Hollywood Reporter Critics Pick the Best Foreign-Language Films of 2017

5:30 AM 12/20/2017

by THR Staff

From a Chilean character study about a grieving trans woman to a French cannibal flick, a scathing indictment of Israeli military culture, a hushed Japanese family drama and more, here are the best foreign-language movies of the year.

From left, 'Raw,' 'BPM (Beats Per Minute),' 'Loveless'
From left, 'Raw,' 'BPM (Beats Per Minute),' 'Loveless'
Courtesy of Focus Features; Courtesy of The Orchard; Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

  1. 10
    10

    The Square

    Tobias Henriksson/Magnolia

    Swedish writer-director Ruben Ostlund (Force Majeure) delivers a madly ambitious satire centering on a Swedish museum curator (Claes Bang), an exhibit, a stolen phone and an American journalist (Elisabeth Moss). The movie's overlong, but it remains a potent, disturbing work that provocatively explores the boundaries of political correctness, artistic liberty and free speech. — Todd McCarthy

  2. 9
    10

    Graduation

    Courtesy of Mobra Films

    Cristian Mungiu's study of a Romanian father who goes to great lengths to protect his daughter's academic future is a quieter, cooler work than his usual. But the filmmaker has a technical mastery of his craft that is so effortless, so subtle, and so insidiously naturalistic that even a restrained, emotionally measured work like this is more interesting and provocative than many another director's best effort. — Leslie Felperin

  3. 8
    10

    The Wound

    Courtesy of Sundance Institute/Urucu Media

    When one character asks another, at a heated moment in this unsettling coming-of-age drama from South Africa, "Is it really such an important instrument?," he's referring to the male sexual organ. It's a question at once rhetorical and earnest, and one that finds no easy answers in this sensitive, at times harrowing, exploration of conflicting notions of masculinity. Set among the Xhosa ethnic group during an initiation ritual that's not supposed to be discussed, let alone depicted on the big screen, John Trengove's first feature takes real chances, delivering a troubling portrait of the collision between communal and personal identity. — Sheri Linden

  4. 7
    10

    After the Storm

    Courtesy of TIFF

    A young divorced dad tries to get back into the good graces of his ex-wife and son in this classic Japanese family drama of gentle persuasion and staggering simplicity from Kore-eda Hirokazu. A bittersweet peek into the human comedy, the movie has a subtler charm than flashier works from the director, like his child-swapping fable Like Father, Like Son, but the filmmaking is so exquisite and the acting so beautifully calibrated it sticks with you.  — Deborah Young

  5. 6
    10

    Loveless

    Courtesy of Telluride Film Festival

    With his devastating, finely layered new drama, director Andrey Zvyagintsev (Leviathan) again demonstrates his remarkable gift for creating perfectly formed dramatic microcosms that illustrate the bred-in-the-bone pathologies of Russian society. Pivoting around a miserable middle-class family of three on the verge of complete dissolution, Loveless takes the tale of a child's disappearance and builds it into a rich, visually rigorous parable. — Leslie Felperin

  6. 5
    10

    Foxtrot

    Courtesy of TIFF

    Samuel Maoz's second film (after the acclaimed Lebanon) takes its place among the boldest, angriest critiques of contemporary Israel, specifically the army's use of immature young people to carry out its political agenda. Revolving around the grieving parents of a deceased soldier, the movie depicts contemporary Israel as a very surreal place, but one causing genuine pain and psychological damage. Foxtrot's originality lies in its difficult, intense narration, but Maoz doesn't seem to worry about losing some puzzled viewers along the way with comprehension issues; the film is divided into three unequal parts that fit together powerfully after a while. — Deborah Young

  7. 4
    10

    Raw

    Photofest

    This cleverly written, impressively made, incredibly gory French thriller is about a young woman’s awakening to the pleasures of the flesh, in all senses of the term. Picture The Texas Chainsaw Massacre as an emotional coming-of-age movie set at a veterinarian college, and you'll get an idea of what Julia Ducournau's feature debut is like. The terrific cast throws itself into the maelstrom of blood, guts and unfettered sexual discovery with captivating commitment.  — Jordan Mintzer

  8. 3
    10

    The Other Side of Hope

    Courtesy of Telluride Film Festival

    Aki Kaurismaki's first feature in six years is a bittersweet comedy-drama about the unlikely friendship between a Syrian refugee and a low-rent Helsinki restaurateur. If the title, taken literally, suggests despair and dejection, it's difficult to imagine anyone coming away from this gorgeous film without feeling gentle elation sparked by the story's evidence of human kindness amid cruelty and indifference. This is a world that reeks of cigarette smoke and cheap vodka, yet as always in the work of Finland's maestro of droll melancholy, the perfume that lingers longest is empathy. — David Rooney

  9. 2
    10

    BPM (Beats Per Minute)

    Courtesy of The Orchard

    France's Robin Campillo mines his past as a member of AIDS activist organization ACT UP in 1990s Paris in this moving drama of politics, passion and loss. As he proved in his screenplay for 2008 Cannes winner The Class, Campillo has a terrific ear for the volatile currents of group discussion. But it's the gently blossoming romance between two of the ACT UP members — a newcomer (Arnaud Valois) and a radical (the superb Nahuel Perez Biscayart) — that gives the film its human heartbeat. — David Rooney

  10. 1
    10

    A Fantastic Woman

    Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

    Chilean director Sebastian Lelio's film is a work of searing empathy, tracing the emergence from devastating grief of a transgender protagonist (the superb Daniela Vega) who's treated like a criminal in the wake of her older partner's abrupt death. Shocking and enraging, funny and surreal, rapturous and restorative, this is a film of startling intensity and sinuous mood shifts wrapped in a rock-solid coherence of vision. While it's very much of the moment in terms of trans-rights issues, what's perhaps most remarkable about A Fantastic Woman is that not a word of direct advocacy is spoken. Any trace of the agenda movie is subsumed in pulsing human drama. — David Rooney

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