things that make people of varying countries so different.

          With such a booming film industry in America, I rarely find foreign films advertised or much celebrated within our culture. It can take some extremely exhausting digging to uncover a foreign film that actually piques my interest, but once found their quirks certainly make them worth it.


          My first selection is a German film entitled Phoenix (2014). Set in post-Holocaust Germany, the film details the unwillingly reborn Nelly Lenz, played by Nina Hoss, as she attempts to cope with her new appearance. After a disastrous event in an internment camp left her severely disfigured, Lenz was faced with no other choice than to receive a surgery that would attempt to restore her visage.

Nelly finds herself looking almost inhuman after her surgery. 
Nelly attempts to reconnect with mementos of a time that seems lightyears away. 
A veil masks Nelly's cruel intentions. 
          The above screencaps chronicle Nelly's journey as she seeks to reunite with her husband whom she lost contact with during the war, while also trying to come to terms with a face that she doesn't recognize in the mirror. However, shortly afterwards, she instead embarks on a path of calculated retribution. The film culminates with a brilliantly poignant yet understated scene that seals the fate of one individual in particular and includes a drag that could be compared to Kim Kardashian's recent merciless snatch of Chloë Grace Moretz. Featuring shots ranging from rubble ridden societies to a secluded hospital that all include a motif of red, the visual aspects of Phoenix are nothing less than on par with any and all award-winning American films. With such a heart-wrenching subject matter, the director manages to juxtapose a both thrilling and tragic atmosphere to create a haunting yet exhilarating film.


          Next up is director Tornatore's The Best Offer (2013), an Italian film that tells the tale of a germaphobe and an agoraphobe and how they form an unlikely relationship that in the end is revealed to not have been entirely that coincidental. Vergil is an elderly avid art collector with a penchant for portraits of women, all of which he keeps securely locked within a vault in his home. Claire is a young woman of about thirty years old who hasn't left her mansion since she was fifteen. With almost as many moving parts as the automaton that Vergil is trying to assemble, The Best Offer can certainly be overwhelming. 

          Claire enlists Vergil to appraise her home, filled to the brim with antiques as well as art. She, however, remains hidden away like Vergil's portraits in a secret room of her own. Although not as helpless as she makes herself out to be, it becomes clear that Claire has an ulterior motive of sorts. 

          And neither is Vergil innocent in this game, for he has been stealing stray parts from Claire's basement that together will form an automaton originally from the 17th century. As Vergil falls in love with Claire (something he never thought he would do) shocking events leave his sense of self crippled. 

Vergil conspires with a close friend to acquire a painting that he desires. 
A close-up of one of Vergil's more recent acquisitions.
Vergil is shocked by betrayal.
          The Best Offer is a film riddled with twists, lies, and artwork. It's entirely perfect for one who loves both art history and drama. The end of the movie is very telling of the mark that two people make upon one another, and the risk of letting someone in. I won't say more, at risk of spoiling the movie. But what I will say, is that it, along with Phoenix, should be seen at the nearest opportunity. 

          These two films have no American parallel and should be watched and appreciated immediately for their unique storylines paired with unexpected drama. Furthermore, I've already done the digging for you. All you need to do now is find somewhere to watch the movie, and luckily, both are on Netflix. 

text: leo gearin
visuals: phoenix film festival, the best offer (2013), phoenix (2014)

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