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World Cinema Intro

Five great films, all from different parts of the world!

If you’ve never dipped your toes into the large ocean of world cinema, you may not know where to start. Here I’ve listed five films I’d deem easily accessible to anyone not used to watching foreign films.

Amélie (2001) – France

Credit: UGC-Fox-Distribution

Amélie is the story of a young woman who decides to better the lives of those around her – all the while dealing with her own struggles. The vibrant colour palette and memorable soundtrack have left impressions on me since my first watch. Audrey Tautou exudes such warmth as Amélie, you can’t help but feel swept into her world of sweetness. If you want to feel inspired or reminded that humans can be something other than assholes, give this one a watch.

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) – Spain

Credit: Warner Bros Pictures

Ten-year-old, Ofelia, lives with her mother and cruel Stepfather during the early Francoist period. She soon finds escapism in a dark fantasy world, when a faun asks her to complete three tasks. Pan’s Labyrinth is bleak, morbid, magical and beautiful all at once. The set pieces and practical effects in this film are incredible to behold. It’s still arguably director, Guillermo del Toro’s, best work. The story is expertly crafted, as well as the pacing – there’s a particular scene that still makes me feel tense despite watching it many times. It’s dark fantasy at its best. I dare you not to love it!

Spirited Away (2001) – Japan

Credit: Studio Ghibli

Chihiro and her parents are moving to a new home. While on route they take a shortcut through, what at first seems like an abandoned village. All that changes though when Chihiro’s parents are turned into pigs! Chihiro is lost in a world of spirits and must find a way to help herself and her parents. Studio Ghibli are quite possibly the king of 2D animation. Lush visuals and whimsical soundtracks are all part and parcel for some Ghibli magic. Spirited Away is usually people’s first introduction to the world of Ghibli, for good reason. It was the top grossing film in Japan for 19 years! Not only that, but it also won an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

Parasite (2019) – South Korea

Credit: CJ Entertainment

Speaking of Oscar winners – Parasite was the first (ever!) foreign language film to win Best Picture (it took 92 Academy Award Shows to make this happen – overdue is an understatement in my opinion) A poverty-stricken family end up working for a rich family. Each family member finds a way to work for them by creative means, all of which are darkly comical. As we soon discover, not everything about the home is as it seems. Parasite is hilarious, grim and poignant. Its look at class divide is unfortunately incredibly relevant and will probably remain so for years to come. Director Bong Joon-ho’s body of work in general is also well worth checking out if you enjoy Parasite. A particular favourite of mine is Mother (2009)

The Raid (2011) – Indonesia

Credit: SinemArt

The Raid has a simple premise and fantastic execution. An elite police squad must infiltrate a tower block, to take down the drug lord who runs the building. It’s a pitch-perfect action movie. The cinematography lends itself to the well-crafted choreography of the fight scenes, so you don’t miss any of the action (no overuse of shaky cam to be found here) The Raid doesn’t slow for a moment, and if it does, it’s only to create a feeling of tension. If you like the John Wick series, The Raid will be right up your street.

I hope you enjoy your trip around the world with these movies. If you’re familiar with World Cinema, what was the first foreign movie you watched? Let me know in the comments!

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Ghibli

The Cat Returns

One hour and fifteen minutes of pure, cat-related joy. In other words, definitely my kind of movie!

Credit: Studio Ghibli

Directed by Hiroyuki Morita, The Cat Returns, was first released in 2002. It could be called a loose sequel to Whisper of the Heart although it’s not necessary to have seen the latter to understand this film.

Hapless Haru finds herself thrust into a world where cats rule after rescuing, Cat Prince Lune, from certain death. As a reward, The Cat King offers – or rather insists, that Haru should take his son’s hand in marriage. What follows is a comically-laced story about finding where you really belong.

Haru is a girl with her head in the clouds. The movie begins with her over-sleeping for school; only for fellow classmates to laugh at her when she tries to sneak into class and is called out by her teacher. We cut to Haru and her friend, Hiromi, as they stand on the school roof with only the blue sky above them. The title card appears as Hiromi leans with her back to the viewer. Haru looks up into the sky, clearly dreaming of more than life has to offer her right now.

It’s hard to not find Haru charming. Her relatable flaws and want for something more is something most of us can connect with. She’s also selfless and kind-natured, which is clearly displayed within the first five minutes, with her daring rush into the road to save Cat Prince Lune.

We also have a loveable set of side characters in this film. Muta, the large, round cat who helps Haru on her journey. Yuki, a beautiful cat with a bow who tries to warn Haru that things are not all as they seem in the Cat Kingdom. Toto: a bird guardian. For some reason the cats aren’t interested in eating him, although fish and mice are definitely on the menu (probably best not to overthink that one)

Our hero of the story, besides Haru, is Humbert von Gikkingen. Never before has such a stylish cat graced our screens (apart from maybe Top Cat). However, Humbert beats out TC by not only style, but gentlemanly grace. He’s like if Westley from The Princess Bride was thrown into a world of cats and it’s so much fun to watch!

Credit: Studio Ghibli

This film isn’t short on action-packed moments and no time is wasted. Despite the short runtime, we still get plenty of time to appreciate the characters, the lush environments, and as always, the beautiful animation. The soundtrack is whimsical throughout and without spoiling anything, the credits song Kaze ni Naru captures the exact feeling that Hiroyuki Morita wants you to feel by the end of the movie.

The plot itself is very simple, with little nuance to it, although this is not a detriment to the film. This is a light-hearted, funny tale of a young girl finding out where she belongs, and where her priorities lie. It’s a tale of that part of life, where you actively choose what road you’re going to go down, a decision we all must make eventually.

In summary, this is a concise, charming and mystical piece of cinema that encapsulates the escapism of a great fairy-tale.