The 100 Greatest Foreign Films

Take a video vacation of the spirit and rent these films of rare greatness. Some are austere and challenging. Many are intensely entertaining. All are rewarding respites from the familiar fare of our own culture.


L'Age d'Or (1930)/Un Chien Andalou (1928) Luis Bunuel's two semishort surrealist hand grenades (cowritten in varying degrees with Salvador Dali) make a double bill that can restore your faith in the subversions off youth. Pure Spanish-Parisian piss and vinegar. (M.A.)

Aguirre, Wrath of God (1972) Gonzo German director Werner Herzog goes to the Amazon with the conquistadors in the early 16th century and returns with an unforgettable hallucination of the New World--rusted armor, deadly whirlpools, dying aristocrats and 10,000 monkeys. (M.A.)

The American Friend (1977) Wim Wenders doesn't film Patricia Highsmith's splendid Ripley's Game so much as lance the boil to release its rancid inner life. A picture-framer, convinced he's dying and in need of money to leave to his wife and child, agrees to assassinate a Mafia man. Steely German skies menace. Everyone lies. Directors Nicholas Ray and Sam Fuller make cameo appearances. (S.R.)

À Nous la Liberté (1931) Two carefree French hoboes meet the modem fortress of industry, searching all the while for freedom and romance. A perfect summer-afternoon movie; afterwards, get a bottle of wine and make love in a field. Chaplin stole from it and got sued for his trouble. (M.A.)

Ashes and Diamonds (1958) Andrzej Wajda's vivid gut-wrencher about postwar Poland made an Eastern European James Dean out of Zbigniew Cybulski, whose red-hot, rebel-with-a-cause-so-big-his-head-might-explode resistance fighter refuses to let the war end. Cybulski died under a train nine years later, and a generation of Polish war babies mourn to this day. (M.A.)

L'Atatante (1934) Just a couple of awkward newlyweds on a river barge, but Jean Vigo's dreamy movie-poem has the lilt and surreal force of a modern myth. (M.A.)

L'Avventura (1960) Ever found sex wanting as your only means of reaching out? Ever wandered in a dead, aimless calm where nothing ever happens? Michelangelo Antonioni knows where you live. After the inexplicable vanishing of her friend on an island, mesmerizingly vacant Monica Vitti attempts a search, gets distracted, and takes up with her friend's old lover instead. How like our lives. (S.R.)

Belle de Jour (1967) Marnie Turns a Trick, someone once called this elegantly shocking comedy directed by Luis Buñuel. Catherine Deneuve, in peak form, glides like Hitch-cock's coolest blonde through a bizarre series of sex tableaux, scratching her itch for humiliation by servicing bourgeois whorehouse patrons while her blandly hunky husband is off doing surgery. Sadomasochistic role-playing, dressed by Chanel, never looked so radically chic. (S.R.)

La Belle et la Bête (1946) Part fairy tale, part Gothic horror. Jean Cocteau's poetry on celluloid is also one of the screen's great erotic tales. As the Beast, the ravishing Jean Marais imprisons porcelain Josette Day's Beauty in his enchanted castle. No wonder she learns to sing in her chains. If you've never seen this unfussily magical movie, you'll be surprised how much of it you recognize--not just because it's been remade by Disney in animated form, but because it's been borrowed and stolen from so extensively. (S.R.)

The Bicycle Thief (1947) A poor slob searches for his stolen bike. You can go to other great Vittorio De Sica movies (Miracle in Milan, Shoeshine) for soar-ing, ragged lyricism and poetry. This one, set among Rome's poor people, losers and crooks, fish-eyes the world with ruthless dispassion and virtually defines Italian neorealism. (S.R.)

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972) German writer-director Rainer Werner Fassbinder's sourest, funniest and most glamorous film is a remake of an American melodrama. It is decadently beautiful, humorously corrupt, claustrophobic/ally inti-mate, and so acidic it can bring tears to your eyes. (D.T.)

The Blue Angel (1930) Josef von Sternberg went to Berlin to do a story of a pompous teacher who is seduced and humiliated by a cabaret singer. The great actor Emil Jannings was the teacher, and for the woman, Lola-Lola, Sternberg "discovered" and fell in love with a strapping blonde singer who could look at a man as if his clothes were feathers--it was Marlene Dietrich, who was a genius for von Sternberg and rather ordinary for anyone else. (D.T.)

Le Boucher (1969) First you figure that Claude Chabrol's muted movie will set its sights on a nice enough-seeming guy who, when he isn't butchering animals, butchers women. Things grow richer and stranger when the murderer becomes involved with, and trans- formed by, a sexually repressed village schoolteacher. A two-hander brilliantly played by Jean Yanne and the essential Stéphane Audran. (S.R.)

Boudu Saved From Drowning (1932) Jean Renoir's acidly humane comedy about an ungrateful bum taken up as a charity case by a bourgeois family is enough to make you sucker punch the next panhandler who bums change from you. Some of the movie's glories found their way into the inspired 1936 screwball comedy My Man Godfrey. Many years later Paul Mazursky hope-lessly muddled the same raw material in Down and Out in Beverly Hills. (S.R.)

Breathless (1960) Jean-Luc Godard's first feature has much to account for. Its breezy amorality, its fusion of Keystone Kops with film noir, its made-it-up-as-we-went-along zing, and its simultaneous deconstruction/worshipping of Hollywood genres have infected an extraordinary number of key movies, from A Hard Day's Night to Bonnie and Clyde to Pulp Fiction. Don't let the movie's lofty reputation scare you off; it's amiably cheesy, likable, innovative and, with smashing-looking Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg in the leads, fatally glamorous. (S.R.)

The Burmese Harp (1956) Masquerading as a Buddhist monk in order to return to his unit, a Japanese soldier travels through the WWII killing fields and eventually commits himself to burying the uncountable dead. A decade after WWII ended, the Japanese made the most heartbreaking antiwar film ever. (M.A.)

Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974) Celine and Julie are a pair of madcap Alices looking for Wonder-land. Their friendship leads first to a house, and then to the drama that is forever occurring, or playing, there. Can they rescue the little girl who seems to be trapped in this story? Hilarious, profound, a metaphor for filmgoing and fiction as a whole--this is a sublime film. But in this best of all possible worlds, our America, it is both unavailable and hardly heard of. Perhaps we have made it up? (D.T.)

La Chienne (1931) Early sound film by Jean Renoir about a timid, married clerk (the unique Michel Simon) who takes up with a cheap whore and finds himself a murderer. It's as if, all at once, poetic realism and tragicomic anecdote had been invented for the first time. Renoir's vision is still as fresh and startling as a cut lemon. (D.T.)

Children of Paradise (1945) How great is Marcel Carné's once-in-a-lifetime epic set among a ragtag 19th-century theatrical troupe? Put it this way: its hero is a lovestruck mime and we still love it. Heart-piercing performances by Jean-Louis Barrault and Arletty, playing mismatched lovers. Sumptuous and sublime, top to bottom. (S.R.)

The Conformist (1971) A tale that identifies ordinary guilt and sexual shame as the roots of fascism. The best work of director Bernardo Bertolucci, cameraman Vittorio Storaro, designer Ferdinando Scarfiotti and actor Jean-Louis Trintignant. And that is saying something. Beautiful, sinister and hugely influential. (D.T.)

Contempt (1963) One of cinema's snarkier in-jokes, Jean-Luc Godard's bleakly funny movie about trashy movie people making a hash out of The Odyssey in Europe was aimed at the time at cigar-chomping vulgarian types like producer Joseph E. Levine, but it could just as well have been Joel Silver and company making Hudson Hawk. As, respectively, the producer and bubble-headed star, Jack Palance and Brigitie Bardot turn in perfect accounts of themselves. (S.R.)

Cria! (1975) Geraldine Chaplin and young Ana Torrent play the same woman, at different ages, barraged and self-imprisoned in a miserable, shadowy past. Chaplin's performance is over-whelming; director Carlos Saura's movie is magnificent. Saura and Chaplin were lovers at the time, and neither was ever better than here when they were together. (S.R.)

The Decalogue (1988) Some movies provoke people to alter haircuts, attitudes or musical tastes. This one will change the way you look at movies. Each segment of Krzystof Kieslowski's 10-hour film (made to be shown in installments on Polish TV) presents a moral dilemma based on one of the Ten Commandments. A random murder, a diagnosis of cancer, the death of a dog, all are interwoven, all given equal weight. Consider-ably more uplifting than William Bennett's The Book of Virtues. (S.R.)

Les Diaboliques (1954) Henri-Georges Clouzot's pitiless, icily enthralling shocker is famed for its bathtub murder, dankly perverse atmosphere (water, water, everywhere), irredeemable characters and much-imitated surprise ending. Simone Signoret's sangfroid and sunglasses nearly steal the whole show in this obvious forerunner of Psycho. The recent American remake is a travesty. (S.R.)

Diary of a Country Priest (1950) A young priest suffers and sickens when his parishioners neither trust nor accept his piety. Rigorous austerity, scalpel-precise imagery, and sparsity of spoken word give Robert Bresson's film the searing purity of a brilliant silent film. (S.R.)

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) Buñuel's riotous late-career masterpiece about a gaggle of self-infatuated Parisians whose attempts at having dinner together are forever frustrated by terrorist attacks, army invasions, sexual liaisons, dream sequences, etc. For a perfect bad-dream double bill, rent it with Buñuel's The Exterminating Angel, where the dinner guests never get to leave the dining room. (M.A.)

Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler (1922) An evil genius, heroes and innocents, cops and crooks, rival gangs, mind readers, mesmerists, spies, femmes fatales, car chases--no, not Die Hard, but a silent masterwork, so Full of action that modem audiences would be exhausted. Director Fritz Lang has never had an equal for inventing and framing lethal situations. Among the first amazed audiences were Hitler and Goebbels. Don't say movies can't influence people. (D.T.)

La Dolce Vita (1960) Brilliant and caustic for nearly all of its three hours of glamorous moral rot and cynicism, Federico Fellini's seminal epic is never more inspired than when a helicopter flies over Rome dangling a statue of Christ, or when Amazonian Anita Ekberg, dancing through the night streets with a white kitten in her arms, hoists up her gown to wade through the Trevi Fountain. That's Italian. (S.R.)

The Double Life of Veronique (1991) Many people tout Kieslowski's Red/White/Blue trilogy, but his greatest movie came before those three. The Double Life is the real thing, a deeply mysterious essay on self, fate and Irene Jacob squared. The music alone gives you the shivers. (M.A.)

The Earrings of Madame de... (1953) 19th-century France. A marriage (Danielle Darrieux, Charles Boyer); a lover (Vittorio De Sica). It starts as comic intrigue, moves through high romance, and turns to tragedy. No one ever moved the camera better than Max Ophüls, or took so ambivalent a view of beauty. One wonders why succeeding generations have bothered to try to match this glory. (D.T.)

Earth (1930) The soil, the ground, its growth, the sunlight--and the human society from the grassy plains of the Ukraine. Alexander Dovzhenko was less a communist or a Soviet than a poet of the seasons and human renewal. This is the cine-ma of Vivaldi and van Gogh. (D.T.)

L'Eclisse (1962) The third part of Antonioni's extraordinary trilogy on the chance for feeling in modern limes (the first two parts are L'Axventura and La Notte). This one concerns the strug-gle between idealism and materialism. Monica Vitti and Alain Delon are the protagonists. He's a dealer on the exchange, and there are astonishing scenes of financial activity. But nothing matches the conclusion, when the characters fail to make a rendezvous and the camera helplessly notes the patience and perpetuity of life. (D.T.)

(1963) The narrative of Fellini's prescient, all-over-the-map phantasmagoria deals with the perils of giving carte blanche to a successful director. Mandatory viewing for everyone, not to mention any director blindsided by fame. (S.R.)

Europa '51 (1952) When Ingrid Bergman gave up on Hollywood, she married Italian director Roberto Rossellini, Their films together are a meeting of old-fashioned romance and modern skepticism. In this one, Ingrid is a society wife whose child dies. She goes mad (or is it sane?) and begins to work among the poor and the afflicted. She becomes a saint and an outcast. (D.T.)

Eyes Without a Face (1959) No, not the Michael Jackson story, but, in its fixation on better living through plastic surgery, pretty close. A young woman, horribly disfigured in a car crash, becomes the obsession of her plastic surgeon father, who begins "borrowing" the faces off other young women and grafting them onto her. The face-peeling scene packs a visceral punch akin to the razor-slitting-the-eye image in Un Chien Andalou. Georges Franju's waking nightmare finds terrible beamy in unexpected places: caged animals awaiting vivisection, the wraithlike heroine sleepwalking in a featureless mask. (S.R.)

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