The ECHO showcases the best in recent international cinema

A still of Aydin (Haluk Bilginer) from "Winter Sleep"

International films are often overlooked by the general public because they often do not play in major theaters in the United States. However, foreign films are incredibly diverse, fascinating, and poignant and are not easily typified into a single brand. The ECHO selected several recent international films covering a broad range of topics and genres that will appeal to every audience.

“Le Prenom (What’s in a Name?)” — France

The French love their comedies, and there’s no doubt that some of the funniest comedic storylines were born in the French movie industry. “Le Prenom” explores the dynamic of a complicated and emotionally energetic French family. Told through mostly dialogue and a series of flashbacks, the film is set at a dinner party gathering of nearly all of the family members, including Vincent and his pregnant wife, Anna. Things get heated when Vincent, the protagonist, abruptly announces that he and Anna will name their son “Adolph.” Despite being a movie of almost entirely dialogue set in one scene, the fast-paced discussions, flashbacks, and hilarious plot twists make it an entertaining and ironic film.

“Omar” — Palestine

“Omar” is a crime thriller that tells the story of life in the Occupied Territories between Israel and Palestine. Omar, a baker by day and a Palestinian freedom fighter by night, climbs the separation wall every day to visit his girlfriend, Nadja. When he and his friends are arrested for the killing of an Israeli soldier and tricked into guilt by association, Omar agrees to become an informant rather than face prison or execution. What results is a tumultuous and suspenseful sequence of events that lead Omar to either betray his cause or trick his handler. Most strikingly, the film captures the moral ambiguities of living the in the Occupied Territories through the universal motifs of political and romantic manipulation.

“Force Majeure” — Sweden

A still of the avalanche that serves as the catalyst for the plot of "Force Majeure"
A still of the avalanche that serves as the catalyst for the plot of “Force Majeure”

Sometimes the best way to examine tragedy is through humor, which is the case with director Ruben Östlund’s “Force Majeure.” This dark comedy follows a family after the father seems to abandon them at the sight of avalanche during a family vacation at a ski resort. Within a mere 30 seconds, the avalanche passes, the family is safe, and the husband returns, but this seemingly inconsequential event leaves deep wounds in their marriage and family dynamic. The husband denies that he ran prompting a divide in the marriage. Östlund captures the scenic location of the film with a surprisingly washed-out color palette that makes it difficult to ever truly enjoy the serene environment and hints at deep seeded and oppressive anger present in the family. However, it is ultimately the devilishly entertaining humor that makes “Force Majure” one of the most unsettling viewing experiences of the past few years. This crumbling marriage is fascinating and absurdly comedic, but remains a truly touching examination of the tribulations of married life.

“Timbuktu” — France Mauritania

A still from one of the most iconic scenes in "Timbuktu"
A still from one of the most iconic scenes in “Timbuktu”

Easily one of the most stunning and visually prolific films of the past few years, “Timbuktu” takes an incredibly honest look at the occupation of a Malian town by Islamic extremists. While it largely focuses on a sheep herder that lives outside the city, writer-director Abderrahmane Sissako takes an all-encompassing look at the effect of this occupation. Scene after scene depicts the suffering of citizens and even the occupiers and also  how they find hope. These short moments of hope only make the pain more unbearable, more horrific, allowing the audience to understand the small-scale terrorism that plagues people throughout the world.

“Winter Sleep” — Turkey

A still of Aydin (Haluk Bilginer) from "Winter Sleep"
A still of Aydin (Haluk Bilginer) from “Winter Sleep”

“Winter Sleep” might make for a challenging viewing experience, but this epic from Nuri Bilge Ceylan will reward viewers who can make it through its over three hour runtime. Few characters in cinematic history are complex enough to helm 196 minutes of dialogue driven scenes, but Aydin, the richest man in a small town in central Anatolia, easily holds the viewer’s attention. Ceylan draws attention to the stark differences between Aydin and the poor people of his town, allowing for a commentary on the disconnect between the rich and poor that is timely yet still feels unforced. Grounding the entire film is Ceylan’s camera. Most filmmakers struggle to make digital look as aesthetically appealing as film, but Ceylan makes it look easy. He captures the expansive Turkish granger and the quaint hotel rooms with the same precision and attention that makes every scene, every conversation, just as riveting as the last.

Photos courtesy of youtube.com, cbsnews.com, and theindependent.com

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