Lately, I’ve been seeing and savoring quite a few foreign language films: titles that have not enjoyed across-the-board theatrical releases in the U.S. This lack of theatrical exposure is not because these films are lacking in quality. They are in fact engrossing and provocative. The problem is that, these days, unless you are a filmmaker with the profile of a Pedro Almodovar or you make a film like A SEPARATION-- one that is universally acclaimed and headed for a Best Foreign Film Academy Award-- the chances that your film will enjoy extended runs in theaters outside major marketplaces will be nil. Thankfully, however, because of DVD, just about any film eventually can be seen by anyone, just about anywhere. Here are a few that are well worth seeking out.
Just over a decade ago, Bosnian filmmaker Danis Tanovic directed NO MAN’S LAND, which deservedly earned a Best Foreign Film Oscar and remains one of the all-time great anti-war films. I’ve been following his career since, and Tanovic has made no high-quality follow-up to NO MAN’S LAND-- until now. Tanovic’s most recent film is titled CIRKUS COLUMBIA, and it is an absorbing drama with satirical overtones that is set in 1991, before the start of the Bosnian war.
CIRKUS COLUMBIA tells the story of a political exile who oozes pretention, and who returns to his small hometown in the former Yugoslavia after a 20-year exile in Germany. This character cares more about his self-described good luck charm, a pet cat, than he does about any human being. His homeland finally has been liberated from communism, and so he marches into town convinced that he now will reign as a local insider. But he will be in for quite a few surprises.
CIRKUS COLUMBIA does not rank at the same high level as NO MAN’S LAND. Few films do. But it still is crammed with plenty of raw emotion and insight into life in Tanovic’s native land.
MISS BALA, from Mexico, tells of the plight of a young woman of modest background who is attractive but rough around the edges. She is intent on entering and winning a beauty contest, but standing in her way is a corrupt, crime-infested culture where life is oh, so cheap. MISS BALA is a taut, uncompromising tale that, not surprisingly, is loosely based on fact.
Finally, DECLARATION OF WAR, from France and also loosely based on fact, tells the story of two contemporary young lovers whose names just happen to be Romeo and Juliette. They fall in love and have a child, and they find themselves confronting an issue that has nothing to do with quarreling clans. Something appears to be off-kilter with their baby boy. He cries and vomits unceasingly, and Romeo and Juliette soon learn that the child is seriously ill. What will they do? How will they respond? Indeed, will the baby survive this ordeal?
DECLARATION OF WAR is a candid, earnest drama which examines the deepest fears of any parent, and also potently juxtaposes the untroubled essence of youth and the bitter realities of life. This is, ultimately, an altogether different kind of horror film.
Rob Edelman teaches film history at the University at Albany. He has written several books on film and television, and is an associate editor of Leonard Maltin’s Movie and Video Guide.
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