The 10 Best Foreign Language Movies of the 21st Century So Far - Raindance

As the world globalizes, people from all over the planet find it easier to interact with each other and learn from each other’s cultures. The result of this barrier-free interaction is beautiful. The following movies depict the different cultures, struggles, ordinary lives, hopes, and dreams of people from all over the globe. It is what helps in bringing us together, and the re-enforces the ideas and beliefs that we are more similar than we think we are.

The following movies depict the different cultures, struggles, ordinary lives, hopes, and dreams of people from all over the globe. It is what helps in bringing us together, and the re-enforces the ideas and beliefs that we are more similar than we think we are.


Amélie (2001)

Set in contemporary Paris, this romantic comedy is a whimsical portrayal of a young woman’s journey of helping others and discovering herself as she struggles with isolation and shyness. Equipped with her own sense of justice, Amélie (Audrey Tautou) goes out of her way to bring happiness to her neighbors and customers at her cafe by finding simple and effective solutions to improve their lives. Although she spends most of her time helping others, she rarely thinks of herself. As a result, she tries to pursue the love for herself but has trouble confronting her love interest. Playing on the themes of fantasy vs. reality, happiness and being an outsider, this masterpiece, helmed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, garnered largely positive reviews from critics.


The Twilight Samurai (2002)

From director, Yoji Yamada comes to an extraordinary tale of Seibei Iguchi (Hiroyuki Sanada), a low-ranking samurai turned bureaucrat. Although hard up on cash, the widower, Seibei lives a content life with his lovable daughters and senile mother in 19th century Japan. His childhood friend, Tomoe (Rie Miyazawa), reappears in his life after her divorce. She pays frequent visits to his house and helps take care of his children. Slowly and steadily, Seibei begins to fall in love with her. As a result, he is forced to take decisions that he later regrets. The film was the first in 22 years, for Japan, to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Despite lacking lots of action scenes, the film keeps the audience in suspense as it unravels, playing on themes of changing times and missed opportunities.

L’auberge Espagnole (2002)

Living in a dorm with other people is truly an other worldly experience, especially if you’ve been thrust into a rather interesting mix of people. This French-Spanish film, directed by Cédric Klapisch, follows a young economics graduate called Xavier (Romain Duris) who has been offered a good job by a ranking member of the Ministry of Finance. However, there is a catch; Xavier will only be given the job if he can learn to speak Spanish. Unable to gain access to translation websites like Language Insight, he decides to study for a year in Barcelona. As a result, he is propelled into a cultural melting pot when he moves into a Spanish apartment shared by six international students from all over Europe. What follows next is a hilarious comedy about young people wading through life, trying to find themselves amid language barriers, love, and friendship.


Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

From Guillermo Del Toro comes a stunning, dark fantasy film. Set in Spain in 1944, during the early Francoist period, it tells the story of a young girl, Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), who has accompanied her expectant mother to live with her stepfather, the cruel and ruthless captain of the Spanish army. Exploration, encouraged by boredom, leads Ofelia to a mythical faun, Pan, who presides over a large, elaborate labyrinth. To prove herself as the lost princess of an underground kingdom, Ofelia embarks on a journey of completing three gruesome, life-threatening tasks.


Bamako (2006)

Director Abderrahmane Sissako brings to us a film about a trial taking place in the courtyard of a house in the city of Bamako.The African civil society has taken up a case against the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, blaming them for Africa’s problems. The house’s residents go on about their days either interested in or indifferent to the trial. Among the inhabitants are Melé (a bar singer) and her husband Chaka (unemployed), whose relationship is on rocky ground. Without feeling a little too “self-righteous,” the film brings into light the issues of countries that are not a part of the west. Not only this but it also sheds light on African cinema which may grow to become a worthy competitor in the film industry.


The Lunchbox (2013)

How often is it said that the way to someone’s heart is through their stomach? The Lunchbox plays on such a theme. Amidst the hustle and bustle of Mumbai comes a sweet love story, directed by Ritesh Batra, about a lonely widower and an unhappy housewife. Due to a mixup by a food delivery service, known as “Dabbawalas”, a meal prepared for her husband by the housewife, Ila (Nimrat Kaur), is sent to the widower, Saajan Fernandes (Irrfan Khan), instead. Encouraged by her neighbor, Ila sends a note to Saajan about the mixup with his next meal. As time progresses, more meals are cooked, and more notes are sent between the two. The two develop a friendship and, as the movie progresses, perhaps something more develops as well. This film is a breath of fresh air as it tells a heartwarming tale of love and friendship, one much different to the kind of the movies that usually come from Indian cinema.


Embrace of The Serpent (2015)

The embrace of The Serpent tells the story of Karamakate, an Amazonian shaman who is also the last survivor of his tribe, and his encounters with two foreign scientists, thirty years apart. Set against the monochromatic background of the Amazon, the film depicts the true and dark side of Colonialism, revealing how people, cultures, and nature are lost due to acts like the Amazon Rubber Boom. Not only is the casting beautiful, but the film also shows the true uncensored colors of human behavior, betrayal, friendship and the importance of respecting and preserving all types of cultures from all over the world.


Bol (2011)


Hailing from Pakistan, Bol a gripping and intense tale of a family dominated by daughters. The story is told by a woman, Zainab (Humaima Malik) on death row. She tells the story of her family, about their move from Delhi, India to Lahore, Pakistan in 1948. In the hopes of having a son, Zainab’s father, Hakim Sayed Hashmutallah Khan (Manzer Sehbai) ends up with seven daughters and one child that is a hermaphrodite. As a result of so many (unemployed) children, the family faces a lot of problems due to poverty. Armed with positive reviews, the film sheds light on the male dominated society of Pakistan, highlighting the unfair treatment of women and those who are different, like transgender people. The film is a bold move coming from a rather conservative society and isn’t afraid of bluntly pointing fingers at the society’s shortcomings.


Mustang (2015)

Director Deniz Gamze Ergüven presents a story similar to Sofia Coppola’s, The Virgin Suicides. Taking place in a remote Turkish village, it tells the tale of five sisters. An innocent game with boys on the beach is scandalized by passer-bys, gaining an extremely harsh reaction from the girls’ family. There home is transformed into a prison, and the girls are to spend their days at home, doing chores and preparing to become dutiful wives. As the sisters are married off one by one, the bond between them grows stronger and stronger. The film was also inspired by incidents that happened to Ergüven earlier in life. Mustang gained positive reviews and praise for an honest and potent portrayal of female empowerment.


The Handmaiden (2016)

A relatively new movie, The Handmaiden takes place in 1930s Korea during a period of Japanese occupation. Inspired by the novel, Fingersmith by Welsh author Sarah Waters, director Park Chan-wook spins a tale of erotic, psychological suspense. A con man hires a pickpocket to become the maid of a quiet and mysterious Japanese heiress in the hopes of seizing her wealth. All seems to be going according to plan, until, due to a certain turn of events, the women begin to develop feelings for each other. Highlighting issues like forbidden love, desire, unacceptable homosexuality in the ‘30s, suspense, and horror, this film are proof that Asian cinema is a force to be reckoned with.