Through this long-winded quarantine, I’ve made it a goal of mine to expand my cinematic vocabulary and branch out beyond that of the 1000 Hollywood Movies You Have To Watch Before You Die!-kind of movies. I get it, Hitchcock made great movies – I’m not going to deny that, but cinema didn’t start nor end there.
“Once you overcome the 1-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”
Bong Joon Ho
What makes cinema so powerful to me is its ability to show you stories that you yourself would never encounter, and yet make it feel as if you just have. In the past few months, I’ve concocted a list of diverse movies spanning across land and time, all with a special focus on women, queer, and BIPOC-centric storylines. Today, I want to present you with 10 breathtaking “foreign language” (ridiculous term, but I gotta please the SEO gods) movies directed by women.
(click on any title to view the trailer)
Written and directed by Lee Hyun-Ju. Starring Lee Sang-hee as Yoon-ju and Ryu Sun-young as Ji-soo.
Our Love Story (연애담) is a romantic drama from South Korea. It follows the demure art student Yoon-ju who catches herself falling in love with the eccentric bartender Ji-soo, despite having only ever felt attraction for men. Against social norms and inner conflicts, she decides to follow her heart’s desires.
Available to watch for free with a membership, rent for $2.99, or purchase for $9.99 on Amazon Prime Video (U.S.) – also available on YouTube for free (with English subtitles).
Directed by Lee Kyoung-mi, written by Lee Kyoung-mi and Park Chan-wook. Starring Son Ye-jin as Kim Yeon-hong and Kim Joo-hyuk as Kim Jong-chan.
Staying in South Korea for a bit, The Truth Beneath (비밀은 없다) is a sinister thriller directed by the otherwise melodramatic Lee Kyoung-mi. The movie follows the 15-day inexplicable and scandalous days where a politician and his wife’s daughter has gone missing – right before the big national elections.
Available to watch for free with a membership, rent for $4.99, or purchase for $14.99 on Amazon Prime Video (U.S.)
Available to rent/purchase on iTunes (U.S. – same prices)
Written and directed by Naomi Kawase. Starring Masatoshi Nagase as Sentaro, Kirik Kiki as Tokue, and Kyara Uchida as Wakana.
Sweet Bean (あん) is the wholesome Japanese drama that we all need in these slumber times. After tasting her dorayaki pancakes, a local baker grappling with debt and stress decides to hire a 76-year old woman as his new assistant. A new chapter begins, and perhaps this red-bean pancake recipe would come to be the saving grace of the bakery.
Available to rent (£3.49/$4.99) or purchase (£6.99/$10.99) on Amazon Prime Video (U.K./U.S.)
Available on BFI-player subscription.
Directed by Lourdes Portillo.
To take a break from fiction, Missin Young Woman (Señorita Extraviada) is a haunting Mexican documentary that investigates the cases of lost women in a border town. Over 250 women, most of them factory workers, have been raped and murdered, never to be seen again. It is a horrifying film, but for the sake of the victims, for the sake of justice, it has to be watched and cannot be ignored.
Available for library card-owners and university students on Kanopy.
Available to watch for free on YouTube (with English subtitles).
Written and directed by Nosipho Dumisa. Starring Monique Rockman as Oam Ismael and Irshaad Ally as Randall Hendricks.
This South African thriller follows the recent paraplegic Randal Hendricks as he is trapped within his apartment. After having been gifted a pair of binoculars by his girlfriend, he witnesses the heinous criminal named Lawyer commit a murder. Drowning in his own issues and debts, Randal decides to use this as a way of blackmail to advance himself, but soon he, his friend, and girlfriend find themselves tangled and trapped in a lethal web of crime.
Available for free with a membership, to rent (£1.99/$2.99), or purchase (£2.99/$4.99) on Amazon Prime Video (U.K./U.S.)
Directed by Wanuri Kahiu. Written by Wanuri Kahiu and Jena Cato Bass. Starring Samantha Mugatsia as Kena and Sheila Munyiva as Ziki.
This groundbreaking Kenyan lesbian romance, that’s currently banned in Kenya for its nuanced portrayal of lesbianism, is a must-see masterpiece. When Kena and Ziki’s paths cross, they immediately find themselves drawn to each other. Under the dismayed gaze of neighbours and strangers, the two have to decide whether to between happiness or safety.
Available to rent on BFI Player for £3.50 (U.K.)
Available to rent ($1.99) or purchase ($5.99) on Amazon Prime Video (U.S.)
Written and directed by Alice Rohrwacher. Starring Yle Vianello as Marta, Anita Capriolo as Rita, and Salvatore Cantalupo as Don Mario.
Heavenly Body (Corpo Celeste) is an Italian religious drama and coming of age film. The story is structured around Marta, a thirteen-year-old-girl who has recently moved to southern Italy from Switzerland with her mother. While trying to find her place as an outsider, she is also confronted with the Catholic church as she is about to start her confirmation. But the priests of her parish are corrupt, and her struggle to explore herself increases.
Available to rent ($4.99) or purchase DVD ($24.99) on Film Movement (rent available in the U.S., purchase presumably available worldwide)
Written and directed by Line Wertmüller. Starring Giancarlo Giannini as Pasqualino Frafuso, Fernando Rey as Pedro (The Anarchist Prisoner), and Shirley Stoler as The Prison Camp Commandant.
Seven Beauties (Pasqualino Settebellezze) is not only a daring and satirical Italian war comedy that still holds up to this day but the very first movie that the Academy ever nominated a woman with Best Director for. Taking place in the fascist and WWII ridden Italy, the story follows a low-level thug who escapes imprisonment after murdering a man by pleading insanity and serving in the military instead. But when it gets too much for him, he runs off and instead ends up getting stuck in a concentration camp.
Available for free with a MUBI membership, to rent ($4.99), or purchase ($12.99) on Amazon Prime Video (U.S.)
Written and directed by Mia Hansen-Løve. Starring Isabelle Hubert as Nathalie, André Marcon as Heinz, and Roman Kolinka as Fabien.
Things to Come (L’Avenir) is a critically acclaimed French-German drama that surrounds the many sudden life changes that middle-aged philosophy teacher Nathalie comes to encounter. When her mother passes away and her husband is found to have been cheating on her, she finds herself with unexpected and foreign freedom.
Available for free with a MUBI membership, to rent (£3.49/$3.99), or purchase (£4.99/$14.99) on Amazon Prime Video (U.K./U.S.)
Written and directed by Céline Sciamma. Starring Adèle Haenel as Héloïse and Noémie Merlant as Marianne.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Portrait de la jeune fille en feu) is a breathtaking romantic French film taking place on a secluded island in Brittany in the 1770s. Héloïse has been promised in marriage to a man that she has never met, and in protest refuses to pose for the wedding portrait that is to be sent to the Milanese man in question. Marianne is then hired to paint her in secret at night while observing and memorising her face and features at day.
Available for free with a MUBI membership, to rent (£4.49/$2.99), or purchase (£9.99/$8.99) on Amazon Prime Video (U.K./U.S.)
Available to stream on Hulu (U.S.)