Best Foreign Language Films You Can Watch on Netflix

Since I spent over three years of my life studying cinema, I’m used to watching a variety of genres and films in many different languages. I’ve written 4000 word articles about French New Wave. I’ve spent a significant amount of time watching German silent movies from the 1920s because I loved the set and costume design. I may not have watched all the obvious films, but I’m proud of my encyclopedic knowledge of film trivia, even if it’s not so useful for paying the bills. I must admit, that spending three years studying film did get a little tiresome at times; especially when you start to consider the limited (and hyper-competitive) career routes you’re paving for yourself. Fortunately for me, my passion for movies has remained. Restored by the discovery of Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited, when I saw it in the cinema in 2007, mid-way through my degree. Wes Anderson revived my interest in beautiful, colourful design and sent me back to exploring the foreign language films that inspire him and many other filmmakers, yet often go overlooked. Since meeting Miz, a fellow film nerd and living abroad, meeting people from all over the World, it’s opened my mind even further and I find great joy in discovering a new creative movie-making team, regardless of what language the film is in.

Sure, you can watch many of these movies dubbed in English if you need to, however, enjoying a movie in it’s intended language is the best way to fully experience the original art, if you can. Watching films from countries other than your own is also a great way to learn  about other cultures, trends and history that you may never have known about otherwise. Naturally, many films are fiction, but can be an interesting introduction to research of your own, which is very useful if you’re working on anything creative. For example, my edits below are mainly fantasy and horror based and you can see a flavour of local folklore and culture in all of them.

Night Watch (dir. Timur Bekmambetov 2004)

Origin: Russia

Loosely based on the supernatural fantasy book series by Russian contemporary author, Sergei Lukyanenko, this is an epic modern day gothic folklore story. Comparable to the likes of Constantine, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and even Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Supernatural in terms of theme and aesthetic, this Russian movie will appeal to many. It has witchcraft, medieval warriors, sword-fighting, vampires, were-wolves and super creepy special effects and design that wouldn’t look out of place in a Guillmero Del Toro blockbuster or some kind of John Wick-supernatural mash-up. Night Watch features red Adidas tracksuit clad villains driving sports cars with some not so subtle product placement and plenty of gothic magic and shape-shifting to compensate, this is one of my all time favourite foreign language films. If you enjoy it, they also made the sequel, Day Watch, shot in English. You may have seen Timur Bekamambetov‘s work before in Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy’s action movie, Wanted and slightly obscure, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec (dir. Luc Besson 2010)

Origin: France

If like me, you grew up watching Indiana Jones, Rachel Weisz in The Mummy and the myriad of male-led action movies we all adored growing up in the 80s and 90s, you’re going to love this French creation from legendary director, Luc Besson. You definitely know Luc Besson’s work already, specifically The Fifth Element and Leon, but what you might not know is that Besson has been creating film since 1981. Alongside a long list of big budget Hollywood hits, Besson still consistently returns to creating in his native French language too. The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec has the slightly slower paced, washed out look that many of you will relate to French Cinema, however it works. Based on a comic book by Jacques Tardi, this period piece follows the adventures of novelist and explorer Adele Blanc-Sec whilst she deals with an Egyptian mummy, a string of suitors and a pterodactyl. Yes really, enjoy a kick-ass leading lady, beautiful early 20th Century design and there’s dinosaurs. If you enjoyed Robert Downey Jr. in the Sherlock Holmes franchise or any of the above referenced films, I think you’ll dig this too.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (dir. Jalmari Helander 2010)

Origin: Finland

If you’re compiling a list of alternative Christmas films because you’re anti-capitalist or just because you’re bored of watching the same old Hollywood stuff, this is one for that list! Finnish made and set at the base of the Korvatunturi mountains, in Lapland, home of Father Christmas. Rare Exports follows a young boy, who lives with his Father on a reindeer farm in the snowy wilderness, things get strange when they realise that a commercial dig on top of the mountain has awoken the real Father Christmas and he’s more sinister that you’d expect. This is not a family friendly film, although low on gore, it makes up for it with bizarre, creepy, slightly exaggerated realism with all the intrepid adventure you expect from a Christmas movie with a child protagonist. If you enjoyed Adam Scott and Toni Collette in 2015’s Krampus or dig the aesthetic of Let the Right One In (below), I think you’ll like this too.

The Mermaid (dir. Stephen Chow 2016)

Origin: China

I love films with mermaids and I love Chinese actor and director, Stephen Chow, so naturally when The Mermaid appeared on Netflix, I was excited! Probably not Chow’s best film according to critics, but if you’re anything like me, the mermaid theme will win you over more than Kung Fu Hustle as a starter, although you should watch that too. As with anything Stephen Chow related, this movie is over the top fantasy with a healthy dose of humour, whilst still managing to maintain a decent story line. The movie follows beautiful mermaid Shan, who’s learnt how to walk on land, as she is sent to assassinate the head of a company that threatens the eco-system of her mermaid clan’s home. There’s romance, an octopus merman, a Wes Anderson-esque colour scheme and tons of cartoonish, but beautiful stunts. What’s not to like? Coming up soon, a list of mermaid movies you probably haven’t seen.

Let The Right One In (dir. Thomas Alfredson 2008)

Origin: Sweden

Following on from mermaids, vampires are another of my possible Mastermind subject options. I don’t think there are many vampire films out there that I haven’t seen, if you think of one, let me know! I was late to the party when it came to this iconic Swedish horror film, I heard it was violent and scary and those and two things that aren’t usually my instant go to. However, I’ve become a braver cinema viewer in the past few years and I’m so glad I watched Let The Right One In. There’s an American re-make featuring the brilliant Chloe Moretz, which although brilliant on paper if you’re going to pick between the two, I’d suggest the original. Or at the very least, watch the Swedish one first. This is a modern day vampire story following a young vampire making friends with a school boy, although not consistently gory there are lots of jumps and a legendary finale, all set in a bleak, snowy, eerily silent setting.

Makkhi/Eega (dir. S.S. Rajamouli & J.V.V. Sathyanarayana 2012)

Origin: India

To recover from my last suggestion, here’s something totally different. Imagine if someone took the concept of David Cronenburg‘s The Fly, but made it a revenge love story with Bollywood dance routines? Sounds great, right?! Well, Makkhi is pretty much that minus the gore and laborious make-up. Makkhi follows Sudeep, a man who is murdered and reincarnated as a house fly, despite this series of unfortunate events, Sudeep goes undeterred in avenging his death and protecting the beautiful heroine. Don’t worry, it’s supposed to be a comedy and it works! Throw in beautiful Indian design, settings and traditional dance and music and you’ve got something special, which we would never has discovered if it wasn’t for us running out of things to watch on Netflix. I don’t think I can compare this to much, but it’s a fun watch which if you enjoy, should lead you to the Krrish franchise, an Indian superhero trilogy, which is also on Netflix.

If you have any film recommendations for me, you can drop me an email via the Contact page or get in touch on Twitter or Instagram @JayneKitsch. There’s some more movie recommendations coming on a regular basis, so if you have any theme requests, you know where we are! Check out the Film & TV category for more posts of this type.


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