If French is a character, that dude smokes and eats cheese.
December 17, 2007 9:25 PM   Subscribe

I seek recommendations for foreign language films which feature extensive narration or otherwise crisp, clear, lovely dialogue.

I love foreign-language films in which the beauty of the language being spoken washes over you, to the point where it practically becomes a character itself, and by the end of the movie you almost want to stop reading the subtitles and just listen.

The only examples I can think of off the top of my head are Amelie, Pan's Labyrinth, Y Tu Mama Tambien, Europa Europa, The Seventh Seal, and The Taste of Tea. Several of these movies were originally intended for worldwide distribution, and I think that's why they have such perfect, deliberate use of language (for example, in Amelie the narrator speaks in very careful, 'coffee commercial' French).

I'd love some suggestions for movies with similarly strong use of language as a key element. Any country of origin/language is fine. I'm a recovering film snob, so if you're going to suggest any French New Wave, Italian Neorealist or other similar subgenre classics, I've likely seen them - as such, contemporary films would be preferable. Obviously it would be great if the movie's good, too.
posted by SassHat to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Cyrano de Bergerac: the 1990 version, which also has English subtitles by Anthony Burgess. And the Trois Couleurs films, especially Rouge, but you've likely seen them.
posted by holgate at 9:42 PM on December 17, 2007


The most fascinating film I've seen this century, both visually and aurally.
posted by Neiltupper at 9:55 PM on December 17, 2007

Riget by Lars von Trier
Le Mépris (Contempt) by Jean-Luc Godard
posted by dhammond at 9:58 PM on December 17, 2007

Der Himmel Über Berlin a.k.a. Wings of Desire has got periodic voiceovers of evocative German poetry. The sounds and shapes of "Ald das Kind Kind war" resonate in my mind to this day, eight years later.
posted by eritain at 9:59 PM on December 17, 2007

German is not typically lauded as a "beautiful" language but you might want to watch The Lives of Others. One of the main premises of the film turns on listening to other people speaking, and the emotions that activity can bring up. One character spends a lot of time with headphones on, eavesdropping.
posted by tractorfeed at 9:59 PM on December 17, 2007

Antonia's Line, mostly a very slow and gentle film, lots of very deliberate Dutch storytelling voiceover. Perhaps the Pillow Book? think the lists are read out a lot in archaic Japanese, also the main character has a slow, clear beautiful voice
posted by runincircles at 10:32 PM on December 17, 2007

I loved L'auberge Espagnole, and I think it fits.
posted by mewithoutyou at 10:48 PM on December 17, 2007


I'm not knowledgeable about films - I'm not formally or self-educated about the nuances and structure of films - so I don't know if I can come close to what you're looking for. The only film I've seen of the ones you mentioned is "Amelie." However, I accidentally started watching foreign films about 3 years ago and was immediately hooked - I can hardly stand to watch Hollywood movies now because they're so lame.

The first foreign film I watched was the Japanese "Shall We Dance" (1997), which **totally** puts to shame the Richard Gere version. I couldn't call it a dialogue-driven film, but there is plenty of subtle and unspoken communication.

Another one I really liked is "Beyond Silence," a 1997 German film that was intelligent, moving, and interesting. It's about the hearing daughter of a deaf couple.

I really liked "3-IRON" (2004), a Korean film. I don't know if this one would fit within your parameters - there's very little use of spoken language. The actors communicate more without language than most actors can with dialogue, though.

"The Quarrel" is a 1991 film, I think Canadian (the actors speak English). It's the story of two Jewish men who grew up in pre-WW2 Europe and survived the Holocaust. The film is almost entirely following these two men through a Montreal park, where they coincidentally run into each other and talk/argue for hours about whether or not God exists. It's more interesting and intelligent than it probably sounds.

"Enchanted April" is a 1992 British film - does that qualify? It has some great actors whose characters (in post-WW1 England) are all intensely affected by the Italian villa they lease for the month of April. This might be considered a women's film by some guys, especially younger men. Come to think of it, people younger than 35 or so might not be interested in this one.

"Babbette's Feast" is a 1987 Danish film that has little dialogue, but plenty of communication. It could be an acquired taste, though, and it's very slow.

Do you want foreign films only? When I was looking through my list of films, I thought that "12 Angry Men" (1957) could be one you might like. I don't like most older movies, but this one was very good. It has some great actors of that time, and consists entirely of the men's discussion of the case they're hearing (they're jurors).
posted by onemorething at 11:20 PM on December 17, 2007

The first part of Night Watch (Nochnoi Dozor in Russian) made me feel the way you describe enjoying the narration. There isn't a whole lot of narration throughout the movie though.

The other cool thing about this movie was the subtitles, they would fade out, blow away like smoke, or even be pushed aside by an on-screen character. I watched it online through netflix, I don't know if other versions have the same effects.
posted by philomathoholic at 12:01 AM on December 18, 2007

Other versions of Night Watch do have the same subtitle effects (as seen on 35 mm). Also, Day Watch is available in Russian, though maybe not yet officially released or subtitled in English.
posted by whatzit at 3:17 AM on December 18, 2007

Kukushka (The Cuckoo). Maybe not quite what you're looking for, the dialogue is a bit sparse and incoherent as I recall, but it did give me that feeling of wanting to "stop reading the subtitles and just listen", since two out of three of the main characters don't understand what's being said anyway. So, language is certainly a key element.
posted by sfenders at 4:59 AM on December 18, 2007

If you haven't seen The Motorcycle Diaries, I think it would be up your alley. The script is an adaptation of Che Guevera's Young Man's Poetry (I capitalize the genre), and it was certainly a non-english film meant for worldwide consumption. I can call up vague memories of thick South American dialect floating over muddy rivers and dense jungles—voice-overs growling with import and urgency, pity and hope.
posted by carsonb at 5:15 AM on December 18, 2007

Roberto Benigni's version of Pinocchio is an excellent choice for remarkably understandable and clear Italian, probably because it is somewhat geared towards children. It received really, really bad reviews (0% at rotten tomatoes) but I didn't think it was that bad.
posted by Deathalicious at 5:16 AM on December 18, 2007

On the reviews page, I see the word "dubbed", so make sure to switch to the Italian language setting on the DVD. I guess that they made a really horrible dubbed version.
posted by Deathalicious at 5:19 AM on December 18, 2007

In line with Deathalicious' recommendation, I suggest Night on Earth. For one thing, you get to listen to Finnish, Japanese, French, and Italian (as well as English). For another, the Italian segment features Roberto Benigni in full-on manic mode. I've never laughed so hard at subtitles. I don't speak Italian, but his delivery overrides my incomprehension. It's also an intimate, talky movie.

You might also be interested in Cronos (directed by Guillermo del Toro), and shoot, as long as I'm mentioning Ron Perlman movies, City of Lost Children.
posted by adamrice at 7:02 AM on December 18, 2007

Der Himmel Über Berlin a.k.a. Wings of Desire has got periodic voiceovers of evocative German poetry. The sounds and shapes of "Ald das Kind Kind war" resonate in my mind to this day, eight years later.

Wings of Desire was the first thing I thought of when I saw this question so I'll second this, but it's "Als das Kind Kind war". The poem is here. I've just got back from Berlin with my SO and will be watching this again myself in the very near future.
posted by biffa at 7:07 AM on December 18, 2007

How about City of God? I don't speak Portugese, but I can imagine that the dialect spoken in the film is a bit slang-ish, and reflects the social situations of the characters in the film. As I understand it, the actors in the movie are actually residents of similar favelas in Rio, so the language in the movie is authentic.
posted by diggerroo at 8:21 AM on December 18, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the suggestions thus far. Hopefully you'll appreciate I'm not able to mark anything as "best" - so many great suggestions, and hopefully more coming.

Adamrice, it's interesting you bring up Cronos. The inspiration for this post was watching the Del Toro-produced "El Orfanato," which made me think about the beautiful language in Pan's Labyrinth (particularly Fauno's voice).
posted by SassHat at 9:18 AM on December 18, 2007

Day Watch is available in Russian, though maybe not yet officially released or subtitled in English.

I was able to rent Day Watch on DVD through netflix, so, it's out. Unfortunately, the subtitles didn't have the cool effects of Night Watch.

Back on topic: I didn't mention Day Watch originally because, while it has some narration, it didn't strike me like the Night Watch did. Maybe it was as good, and I wasn't as impressed on the second time around.
posted by philomathoholic at 1:38 PM on December 18, 2007

City of God- superb choice diggerroo.

This might seem like an odd suggestion, but I have to recommend Ratatouille with the French soundtrack... meserising, and I did indeed have to turn off the subtitles.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 3:29 PM on December 18, 2007

I read your post, and thought of Ikiru. I thought the language at times seemed "flowing," but I'm no linguist or film extraordinaire.
posted by BenzeneChile at 9:50 AM on December 19, 2007

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