10 foreign language films to look out for on DVD in 2012

Not only are they good to watch, they’ll also help your language skills…and if your local DVD shop doesn’t stock them, they are all available to buy or pre-order on Amazon.

1. Salt of Life (Italy)

Despite being written by Gianni Di Gregorio, who co-wrote the acclaimed yet very violent ‘Gomorrah’, this Italian comedy (Gianni e le donne in Italian) is sweet, gentle and very easy to watch. It proved an international hit when launched, and follows the story of Gianni (played by Di Gregorio), a sixty year old man who although retired, dutifully cares for a demanding assortment of female relatives. When his friend brags about having a young lover, Gianni begins a doomed attempt to find an affair of his own…

The film is a follow-up to Mid-August Lunch (2009).

2. The Skin I Live In (Spain)

You don’t need a profound knowledge of Almódovar’s films to know that his work is extreme, fantastical and controversial, and – a tale of surgical obsession- ‘The Skin I live In’ is no exception. There is no denying, however, that it is sleek, stylized and unmistakably his. Starring Antonio Banderas and Elena Anaya, the film received critical acclaim but is certainly not light-hearted viewing!

3. Tomboy (France)

Tomboy is a coming-of- age story of a young girl called Laure who moves to a new area with her parents and little sister, and struggles to make friends – that is, until local girl Lisa mistakes Laure to be a boy. A happy summer is spent in the company of her new acquaintances, but complications soon arise…

4. In a Better World (Denmark)

In a Better World is a Danish drama film directed by Susanne Bier and written by Oscar-winning screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen. Its original Danish title is Hævnen, which means “The Revenge”, and in 2011 it was awarded the Golden Globe award for Best Foreign Film. The story plays out in African refugee camps, where the main character Anton spends time as a doctor, and back in his idyllic Danish hometown where his son is suffering under the tyranny of a vicious school bully. It’s a film that explores both the complexity of human emotions and the issue of male responsibility, and what it means to stand up for yourself and others.

5. Outside the Law (Hors-la-loi) (Algeria)

“Outside the Law” is Rachid Bouchareb’s story of three brothers who lose their family farm in French-occupied Algeria and end up at the helm of the underground Algerian independence movement in Paris. The film takes place principally in the shanty towns and red light district of 1950s Paris and during the two hours the viewer discovers each of the three brothers’ reasons for taking on the cause. Hors la Loi is both a gripping, fast-paced thriller and a fascinating film that also offers a great insight into the history of the Algerian independence movement.

6. Sarah’s Key (France)

In 2009, an American journalist named Julia (played by Kristin Scott-Thomas) is commissioned to write a story on the notorious Vel d’Hiv round up, which took place in Paris in 1942 and saw thousands of Jews deported.  During her investigations Julia learns that the apartment she and her husband Bertrand plan to move into was acquired by Bertrand’s family when its Jewish occupants were dispossessed and deported 60 years before. She resolves to find out what happened to the former occupants, a family with a four year old son and a ten year old daughter named Sarah. 

7. Miss Bala (Mexico)

Miss Bala is a 2011 Mexican drama film written and directed by Gerardo Naranjo. The film premiered at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and has been selected as the Mexican entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars in 2012.

It follows the story of 23-year-old Laura, played by model-turned-actress Stephanie Sigman, who dreams of becoming a beauty queen and escaping her humble life in the Mexican border city of Baja. When Laura inadvertently becomes a witness to a crime, she becomes caught up in the terrifying world of Mexican gang violence.

8. If Not Us, Who (Wer wenn nicht wir) (Germany)

‘Wer wenn nicht wir’ is a German film directed by Andres Veiel and starring August Diehl. The film premiered at the 61st Berlin International Film Festival and was nominated for the Golden Bear.

Set mainly in the early 60s, the film is based on the true story of university students Bernward Vesper and Gudrun Ensslin, who are embroiled in a passionate but tempestuous relationship.  Their discontent with the conformist world that they live in inspires them to join forces with leftist writers and political activists in Berlin, and they soon become part of the spreading global uprising, which has far-reaching results for both…

9. A Separation (Iran)

Winner of the Golden Bear at the 2011 Berlin Film Festival, A Separation is a powerful drama that explores the tensions at the heart of modern Iranian society.

It begins with a married middle-class couple, Simin and Nader, who are at odds over their future – she wants to leave the country with their daughter Termeh and he wants to stay so that he can care for his father who has Alzheimer’s. Eventually, they decide to separate and Simin moves out of the apartment that they share. Nader hires Razieh to look after his father, but her life is not without complication either – to start with, she is pregnant, and on top of that, she has a hot-headed husband who has not granted her permission to work. 

One fateful day, something happens to rock both of their worlds, and soon, Nader finds himself entangled in a web of lies.

10. Romantics Anonymous (France)

With his beloved chocolate business struggling, timid owner Jean-René decides to enlist some help in the form of talented chocolatiere Angélique. She is equally as timid as him, but as the two get to know each other and share their love of chocolate, romances ensues. The film is a gentle comedy that stars Benoît Poelvoorde (Coco Before Chanel) as Jean-René and Isabelle Carré as Angelique.

French films to look out for this winter

Picturehouse Cinemas show some fantastic world film in locations around Britain, and amongst the French listings this winter are Beautiful Lies, Tomboy and Romantics Anonymous.

Beautiful Lies

Originally released in 2010, Beautiful Lies stars Audrey Tatou and was directed by Pierre Salvadori. Tatou plays a hairdresser who finds herself in the middle of a complex love triangle in this romantic comedy, which centres around her attempts to spice up the love life of her recently divorced mother.

Tomboy

Tomboy is a coming-of- age story of a young girl called Laure who moves to a new area with her parents and little sister, and struggles to make friends – that is, until local girl Lisa mistakes Laure to be a boy. A happy summer is spent in the company of her new acquaintances, but complications soon arise…

Romantics Anonymous

With his beloved chocolate business struggling, timid owner Jean-René decides to enlist some help in the form of talented chocolatiere Angélique. She is equally as timid as him, but as the two get to know each other and share their love of chocolate, romances ensues. The film is a gentle comedy that stars Benoît Poelvoorde (Coco Before Chanel) as Jean-René and Isabelle Carré as Angelique.

Visit the Picturehouse Cinemas website

Find our more on evening and part-time French courses in the UK, tailor-made French courses and French courses abroad.

Film review: City of God

I got the chance to watch City of God whilst travelling around the world. The first destination on my exhilarating trip was the exotic and exciting Rio de Janiero. I arrived intrigued and slightly anxious after all the frightening things I had heard about this part of the world, but I am pleased to say it wasn’t as daunting as expected. I saw all the famous landmarks this wonderful city has to offer such as Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, and the magnificent Maracana football stadium. I also travelled through the infamous favelas to get close-up to the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue, looking out over this beautiful city. My very first experience of Brazil was thrilling and it was a great introduction to my travels around this amazing continent.

Further along into my journey, I stopped for a week in Byron Bay, Australia. A laid-back, bohemian town, it was my kind of place. My hostel had a cinema room, and during my stay, it was to show the Brazilian film City of God. My lack of in-depth film knowledge meant I did not know too much about it; but what I did know was that it was set in Rio, that fun and fascinating city I had visited a few months earlier. This was definitely one to watch.

I didn’t speak Portuguese and did not have the chance to learn much of the language during my relatively short time in Brazil, so luckily this film was subtitled. This certainly wasn’t a hindrance to watching City of God. Gritty, romantic, violent, action-packed, scary and gripping; this film is positively one to remember. It shows the struggles of Rio’s poorest trying to survive in the dangerous, mud-constructed, crime-ridden favelas, where gun fights are a daily occurrence. The film brought back memories of my taxi driving behind a police car for part of my journey through this neighbourhood, with officers pointing machine guns out of their car windows.

The beauty of this film is that it captures real life, but also gives a helping-hand to those it portrays so realistically. It hit home how precarious these shanty towns can be, but also the tremendous talent of the local actors and actresses in the film. All but one of the main cast was from the favelas, mainly children and teenagers. They had been given their chance to shine, and shine they certainly did. The superb cast deserve all the acclaim they received for their tremendous performances.

A truly fantastic film and a truly wonderful city; a must-see on-screen and in person.

Film review: Maria, Full of Grace

It’s the kind of film that stays with you for a long time afterwards. It’s not exactly a feel-good film, nor is it one I’d pick off the shelf to wind down with before bed. But if you want a film that will really grip you, even shock and sadden you, all whilst opening your eyes to the reality of life elsewhere, then here you have it.

Take one pregnant, 17-year-old girl from a poor village in Colombia who wants to escape the family she supports, the baby’s father who she doesn’t love and the country where she will never earn decent money. Maria is her name. Feeling trapped, it doesn’t take much for her to be tempted by an offer to earn a huge sum of money to smuggle drugs into the US.

The only proviso is that these drugs have to be ingested in the form of pellets – 100 small sacks filled with heroin and sealed with latex and dental floss – which must be swallowed whole and carried in Maria’s stomach until she reaches her destination. Not only does Maria risk being caught at US customs, she faces certain death should one of these pellets burst inside her as well as untold risk to her unborn child. Yet the film sees her determinedly practising by swallowing eye-wateringly large grapes and ultimately boarding the plane, drugs ingested, as we follow her gripping odyssey into danger.

Utterly engrossing, you can barely look away from the screen, the tension unbearable. Another drug mule staggers ashen-faced to the bathroom mid-air, while the interrogation at US customs leaves you holding your breath and wishing Maria safe passage. Job done – she’s through.

But it’s not over yet; the vulnerable teenager now finds herself on the streets of New York, surrounded by a language she doesn’t understand and people she doesn’t know. All she knows is that she has to deliver the drugs, every single pellet, safely and entirely, to a random address. Without wanting to reveal how the film ends, Maria’s mission becomes one of survival as the ruthless world of international drugs trafficking is exposed in harsh light.

Shot in documentary-style with a hand-held camera, this film is gritty, honest and powerful. It’s not flashy, it’s not clichéd and it doesn’t preach about morals. You can take away thoughts about the injustice of exploiting the poor to satisfy the pleasure of the rich, you can question the lengths that someone would go to to better their life, but most of all you can admire Maria for remaining dignified, calm and graceful – as the title implies – throughout her whole experience. It’s a tribute to the human spirit, and in that sense this is the real silver lining.

Film review: Apariencias

Apariencias, which means appearance, is a South American romantic comedy movie. The story revolves around Carmelo (Adrián Suar), an extremely shy person, who falls in love with his colleague Veronica (Andrea Del Boca), but struggles to express his feelings. In a twist, Veronica finds him demonstrating in a gay rally and thinks he is gay. Instead of telling the truth, Carmelo pretends to be gay and builds lies around this to get closer to Veronica and win her over.

I watched Apariencias a year ago when I was doing the level 2 Spanish course. None of my classmates or my teacher knew about this movie. I watched it just because it was available for free, not really by choice, but I’m glad to have seen it. Apparently South American Spanish is easy to understand as people talk slowly, so it was a good pick any way at the time.

I didn’t know much Spanish, so watching a movie without subtitles was very ambitious, but strangely I enjoyed it. I had to pause several times in between and refer to the dictionary to find the meanings of whatever words I could make out in their conversations. It was hard work, but I felt great when I understood what was going on in the movie. Everything fell in place when I watched it for the second time.

As Apariencias was the first Spanish movie I watched, and I put lot of effort to understand, it’s always going to be the most memorable movie for me. Also, it was a nice movie, which made me laugh despite having difficulty in understanding the language. Therefore I can say without hesitation that Apariencias is the best foreign language movie I’ve ever seen.

Film review: the Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Based on a novel of the same name (Le Scaphandre et le Papillion in French), The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is the true story of a man who suffers from ‘locked-in syndrome’. This is a rare neurological condition which has no effect on mental capacity but leaves sufferers unable to move a muscle – except for the left eyelid in his case.

Amazingly, the author of the book, and central character in the film, is the man who was victim of this cruel fate. Jean- Dominique Bauby was enjoying a fast-paced and fulfilling existence as editor-in-chief of Elle magazine when a sudden and massive stroke stripped him of his movement, and ultimately his life. In an amazing achievement, he managed to painstakingly commit his story to paper using only blinking movements, a specially devised alphabet, and the aid of a companion to transcribe.

You could be forgiven for thinking that this would not be an uplifting film to watch – certainly not one for when you’re feeling down in the dumps and looking for a little escapism – but in actual fact, nothing could be further from the truth. The film is actually very funny in parts, and although a very sad and moving story, it serves as a great reminder for how easy it is to take life for granted, and how it is possible to triumph in even the greatest of adversity.

Jean-Dominique, or ‘Jean- Do’ as he is referred to throughout the film, is played by Mathieu Amalric, widely considered to be one of the greatest French actors today. The film itself won Best Foreign Language Film and Best Director at the Golden Globes and was nominated for four Oscars – deservedly so, the general consensus seems to suggest.

10 good contemporary Italian films to watch

1. La Vita è Bella

Life Is Beautiful as the film title translates in English, is a 1997 Italian language film which tells the story of a Jewish Italian, Guido Orefice (played by Roberto Benigni, who also directed and co-wrote the film), who must make use of his active imagination to help his son Giosuѐ during their internment in a Nazi concentration camp. In the film, Giosuѐ is four and a half years old, but both the beginning and ending of the film are narrated by an older Giosuѐ recalling his father’s efforts and sacrifice for his family. In 1999, Benigni won the Oscar for Best Actor and the film won both the award for Best Original Dramatic Score and the Best Foreign Language Film.

2. La Sconosciuta

Made in 2006, La sconosciuta is a psychological thriller, directed by Giuseppe Tornatore. It’s the hard-hitting story of Irena, a Ukranian woman living in northern Italy who is haunted by a traumatic past, and in the midst of searching for a long lost daughter.

3. Gamorrah

Gomorrah is a 2008 Italian film directed by Matteo Garrone, based on the book by Roberto Saviano. The film centres around the organised crime families in Naples (the Camorra), and offers a very different representation of the mafia to what is often portrayed in Hollywood mob films. Instead of being shown as glamorous and powerful men, we see the mafia as they really are – slave drivers, toxic-waste dealers and terrorists. Gamorrah is a realistic and hard-hitting film, but is a fascinating insight into what still goes on in this part of the world.

4. Porte Aperte

Open Doors as it’s known in English is an award-winning film directed by Gianni Amelio. Set in Palermo in the 1930s, it follows the trial of a man who has committed three murders, and the actions of a judge who is opposed to the death penalty and determined to understand the man and his motives rather than to sentence him to execution. The film is based on a 1968 novel, “Porte Aperte”, by Leonardo Sciascia.

5. Cinema Paradiso

Nuovo Cinema Paradiso is a 1988 romantic drama written and directed by Giuseppe Tornatore. It was internationally released as ‘Cinema Paradiso’ and achieved huge success, winning the Special Jury Prize at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival and the 1989 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. In the film a famous director returns home to a Sicilian village for the first time after almost 30 years. He reminisces about his childhood at the Cinema Paradiso where man called Alfredo, the projectionist, first brought about his love of films.

6. La Bestia nel Cuore

La bestia nel cuore is a 2005 film directed by Cristina Comencini, based on the novel that she herself also wrote. It was nominated for Golden Lion prize at the Venice International Film Festival and also in the Best Foreign Language Film category in the 78th Academy Awards. It centres around a character called Sabina, who has a stable life with a decent job and a loving partner, but who harbours traumatic secrets from her past that need to be dealt with before she can truly be happy…

7. Romanzo Criminale

Released in 2005, Romanzo Criminale is a crime drama that received international acclaim, winning 15 awards in total. It is based on a novel by Giancarlo De Cataldo, which was inspired by the real-life story of the notorious Magliana gang who dominated Rome’s criminal underworld from the early 1970s to the early 1990s. The film follows the progression of three young men from street criminals to organised crime bosses who are involved in decades of terrorism, kidnappings and corruption.

8. Mediterraneo

Mediterraneo is an acclaimed comedy that won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1991. The film is set during World War II, and follows the story of a group of misfit Italian soldiers who are tasked with keeping a lookout for enemy ships on a small Greek island. At first the island seems abandoned, but when the Greeks realise that the Italians pose no threat, the townsfolk suddenly appear to re-commence their peaceful existence on the island. The soldiers are unnerved when the ship on the way to collect them is blown up and they realise that they are stranded, but soon they start enjoying life on the island and being left behind doesn’t seem like such a bad thing after all!

9. Johnny Stecchino

Johnny Stecchino is a 1991 Italian comedy film directed by and starring Roberto Benigni as Dante, a good-hearted but naive bus driver. A close shave with a car leads him to meet Maria, who develops an instant interest in him and soon invites him to stay at her villa in Palermo. It turns out that Dante bears an uncanny likeness to Maria’s husband, Johnny, a feared Mafioso who has recently upset a few people…needless to say, the coincidence isn’t quite as arbitrary as it first seems!

10. Eighteen Years Later

This 2010 film follows estranged brothers Genziano and Mirko as they drive to Calabria to deliver their father’s ashes to his hometown. The brothers haven’t spoken for 18 years, when their mother was killed in a mysterious accident. After the accident Genziano emigrated to England to set up a successful business and Mirko stayed in Italy working in their father’s auto shop. As they travel across Italy, accompanied at times by a pretty and enigmatic hitchhiker, the siblings revisit various family secrets.

10 great contemporary German films to watch

All are well worth a watch and will really help your pronunciation, your vocabulary and your listening skills. They’ll also give you an all-important insight into the history and culture of German-speaking countries.

1. The White Ribbon

Das weiße Band, as it is known in German, won the coveted Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2009. Directed by Michael Haneke, the film is set a rural village in northern Germany and spans several months, ending on the eve of World War One. The plot centres around a speight of unusual and violent occurrences in the village, although it explores much deeper themes than that. Das weiße Band is certainly not light-hearted entertainment, but it’s an interesting film to watch and has received plenty of critical acclaim since its release.

2. Goodbye Lenin

Released in 2003, Goodbye Lenin is a comedy drama that follows the touching, and at times very funny, efforts of main character Alex to keep the fall of the Berlin Wall from his ill, DDR-supporting mother. Shortly before the wall comes down, Alex’s mother, Christine, has a heart attack and falls into a coma. Eight months later, she miraculously awakes but is told that any shocks or stresses could prove fatal – as a result, Alex transforms the family apartment into pre-November 1989, where his mother remains blissfully unaware of the political changes that have occurred. He soon faces obstacles though, for example the huge Coca Cola banner that is hung on the building opposite the apartment!

3. Run Lola Run

A film which launched the international film careers of two of Germany’s most successful actors, Franka Potente and Moritz Bleibtreu, Run Lola Run is a fast-paced thriller that achieved international acclaim. The film follows a girl’s frantic efforts to try and save her small-time crook of a boyfriend after a job he does for a ruthless gangster goes awry. The plot may not be unique in the world of cinema, but the film’s originality comes from the fact that within it are several different versions of the story – each with a different ending.

4. The Lives of Others

Das Leben der Anderen as its known in German is a film made in 2006 that won a range of cinematic awards in Europe and won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2006 Set in 1984, the film explores the monitoring of the East Berlin cultural scene by agents of the Stasi, the GDR’s notorious secret police. The main character in the film is Gerd Wiesler (played by Ulrich Muhe), a captain within the organisation who is tasked by his friend, the head of the Stasi’s Cultural Department, to watch a playwright who they suspect of dissidence. The captain soon discovers that there are other reasons for this particular surveillance operation though, and it’s this which leads him to question what he is doing…

5. Das Experiment

Released in 2001, this film by Oliver Hirschbiegel is about a social experiment, very similar to that held at Stanford University in 1971. In the film, a makeshift prison is constructed in a research laboratory, and twenty male participants are hired to play prisoners and guards for two weeks. The ‘prisoners’ are locked up and have to follow fairly undemanding rules, and the ‘guards’ are told simply to retain order without using physical violence. At the start, the mood between both groups is fairly amicable but it’s not long before arguments begin and the ‘wardens’ start to use increasingly severe measures to assert their authority…

6. Downfall

Another film directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, Downfall (Der Untergang) is a depiction of Hitler’s last days in his Berlin Bunker as told by Traudl Junge, his final secretary. During these days, self-preservation compels former allies such as Himmler and Goring to begin defecting from their beloved Fuhrer, while others like Joseph Goebbels vow to die alongside him. Hitler, himself, enters a great period of paranoia, optimistic one moment and deeply depressed the next. The film was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film in 2004.

7. The Baader Meinhof Complex

This film was also nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars, this time in 2008.  It’s based on the story of infamous West German far left extremist group the Rote Armee Fraktion, who were responsible for scores of bombings, robberies, kidnappings and assassinations in the late 60s and early 70s. Lead by Andreas Baader, Ulrike Meinhof and Gudrun Ensslin they become embroiled in a violent war against what they perceive as the new face of fascism: American imperialism supported by the German establishment.

8. Nirgendwo in Afrika

Released in 2001, Nirgendwo in Afrika follows the highs and lows of a German Jewish refugee family that moves to 1930’s Kenya. It’s based on the autobiographical novel of the same name by well-known German author Stefanie Zweig and won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2002. Shortly after the family arrive in Kenya things take a turn for the worse in Germany, which makes turning back impossible. The whole family must try to adapt to their new surroundings and get used to a very different way of life…

9. The Counterfeiters

‘Die Fälscher’ to give it its German title was also awarded an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film – this time in 2007. It was written and directed by Austrian director Stefan Ruzowitzky and tells a fictionalized version of Operation Bernhard, a secret plan by the Nazis during WWII to destablise Britain by flooding its economy with forged Bank of England notes. The film is based on the memoirs of Adolf Burger, a Jewish Slovak typographer who was imprisoned in 1942 for forging baptismal certificates to save Jews from deportation, and later interned at Sachsenhausen to work on Operation Bernhard.

10. Sophie Scholl – the Final Days

Yet another Oscar-nominated film, Sophie Scholl – the Final Days was made in 2005 by German director Marc Rothemund.  It is about the last days in the life of Sophie Scholl, a 21-year-old member of the anti-Nazi non-violent student resistance group the White Rose, an organisation that was secretly calling for the end of the war and strongly denouncing the inhuman acts of the Nazis.

Foreign language Oscar nominations for 2011

Below are the nominated films, and a brief synopsis of each.

“Biutiful” – Mexico

Biutiful is directed by Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu and is his first film to be set in Spain. The story takes place in Barcelona and stars Javier Bardem as Uxbal, a man with a troubled past and, thanks to a recently diagnosed terminal illness, a short future. The film follows Uxbal as he tries to make ends meet and to plan for the care of his two beloved children within their complicated family set up after he’s gone. The film could certainly not be described as ‘light-hearted’, but it’s an interesting film which has been critically acclaimed as a result of the fine acting and directing that went into it.

“Dogtooth” – Greece

Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos , Dogtooth is a compelling yet at times disturbing film that follows the story of three teenagers who live in rural ‘prison’ with their passive mother and controlling, manipulative father. They have no contact with the outside world and have even been taught a warped version of the local language so that they can’t communicate with outsiders. The family’s well-ordered life starts to fall apart when the father brings one of his female work colleagues home to fulfil certain needs…

Good, but not necessarily easy to watch, the film explores the concept that there is, in all societies, a desire to control what young people believe and understand.

“In a Better World” – Denmark

In a Better World is a Danish drama film directed by Susanne Bier and written by Oscar-winning screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen. Its original Danish title is Hævnen, which means “The Revenge”. It won a 2011 Golden Globe award for Best Foreign Film, and is a film that explores both the complexity of human emotions and the issue of male responsibility, and what it means to stand up for yourself and others. The story plays out in African refugee camps, where the main character Anton spends time as a doctor, and back in his idyllic Danish hometown where his son is suffering under the tyranny of a vicious school bully.

“Incendies” – Canada

Based on an acclaimed play by Lebanese-Canadian Wajdi Mouawad, ‘Incendies’ is directed by Denis Villeneuve. It follows the story of a pair of twins who are drawn into the Middle East conflict when they begin to investigate their mother’s past. At the reading of their mother Nawal’s will, twins Simon and Jeanne learn for the first time that they have a brother, and that their father, whom they thought was dead, is actually alive.

They discover that as a young woman, Nawal fell pregnant out of marriage in her Middle-Eastern homeland. Although spared an honour killing, she was forced to give up her baby, vowing one day that she would find him…

“Outside the Law (Hors-la-loi)” – Algeria

“Outside the Law” is Rachid Bouchareb’s story of three brothers who lose their family farm in French-occupied Algeria and end up at the helm of the underground Algerian independence movement in Paris. The film takes place principally in the shanty towns and red light district of 1950s Paris and during the two hours the viewer discovers each of the three brothers’ reasons for taking on the cause. Hors la Loi is both a gripping, fast-paced thriller and an fascinating film that also offers a great insight into the history of the Algerian independence movement.

If you have seen any of the films, or have an opinion on which should win, please leave us your comments below!

French-Russian entente cordiale: Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky

You are likely to appreciate the refinement and dramatic twist of Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky (presented at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival) if films like ‘A Handful of Dust’ and ‘Brideshead Revisited’ are your cup of tea. There seems to be the same scenario of spacious manors, their powerful and charming owners and invités falling under the fatal spell of the place doomed to secret love triangles…

This time it is about a French-Russian cooperation when, after the turmoil of the Bolshevik Revolution, the Stravinsky family sojourn in Paris where Coco Chanel is about to create her signature perfume. The visionary Igor Stravinsky, whose performance in front of the conservative bourgeois audience a few years before had been unsuccessful, is invited to Chanel’s villa to fully focus on his revolutionary music.

The épater le bourgeois logic seems to be closely followed by the next move of both outstanding personalities. Moral questions cannot be avoided, though, while the affair spins forward Stravinsky’s wife is suffering from tuberculosis and their four children remain in the villa. In this respect, the story is truly thought-provoking, as is the contrast of two very different women representing their respective cultures. Independent, self-confident, some will say selfish, talented and brilliant Coco has a dominant voice with her visual, almost graphic, splendour in black and white, the pianist’s colours, created with a little help from Karl Lagerfeld. Catherine, played by the Russian actress Elena Morozova, the composer’s legitimate spouse and mother of his children, remains voiceless most of the time taking the upper hand through humbleness, piousness and, probably, moral superiority.

Anyone who has seen the previous chapter of Coco’s life in ‘Coco Before Chanel’, will be familiar with her tragic love story with Arthur Boy Capel, a rich Englishman who had to marry another woman and, finally, died in a car accident. The path less travelled does not seem to bring much happiness to the self-made woman who never married but was recompensed through fame and fortune, and by becoming a new icon for the women of the 20th century.

Go and see this remarkable intercultural piece to make your own conclusions and discuss it with family and friends as well as practise your French and Russian at the same time and, I’m sure, admire the masterful performance of the French actress Anna Mouglalis. Châpeau !

http://www.vogue.co.uk/news/daily/100726-coco-chanel-and-igor-stravinsky.aspx