10 Best Foreign Drama Movies to Watch

Staff & contributors
Whilst a classic in some circles, Festen is many things, but it's definitely not mainstream entertainment. It was shot by Danish director, Thomas Vinterberg, who founded the Dogme 95 movement together with Lars von Trier in 1995, which sought to put the auteur director back at the heart of filmmaking, as opposed to the power of the studios or special effects. This was the first movie to come out from that group. You thought your family was messed up? Think again. This macabre, Poe-esque, gut-wrenching tale of debauchery will leave you feeling confused and slightly nauseous. This effect is exacerbated by Winterberg's directing style and the crazy camerawork of Anthony Dod Mantle. With a highly volatile tone and a great cast, the effect Festen has on you is not easily shaken off.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Birgitte Simonsen, Birthe Neumann, Bjarne Henriksen, Erna Boas, Gbatokai Dakinah, Helle Dolleris, Henning Moritzen, Klaus Bondam, Lars Brygmann, Lasse Lunderskov, Lene Laub Oksen, Linda Laursen, Paprika Steen, Therese Glahn, Thomas Bo Larsen, Thomas Vinterberg, Trine Dyrholm, Ulrich Thomsen

Director: Thomas Vinterberg

Rating: R

Is courage still courage when you have no choices left? What do you do when you're pressed to the wall and have no way to go? Maria, a pretty, modest and hardworking girl living in a small Colombian town, where the only career choice (thus not being a choice, really) is working in a floral plant, packing and distributing flowers - a dead-end job with killer hours and zero-tolerance boss. Yet, it's money. Until the day Maria gets pregnant and her choices become even more limited. By accident, she makes acquaintance with a guy who turns out to be her way out - and the way is out to become a drug mule, transporting drugs in your stomach across the border to the American soil. A job dangerous in many aspects, illegal and potentially deadly, but also paid well. Maria decides to take the only way out, a way that may be a one-way street. Maria Full of Grace is a gut-wrenching story about survival in a seemingly hopeless situation. It's about taking that one chance that has all the potential to go south, and investing in it all the hope you have left, and all the survival instinct you have in your heart and soul. And when everything that could go bad does, and everything turns from bad to worse beyond imagination, it's about standing strong and not giving up, no matter what. Though technically not a documentary, it's real beyond belief, and you can be sure Colombia is full of Marias - just hoping for a decent life, ready to sacrifice the very life itself to obtain it. It's a masterpiece of its genre and it also boasts one of the best posters in the history of the cinema. Highly recommended.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Catalina Sandino Moreno, Charles Albert Patiño, Guilied Lopez, Jaime Osorio Gómez, Jhon Álex Toro, Johanna Andrea Mora, John Álex Toro, Orlando Tobón, Patricia Rae, Selenis Leyva, Victor Macias

Director: Joshua Marston

Rating: R

, 2011

Realistic, intimate, and compelling, Elena is a movie that makes you think a lot after you finish watching it. It is an inherently Russian movie, however there is something about how the story is told that makes it a universal family drama. A woman from a modest background to which she still has a lot of attachement is married to an old wealthy business man. Upon learning that the man might write her off his will, she feels pushed to get her hands dirty to honor her responsibilities towards her original family. The question of right and wrong when faced with extreme situations is at the heart of this aesthetically slow-burning family drama.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Aleksandr Kazakov, Aleksandr Slastin, Aleksey Maslodudov, Aleksey Rozin, Anastasiya Sapozhnikova, Andrey Smirnov, Anna Gulyarenko, Dmitry Pavlenko, Ekaterina Tarkovskaya, Elena Lyadova, Igor Ogurtsov, Ivan Dobronravov, Ivan Mulin, Larisa Khalafova, Lyudmila Alexeyeva, Nadezhda Markina, Oksana Semenova, Olga Lapshina, Vasily Michkov, Vasily Zotov, Yana Lvova, Yaroslav Zhalnin, Yuriy Borisov

Director: Andrey Zvyagintsev

Rating: Not Rated

, 2012

Wadjda is a smart, spirited 10-year-old girl who wants nothing more than to own her own bike, something that is frowned upon in the Saudi Arabian suburb where she lives. While it’s not technically illegal for women to own bikes, it is thought of as something that is “dangerous to a girl’s virtue,” and it’s worth noting that this is a society where women are also not allowed to drive their own cars. Wadjda devises numerous schemes to earn enough money to buy a bike (selling bracelets, making mixes of Western pop songs, delivering clandestine messages between men and women), before getting caught by the headmistress at her school. It is then that Wadjda hits on the ultimate money-making scheme: there is to be a Koran-reciting contest at her school with a hefty cash prize, and she’s determined to win. There is a subplot involving a growing rift between Wadjda’s parents; while there is clearly a lot of love between both parties, it becomes increasingly clear that her father may be leaving her mother for another woman who could potentially bear him a son (a common practice). This subplot is handled with respect and little judgement though, as it is simply the way things work in this culture. Yet, as Wadjda is coming-of-age and learning about the limitations placed on her as a girl, she is obviously negotiating ingenious ways of pushing back against those limitations. The film is subtle and humane in how it handles the slowly changing cultural and gender dynamics in a traditionally conservative, patriarchal society. It wouldn’t work without a strong central performance from first-time actor Waad Mohammed though -- she is never less than believable as a clever, determined and joyful 10-year-old, and her journey towards adulthood is both heartbreaking and inspiring.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Abdullrahman Al Gohani, Ahd, Alanoud Sajini, Dana Abdullilah, Haifaa Al-Mansour, Rafa Al Sanea, Reem Abdullah, Sultan Al Assaf, Waad Mohammed

Director: Haifaa al-Mansour

Rating: PG

, 2005

Tsotsi, a delinquent from Johannesburg, South Africa, realizes after shooting a woman and stealing her car, that her baby is on the back seat. A movie with very few words but which manages to be extremely touching. As you witness the transformation of Tsotsi, through his increasing affection for the baby, you will be astonished by the amazing actor, who manages to communicate so many feelings through his sight. This film won the 2006 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Ian Roberts, Israel Makoe, Jerry Mofokeng, Kenneth Nkosi, Mothusi Magano, Nambitha Mpumlwana, Owen Sejake, Percy Matsemela, Presley Chweneyagae, Rapulana Seiphemo, Terry Pheto, Zenzo Ngqobe, Zola

Director: Gavin Hood

Rating: R

A crazy, high-speed movie about double-dealing crooks and thieves living along the Danube River in Serbia. Such a description probably makes this movie sound dark and menacing, trust me it is anything but. It is filled to the brim with delightful music, slapstick humor, bizarre contraptions, shotgun weddings -- with a sweet romantic caper at its center. If winter weather is getting you down, consider watching this film as a fun & sunny antidote.

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Romance

Actor: Bajram Severdžan, Bajram Severdzan, Branka Katić, Branka Katic, Florijan Ajdini, Jasar Destani, Jashar Destani, Ljubica Adžović, Ljubica Adzovic, Miki Manojlović, Predrag Laković, Sabri Sulejmani, Salija Ibraimova, Srdjan 'Zika' Todorovic, Srdjan Todorovic, Srđan 'Žika' Todorović, Srđan Todorović, Zabit Memedov

Director: Emir Kusturica

Rating: R

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that the mix of ideas and aesthetics that gave us Her has roots in Japan. Borrowing from the country’s poeticism, attention to detail and just appreciation for beauty; Tony Takitani is Her’s quiet and delicate elder brother-film, and one of the best this genre has to give. After spending a solitary childhood, a Japanese kid with the American name Tony grows up to be a successful technical illustrator. Without the time for the outside world or any luck with it, Tony indulges in his work and by extension his loneliness until he suddenly falls a distinctive young woman. Tony Takitani is a slow film, which quickly becomes a memorable experience due to its profound study of loneliness.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Issei Ogata, Issey Ogata, Miho Fujima, Rie Miyazawa, Shinohara Takahumi

Director: Jun Ichikawa

Rating: Unrated

One of the best, twistiest con movies in recent memory. Seasoned con artist Marcos takes young Juan under his wing after witnessing him pull a bill-switching scam in a deli. Soon Juan is learning the game and the two are roped into trying to pull off the largest scam in Marcos’ storied career, the selling of a set of incredibly rare stamps (the “nine queens” of the title). Along the way they will have to deal with a rotating cast of schemers, thieves, crooks -- and Marcos’ estranged sister. A superior little crime thriller, this one will have you guessing right up until the end.

Genre: Crime, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Alejandro Awada, Antonio Ugo, Claudio Rissi, Elsa Berenguer, Gabo Correa, Gastón Pauls, Graciela Tenenbaum, Ignasi Abadal, Jorge Noya, Leticia Brédice, Maria Mercedes Villagra, Oscar Nunez, Pochi Ducasse, Ricardo Darín, Ricardo Diaz Mourelle, Roberto Rey, Roly Serrano, Tomas Fonzi

Director: Fabián Bielinsky

Rating: R

After the sudden death of a teacher, 55-year-old Algerian immigrant Bachir Lazhar is hired at an elementary school in Montreal. Struggling with a cultural gap between himself and his students at first, he helps them to deal with the situation, revealing his own tragic past. A strong portrait without any weird sentimentality. 11-year-old actress Sophie Nélisse makes her brilliant debut.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: André Robitaille, Brigitte Poupart, Daniel Gadouas, Danielle Proulx, Denise Lamontagne, Émilien Néron, Evelyne de la Chenelière, Francine Ruel, Gabriel Verdier, Jose Arandi, Judith Baribeau, Jules Philip, Louis Champagne, Marie Charlebois, Marie-Ève Beauregard, Mohamed Fellag, Nathalie Costa, Nico Lagarde, Sophie Nélisse, Stéphane Demers, Vincent Millard

Director: Philippe Falardeau

Rating: PG-13

Boon Joon-Ho's 'Memories of murder', which was recently re-released is not too dissimilar from many of the crime-dramas that have come out of South Korea over the past two decades. Two very different detectives have to come together to solve what is turning out to be a series of murders that are all linked. The movie is based on the true story of South Korea's first ever recorded serial murderer, who raped and then killed  young girls in the late 80's. In the hands of probably the foremost South Korean director after Park Chan-Wook, this movie takes you through all ranges of emotions.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Baek Bong-ki, Byun Hee-bong, Byun Heebong, Choi Jong-ryul, Go Seo-hee, Hae-il Park, Hie-bong Byeon, Jae-ho Song, Jeon Mi-seon, Jo Deok-jae, Jong-ryol Choi, Jung In-sun, Kang-ho Song, Kim Joo-ryoung, Kim Joo-ryung, Kim Roe-ha, Kim Roi-ha, Kim Sang-kyung, Ko Seo-hie, Kwon Byung-gil, Kwon Hyeok-Pung, Lee Dong-yong, Lee Jae-eung, Lee Kang-san, No-shik Park, Oh Yong, Park Hae-il, Park Hyun-young, Park Jin-woo, Park No-shik, Park Tae-kyeong, Roe-ha Kim, Ryu Tae-ho, Sang-kyung Kim, Seo Young-hwa, Seo-hie Ko, Shim Sung-bo, Shin Hyeon-jong, Shin Hyun-jong, Shin Woon-seob, Son Jin-ho, Son Jin-hwan, Son Kang-gook, Song Jae-ho, Song Kang-ho, Woo Go-na, Yeom Hye-ran, Yoo Seung-mok, Yoon Ga-hyun

Director: Bong Joon-ho, Joon-ho Bong

Rating: Not Rated