It’s perhaps surprising, especially considering that the majority of voters come from the United States, that there are so many movies made overseas included on the list. Here i take a look at five movies made outside of North America.
Metropolis (1927) – 8.3 No. 94
Set in a future dystopian society, Fritz Lang’s sci-fi masterpiece was the most expensive silent movie ever made. It’s easy to see why, with elaborate staging, very impressive for the time, and futuristic machinery that gives Metropolis a very unique look.
In the city of Metropolis, the rich live above ground whilst the workers toil down below in the depths, ensuring the city continues to function. Freder, the son of the creator and administrator of the city, is curious about the world down below, and takes the place of a worker to learn more about the poorer half of the vast city’s society.
Lang uses a combination of science fiction and religious parable to explore the relationship between workers and those that pay them. A rebellion is brewing, and Freder may be the prophesied mediator between the hand of the workers, and the head of the administrator. Freder is portrayed as a Christ-like figure, the son of the creator travelling into the depths to become the workers’ saviour.
Though a silent movie, the orchestral score is brilliant, and combined with some stunning visuals, tells the story as well as any amount of dialogue could. A highly ambitious film, heavy with symbolism though still remarkably accessible, Metropolis is a fantastic achievement. Easily as good as any sci-fi picture made since, it endures because of the brilliant filmmaking on show, and the important questions it asks about capitalism and the nature of man that are still just as relevant today.
Les Diaboliques (1955) – 8.1 No. 173
A French suspense thriller from director Henri-Georges Clouzot, Les Diaboliques was based on the novel Celle qui n’était plus. It was billed as the movie Alfred Hitchcock never made, and indeed he also tried to acquire the rights to the book himself.
The plot concerns a love triangle of sorts between a school teacher and owner Christina, her abusive husband Michel, who runs the school, and another teacher, his mistress Nicole. Nicole and Christina are both sick of Michel’s mean and obnoxious nature, and Nicole tries to convince Christina to leave him. Christina however is very meek, with a weak heart, and cannot find the strength to do it. A plot is then hatched between them to kill Michel.
An elaborate plan is put into motion, which inevitably begins to unravel, as the body suddenly goes missing. Tension builds between the two women, as the meek owner regrets her actions, and wants to confess her sins. The uneasy relationship between the two love rivals is well drawn out, their reluctant alliance believably fragile. The tension is built well, though with considerably less visual style than you would find from the master Hitchcock.
The frightening conclusion however is brilliantly conceived, and though you can put the pieces together right at the very end, the twists are well played and you are kept guessing the truth right up until the end.
Les Diaboliques pales in comparison to Hitchcock’s very best work, but certainly would not look out of place in his catalogue. It is however probably a little unfair to compare it to his films, as it definitely has its own visual style and plot structure. Les Diaboliques is a very satisfying thriller in its own right.
Ladri Di Biciclette (The Bicycle Thieves 1948) – 8.3 No. 107
A story doesn’t have to be epic like Metropolis, or elaborately constructed like Les Diaboliques to make a great film, and The Bicycle Thieves is the perfect example of this. An Italian film, by director Vittorio Di Sica, it tells the story of a desperate man, just trying to feed his family.
Antonio is married, with a young son, and unemployed. He is offered a job, but there’s one snag – he needs a bicycle, and has already pawned his own. Deciding a wage is more important than comfort, his wife sells their sheets so that he can retrieve his bike. Antonio proudly rides off the next morning to begin work . Disaster strikes, however, when his bike is taken. Antonio is left to desperately scour the streets of Rome in search of his key to a better life.
The Bicycle Thieves brilliance is in its great acting and superbly written story. In just a handful of scenes, you can completely buy into Antonio’s relationship with his wife and son. Within the first ten minutes, you care for the character, and are rooting for his success. When his bicycle is taken, you truly feel his anger and devastation.
As Antonio’s search goes on, and his frustration increases, the conclusion becomes inevitable. This doesn’t make it any less affecting, however, and you feel every emotion of every scene, and feel genuinely sympathetic for the poor man’s plight. The Bicycle Thieves is one of the most heartbreaking films ever made. The current economy, and increasing financial difficulties of the present day make the story all the more poignant. Easily deserving of its place amongst the 250 greatest films ever made.
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) – 8.1 No. 174
When we think of world cinema, we think of films made in a different language. But Guy Ritchie’s independently financed debut movie is as far removed from the Hollywood system as any of the other films in this list. It is also very representative of a specific genre commonly explored by the British film industry.
Ed is a great card player, and convinces his three friends Tom, Bacon and Soap to stump up the cash for him to play with the big boys, in the shape of petty gangster ‘Hatchet’ Harry. Ed loses, however, and to save the skin of himself and his friends, they must come up with a scheme to make the money back. This leads them to a drug heist gone wrong, Vinnie Jones’ sadistic collector Big Chris, and a potentially messy crossfire between neighbour Dog’s gang and drug dealer Rory Breaker’s goons.
With the quality of Ritchie’s work in steep decline since, it’s easy to forget how good Lock, Stock was at the time. Tightly plotted, humorously written, with some superb story twists, it was almost an evolution of the British gangster movie. Tarantino-esque in its use of action and story inter-cut with scenes of snappy dialogue, Lock, Stock’s American influences aren’t hidden. But the British sensibilities at its core made its unique fusion of Hollywood-style story and gritty East End setting a roaring success. With some smart cinematography and a well cast group of actors, you can see why Ritchie was held up as the next great Brit director.
Subsequent work however began to see the sheen disappear, and the filmmaker’s apparent limitations exposed. Deserving of its place in the top 250, considerably more so than Ritchie’s Snatch, Lock, Stock is a warm reminder of a period that saw the British film industry lifted out of a slump, and made a Hollywood star of the most unlikely of sportsmen. The latter probably now counts against it, but Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is still a very well made, very fun movie.
Smultronstallet (Wild Strawberries 1957) – 8.1 No. 152
Ingmar Bergman’s work often deals with the nature of life and death, but never in such a warm and personable way as in Wild Strawberries. The Swedish film includes his usual mix of abstract and personal story, but follows a much more natural structure.
Isak is a doctor in his twilight years. He has been a cold and obstinate man his whole life, and when he makes a journey across country to his University to accept an honorary degree, he is forced to reflect on the way he has approached his life. Travelling with daughter-in-law Marianne, and picking up some hitch-hiking passengers along the way, Isak is reminded of events in his life by the current stories of those around him.
Isak’s life is seen in flashback, in his own nightmares and dreams, and reflected in the actions of his own son, who has grown up as aloof and disaffected as his father. He reminisces about his childhood sweetheart, who is played by the same actress as one of the passengers picked up along the way of the same name. It is by using this kind of connection, and the symbolism in Isak’s bizarre dreams that Bergman paints an enlightening picture of Isak’s life, showing with great clarity the mistakes he has made, and the regrets he now feels.
Not as spiritually intense as Bergman’s other IMDb250 entry The Seventh Seal, but a damn sight more accessible, Wild Strawberries tells an interesting, if meandering story about reflecting on life when approaching death, and the way you react to the experience is sure to tell you something about the way you regard the way you have lived your own life.
Five very different films from five different European countries. My experience over the last two weeks has been a good one, and is proof positive that language and culture needn’t be a barrier to appreciating great film. Come back next Monday for Gary’s next round-up, and every Monday this year as we continue to watch and review the top 250 films as voted by the users of IMDb.com.
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