One of the greatest pleasures to be derived from watching films is the ability to travel to places you'd never be able to see otherwise. Aside from fantastical universes, the wealth of world cinema allows you to take a trip around the world with the simple click of your remote.
We've gone through the catalogue on Netflix UK and found the 15 best foreign films now available to stream. No passport required.
The Bicycle Thieves
Considered not only one of the greatest foreign films ever but also one of the greatest films ever period, this tale of a man searching for his lost bicycle sounds simplistic on paper but is about so much more. Set in post-WWII Rome, themes of unemployment and poverty as well as the bond between a father and his son are richly explored and complement each other beautifully.
DID YOU KNOW? It won a special Oscar for Most Outstanding Foreign Film a full seven years before that category became official
Sticking with Italy here, this is a slightly more saccharine offering but one that's still virtually impossible not to fall for. It's charming in its old-fashioned and unashamed traditionalism as it tells the tale of a director looking back on his life and it happily ticks all of the boxes you'd expect from such a familiar yet comfortably well-handled set-up. It won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film and provided a major boost to the Italian film industry.
DID YOU KNOW? There are three versions of the film: the original Cannes-screened 155-minute version, the 123-minute international release and the 173-minute director's cut.
If you've seen, and enjoyed, The Hunger Games, then you owe a hearty back slap to the creators of this Japanese thriller which, back in 2000, paved the way for Katniss and her cohorts. The gleefully gruesome story of a class of students taken to an island to kill each other until only one remains is an inspired bloodbath which manages to make some smart satirical jabs in amongst all the killing. It was deservedly a huge hit in Japan and spwaned a less well-received sequel Battle Royale II: Requiem.
DID YOU KNOW? The film was post-converted to 3D for a 10th anniversary theatrical release in Japan and there is a rumour of a US TV series in development.
City of God
A huge breakout hit back in 2002, this Brazilian crime drama arrived at Cannes out of nowhere and announced director Fernando Meirelles as a major talent. Its vibrant take on organised crime and how it is viewed through the eyes of a young narrator still remains as fresh and as shocking as it was the first time round. While Meirelles might have stumbled since, this remains a timeless classic which deservedly scooped him an Oscar nomination.
DID YOU KNOW? Despite the impressive cast, only one of them was actually a professional actor
Weak stomach? Overly attached to cephalopods? Oldboy isn’t one for you. Trust us. Don’t even attempt it. For everyone else, prepare to be blown away by one of the cruellest, most entertaining exports of South Korean cinema. Quiet, genial Oh Dae-Su (Min-sik Choi) is kidnapped, locked in a dingy flat for 15 years without a word of explanation. Released in similarly abrupt fashion, Dae-Su discovers his kidnapper is actively seeking a confrontation – and that his suffering is far from over...
DID YOU KNOW? During the infamous octopus scene, a worrying four were eaten while still alive, which is commonplace in Korea.
Although it might best be known now as the film which launched a million memes, Oliver Hirschbiegel's fascinating look at Adolf Hitler is a film with a lot more going on than that. Bruno Ganz delivers a stunning, terrifying portrayal of a man consumed with power and we get a closer look at a character often thinly sketched in the majority of WWII films. It received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.
DID YOU KNOW? Most of Ganz's lines were actually spoken by Hitler as the makers were keen for a level of historical accuracy so used many official documents.
It's quite hard to describe the plot of Holy Motors, because there isn't one really. It's, to a certain extent, about a man who keeps changing into different people throughout the course of his day. But it's not really about that at all. It's more just a mad dash through the funny, mad mind of director Leos Carax. Think of something like living in someone else's dream, but not one of those boring ones that people always want to describe to you even though you don't care.
DID YOU KNOW? The part played by Eva Mendes was originally intended for Kate Moss, but she turned it down because she was getting married.
Blue Is The Warmest Colour
If your heart doesn't break at some point during Abdellatif Kechiche's coming of age story then you might want to take it somewhere to get looked at. The story of Adele includes her coming to terms with her confusing sexuality, finding love, losing love and then maybe finding it again, over three hours that are sumptuously shot and shatteringly believable. If you only know it for the sex scenes then you don't know it at all.
DID YOU KNOW? Adèle Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux only read the script once and were then asked to improvise their scenes based on what the script suggested.
I Am Love
Sticking in Italy, this gloriously mounted melodrama rises above an often soapy plot thanks to the exquisite direction and a compelling lead performance from Tilda Swinton. Swinton plays the repressed wife of a wealthy businessman who finds herself falling for a chef. Italy has never been more beautiful on screen and every single detail of the film is brilliantly and vibrantly brought to life by Swinton and director Luca Guadagnino.
DID YOU KNOW? Swinton plays a Russian woman living in Italy so learnt both languages for the role.
Beyond The Hills
The second film on the list for director Cristian Mungiu (his first being 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days) is perhaps not quite as accessible but, given some patience, it's just as rewarding. Taking on another difficult subject, this story of two friends and their differing faith carries a bleak power that slowly creeps up on you as the events unfold onscreen. It does for exorcism what 4 Months did for abortion. And if that appeals then this is for you...
DID YOU KNOW? The film is based on a real life story of an exorcism gone wrong.
Arguably a more effective take on the plot of Captain Phillips, this less high-profile thriller is well worth biting your nails off for. It follows a Danish cargo ship that is beset by Somali pirates and the ensuing struggle for survival. Although it works as a study in suspense, it never conforms to genre stereotypes or flashy theatrics but instead maintains a tight focus on a group of working men who are trying to make it out alive. Even though this isn't based on a true story, you'll believe every frame.
DID YOU KNOW? As the film was made on a shoestring budget, the filmmakers cast young Somali men from Mombasa and real sailors.
Any given film about WWII is always guaranteed to be a difficult watch but what makes Lore even more harrowing is that it focuses on the children of the conflict. Five German children must find their way across a war-torn country to get to their grandmother. It's given another fascinating dimension as their parents are Nazis and the journey forces them to re-examine what they thought was right. It might be hard to endure at times but it's never less than utterly compelling.
DID YOU KNOW? Australian director Cate Shortland shot the film in Germany and in German but doesn't speak the language.
The Great Beauty
Back to Italy again with this entertaining character study of a 65-year-old man involved in a love affair with the city of Rome. While you shouldn't arrive to this one expecting much drama, there's a wealth of pleasures to enjoy. As our hedonistic protagonist looks back on his life, we're treated to a stunning portrait of a city and director Paolo Sorrentino has a skillful grasp on place, taking us all the way to Rome without ever having to leave our sofa. It won Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars.
DID YOU KNOW? The first cut of the movie was 190-minutes long.
Director Michael Haneke is known for his chilly, often cruel, output that alienates many viewers but with this Oscar-winning drama, he showed something new: humanity. The story of an elderly couple dealing with the onset of death is tough but ultimately uplifting, showing that the true meaning of love lies in the unsentimental. It deservedly brought Haneke a wider audience and boasts two haunting performances from Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, who was Oscar-nominated.
DID YOU KNOW? Riva slept on set during production as she hated the idea of travelling through the city.
Thanks to a belated stateside release, this devastating Danish drama only just picked up a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at this year's Oscars. A much deserved one, we should add. Mads Mikkelsen stars as a man who works at a nursery school who finds himself falsely accused of molesting a young girl. As the town turns against him, he struggles to maintain what's left of his life. It's utterly gut-wrenching viewing but undeniably gripping and features a powerhouse turn from Mikkelsen.
DID YOU KNOW? It's currently placed 124th in IMDb's top 250 films ever, voted by users.
(Images: All Star)