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18 Foreign Films We’re Looking Forward To In 2011

18 Foreign Films We're Looking Forward To In 2011

Alright, we’ve already done three Most Anticipated pieces, two Escapist and Popcorn fare pieces and here’s more. Yes, it doesn’t end, here’s more for perhaps what you might call the more discerning reader.

Even if the majority of us won’t see most of these in 2011, festivalgoers will, and a great review for an anticipated film is more than enough to briefly satiate hunger. Oddly enough, compiling the list brought attention to some trends, one being movies by big-time auteurs that appeared on last year’s list — such as “Faust” and “The Turin Horse” — and never saw the light of day in 2010 but should, weather permitting, grace us with their presence in 2011. Another is the Asian art-film hero doing a martial arts movie, as the new year will see favorites Wong Kar-wai, Jia Zhang-ke, and Hou Hsaio-hsien dabbling in karate chops and hadoukens. Predictably, nearly every film listed here has got an eye on Cannes — don’t we all — and we assume whatever doesn’t make it will hit Venice or TIFF. Don’t go looking for things like “Certified Copy” and “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives,” yes they come out in 2011 in the U.S. but we’ve already seen them which means (gulp), yet another feature. Yes, we like to keep ourselves busy.

Other than that it seems like it will be a powerhouse of a year, and if only a fraction of these make it to Cannes we should be in for a treat. After all, something’s gotta make up for that middling Sundance roster.

18. “Little White Lies” – France – dir. Guillaume Canet
Synopsis: A group of friends go on their annual holiday despite the fact that one of their members recently died in a car crash.
What You Need To Know: Following up a taut crime thriller “Tell No One” with a comedy/drama in the vein of “The Big Chill” is a bit of a disappointment, but with the casting of Marion Cotillard and a trailer showcasing some pretty amusing moments (yes it’s in French, but one includes an amusing parody of “The Shining“), this film just might be better than it sounds. Let’s just hope it’s more “A Christmas Tale” than “Dan In Real Life.”
Release Date/Status: April 15, 2011 in U.K.

17. “Chicken with Plums” – France/Germany – dir. Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi
Synopsis: Based on the graphic novel by Satrapi, this live-action film details the last eight days of musician Nasser Ali Khan, uncle of Satrapi.
What You Need To Know: Not only was “Persepolis” a fun, touching, and beautiful animation, it was also nominated for an Oscar and won the Cannes Jury Prize. So why not attempt striking gold twice? The book has gotten positive reviews since it was released in 2006, with most reviewers noting its moving story, great sense of humor, and interesting POV changes which involve the main story told twice. Who knows what they’ll keep and what they’ll shed, though it should be noted that “Persepolis” was extremely faithful to its source material, aside from some chunks that were excised due to time restraints. Extreme bonus points for the casting, which teams Isabella Rossellini and Mathieu Amalric, who are (more often than not) marks of a fantastic movie.
Release Date/Status: Word has been quiet on this one but it’s likely completed and eyeing a Cannes debut.

16. “Dau” – Russia – dir. Ilya Khrjanovsky
Synopsis: An epic biopic focusing on famous Soviet scientist Lev Landau, a Jewish man responsible for a number of breakthroughs in physics.
What You Need To Know: Yes, the plot outline sounds about as enticing as GRE prep course, but for Khrjanovsky, it’s all about execution. His incredible 2005 film “4” showcased his firm grip on the bizarre, such as old women gumming up bread to make dolls, and an ability to entrance with deep symbolism and experimental narrative excursions. We’re down, especially if it means another opening as striking as that one.
Release Date/Status: Missed Cannes 2010, likely going for the 2011 iteration

15. “Elena” – Russiadir. Andrei Zvyaginstev
Synopsis: An aging woman must choose between her wealthy husband or her alcoholic son, whose ailment is sending his family into poverty.
What You Need To Know: It took a very long time for Russia to brew its next Tarkovsky, but better late than never. Palme d’or nominated Zvyaginstev combined the meditative quality of his mentor and mixed in brooding scores, dense religious undertones and Haneke-style thriller plots. Even though the director claims “Elena” will be different from his previous work, his keen visual eye should still be present; expect a compelling experience.
Release Date/Status: Cannes 2011 likely

14. “Post Tenebras Lux” – Mexico – dir. Carlos Reygadas
Synopsis: Described as an expressionist painting with little reason, this will be a semi-autobiographical tale about the director’s feelings, memories, dreams, hopes, and fears.
What You Need To Know: If there’s any director that should be set free of structural shackles, it would have to be Reygadas. His signature loose narratives always allowed him to really explore the small and the weird, so with even less of a logical form (and what sounds like a very personal outlet), “Post” should prove to be a true work of art. Maybe we’d be a bit more questioning (at its worst it could be agonizingly self-indulgent) if his past work weren’t so strong, and particularly if he wasn’t coming off incredible Cannes Jury prize winner “Silent Light.”
Release Date/Status: Announced in Berlin’s 2010 festival, shooting was supposed to have been underway at some point last year.

13. “The Assassin” – Taiwan – dir. Hou Hsiao-Hsien
Synopsis: Set in 8th century China, a female assassin looks to leave her profession behind, incurring the wrath of her mentor.
What You Need To Know: We had this on last year’s list, but things have been quite slow for the Taiwanese director’s foray into the fantasy realm. Shu Qui and Chang Chen reteam with this adaptation of Pei Xing’s 9th Century fantasy short story, “Nie Yin Niang.” Hsaio-Hsien’s trademark wandering eye camera and long, single shot takes should hopefully turn the genre on its head, as should his promised intention to follow the work of Hayao Miyazaki as opposed to typical martial arts conventions. It’s only been four years since his Binoche-lead remake “Flight of the Red Balloon,” but it has certainly felt much longer.
Release Date/Status: Taiwan’s Apple Daily has revealed that it has finally begun a “low-key” shoot in Nara, Japan.

12. “The Turin Horse” – Hungary – dir. Béla Tarr
Synopsis: The poor health of the old work horse of a rural farmer and his daughter compromises their jobs and livelihoods.
What You Need To Know: Cinephiles got a sinking feeling when Bela Tarr announced – at the premiere of his uneven “The Man From London,” no less – that his next film would be his last. Things only got worse when production was halted in 2008 due to an uncharacteristically cold winter, and downright depressing when it didn’t appear in the 2010 iteration of the Cannes festival. Now confirmed for a premiere in 2011, cinemagoers should expect the usual from Tarr (insanely well-composed long takes, oddly compelling minimalism) in this Nietzsche-inspired “Au Hasard Balthazar“-sounding picture.
Release Date/Status: Would Cannes miss an opportunity to showcase the final film from one of the world’s greatest auteurs? Highly doubtful.

11. “Faust” – Russia – dir. Alexander Sokurov
Synopsis: A version of the classic German legend in which a man sells his soul to the devil.
What You Need To Know: Sokurov adds to the list of brilliant filmmakers who have take on the story of “Faust,” setting himself up next to F.W. Murnau and Jan Svankmajer. The director also labels the movie as a closing point to what is now his “tetralogy,” which includes “The Sun,” “Moloch,” and “Taurus.” The prior three have been moody tales that were firmly grounded in realism – it will be interesting to see that approach with the more magical story by Goethe.
Release Date/Status: Supposed to have hit Russian theaters in 2010, this one might be eyeing a festival rollout first.

10. “In the Qing Dynasty” – China – dir. Jia Zhang-ke
Synopsis: A “kung fu epic” set in the early 20th century.
What You Need To Know: Yet another example of an auteur playing in the big leagues, Jia hasn’t changed his mindset to accommodate his first genre jaunt. When asked why he was doing something as different as this project, he explained that he was interested in examining the roots of Chinese modernization; their move from feudal society to their introduction of locomotives and other technologies. It honestly doesn’t sound too different from most of his work, but then there’s that old kung-fu thing. How his patient sensibilities will mesh with action remains to be determined, but if anything it should be an intriguing experiment.
Release Date/Status: Shooting began October 1st.

9. “Surviving Life (Theory and Practice)” – Czech Republic – dir. Jan Svankmajer
Synopsis: Eugene leads a double life, one in reality and one in dreams. When a psychiatrist interprets the latter, the protagonist unearths some unsettling information about his past.
What You Need To Know: Fans of the director’s bat-shit creations won’t be disappointed: the teaser trailer dropped and, though not subtitled, showcased the same affinity for disturbing sound design and stop motion animation that we’ve all come to know and love. Sporting a seemingly lighter tone than 2005’s horror, “Lunacy,” some reports claim it to be extraordinary and the director at his finest, showcasing much humor and enjoyment. Also, the majority of the film is animation, as explained in a introduction monologue by Jan himself. One thing’s for sure, there’ll be none like it, not this year and probably not ever.
Release Date/Status: Appeared in Venice 2010, likely to have a small festival rollout in 2011.

8. “The Sleeping Unit” – Germany – dir. Ulrich Kohler
Synopsis: Velten is in Africa studying a sleeping sickness while his wife, Vera, yearns to be back in Germany with their 14-year-old daughter. Velten is struck with fear and subsequent fatigue as the day of his return home approaches rapidly.
What You Need To Know: Few have gotten the chance to see Kohler’s excellent “Windows On Monday,” the reserved attack on middle-class materialistic life that he completed in 2006, but that remains undistributed. His style owes more than a little to fellow filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and this one – the inability to return to industrial society after languishing in the nature of Africa – is no different, sharing much of the Thai director’s disposition and ideas. That said, his sharp criticism of modern life and society is firmly rooted in his home country; he’s just one of the German film-makerswho seems to have the impression that people are akin to the living dead, coasting along with little ambition and few values. The story won’t be cheery, but his wide angle lens is sure to capture the sheer beauty of the African continent.
Release Date/Status: Shooting is expected to end at some point in 2011. Maybe this one will receive more love.

7. In A Better World” – Denmark – dir. Susanne Bier
Synopsis: The lives of two Danish families cross each other, and an extraordinary but risky friendship comes into bud. However, loneliness, frailty and sorrow lie in wait.
What You Need To Know: Susanne Bier doesn’t really get that much mainstream or even international name recognition, but “After the Wedding” (starring Mads Mikkelsen) was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2007, her 2004 drama, “Brødre” was remade into “Brothers” last year by Jim Sheridan (it could not top the original despite strong performances) and 2007’s “Things We Lost in the Fire” starring Benicio Del Toro and Halle Berry — her English-language feature debut — was right up there with all the criminally overlooked films that came out that year (it was also Berry’s best performance since “Monster’s Ball” in what has become an incredibly dodgy career). For ‘Better World’ she’s gone back to her Danish roots in a picture about revenge and forgiveness that stars Swedish actor Mikael Persbrandt (he also scored a role in “The Hobbit” this year) and Trine Dyrholm, perhaps best remembered for starring in Thomas Vinterberg‘s 1998 Dogme 95 film, “The Celebration.” A family drama that sounds like it has deep consequences, Bier’s films generally pull no emotional punches, so we’re hope she continues her winning streak here.
Release Date: Premieres in the U.S. at Sundance 2011, hits theaters properly April 2011.

6. “Loverboy” – Romania – dir. Catalin Mitulescu
Synopsis: Luca seduces women and sends them to a human trafficking network – the process called “falling in love” and the position called “loverboy.” A girl named Veli changes that when Luca actually falls in love with her.
What You Need To Know: After some producing gigs, the nearly-Oscar-nominated director returns with his first directorial gig since 2006’s “The Way I Spent the End of the World.” Beautiful and earnest, the new project sounds like it will showcase a darker side of Mitulescu, which worked wonders for BFF Cristian Mungiu who followed the goofy comedy “Occident” with the unforgettable Palme d’Or winning “4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days.” Will Mitulescu be as successful? Hopefully: though the tired premise in which a guy changes his ways for a girl is questionable, it might prove a necessary expose of the human trafficking underworld of Romania, just as “Blind Mountain” was for China.
Release Date/Status: Set for release “at the end of May 2011” according to Ioncinema.

5. “Love” – France – dir. Michael Haneke
Synopsis: Long term love will be put to the test when elderly woman Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) suffers a paralyzing stroke, which affects both her husband George (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and daughter (Isabelle Huppert).
What You Need To Know: The formerly canceled “These Two” returns with a more straightforward title, set for a 40-day shoot in February. It’s an exciting prospect for the veteran director to not only amass this kind of talent (a who’s-who of French auteur cinema), but also to tackle a new topic thoroughly different from his mainstays of violence, media, and video/film.
Release Date/Status: A February start date makes a Cannes premiere very rough, but for the guy who did a shot-for-shot remake of one of his most controversial films, anything’s possible.

4. “L’Empire” – France – dir. Bruno Dumont
Synopsis: A village loner who kills a girl’s violent father and aids a kid with seizures is revealed to be more than he seems after a miracle.
What You Need To Know: Time to be candid: we’re not the biggest fans of Dumont. His philosophies and ideas are certainly appealing, but they seem to work better on paper than on screen; for our money he’s just a lesser Michael Haneke. That said, “Hadewijch” is leaps and bounds in the right direction and sits as his best work since “The Life of Jesus.” Hopefully his ascent will continue; the premise certainly sounds meaty, especially if he can avoid the cold emptiness that his lesser films were plagued with.
Release Date/Status: Filming happened in August and it should appear in the 2011 festival circuit.

3. “Paradise“/”In the Cellar” – Austria – dir. Ulrich Seidl
Synopsis: Three stories following women; one as a sex tourist, one converting people to Catholicism, and one at a diet camp. Outlines the relationship between Austrians and their cellars, digging into what is peculiar about their bond together.
What You Need To Know: Those unfamiliar with Ulrich Seidl‘s 2007 gem “Import/Export” are missing out as it’s a haunting take on loneliness and the harshness of the working world, shot with an unflinching eye and knack for showcasing both the ugly and the beautiful. Definitely not a feelgood film (but also the furthest thing from a tearjerker), its demanding visuals and parallel stories are undeniably affecting. Simply put, the prospect of two new features from Seidl in 2011 is an early Christmas gift, and the plots don’t sound like they’ll disappoint. “Paradise” will expand on the parallel storytelling found in “Import/Export,” and “In The Cellar” harkens back to Seidl’s days as a documentarian. The latter is definitely the weaker of the two, but the director has a penchant for discovering very odd, poignant moments out of the ordinary, so it remains a hopeful project.
Relase Date/Status: Both started shooting in February of 2010, “In the Cellar” took a brief hiatus for research, it should be completed now.

2. “Oslo, 31 August” – Norway – dir. Joachim Trier
Synopsis: After leaving drug rehab, a man reinstates himself in Oslo and encounters friends, family, and loves — all while he attempts to find a reason to continue living.
What You Need To Know: Joachim Trier was behind the vastly underrated and underseen “Reprise,” a Bergman-on-a-sugar-high tale pulsating with energy and emotion. Though the newest logline sounds a lot like his first — disappointingly so — we’re sure it won’t be so identical onscreen and are eager to see his style develop. Also of note is that the script is based on “The Fire Within,” a novel by Pierre Drieu La Rochelle which has already been made into a film by the venerable Louis Malle. Hopefully this relation will attract newer audiences to this deserving talent.
Release Date/Status: Now in post-production.

1. “Set Me Free” – Belgium – dir. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
Synopsis: A young boy is abandoned by his father and entrusted to an unwitting woman, played by “Hereafter’sCecile de France.
What You Need To Know: While information on this project is scarce, shooting was set to take place over summer and in July it was not only given a name, but also added Dardenne regular Jeremie Renier (also in “Summer Hours“). Eyeing a Cannes debut, the brothers are generally very consistent in the quality of their output, and we’re interested to see what they can pull out of de France, who was rather dismissible in Eastwood’s latest.
Release Date/Status: Shooting has wrapped, Cannes possibility.

Honorable Mentions
Cesar holder Philippe Claudel is following up his heart-wrenching “I’ve Loved You So Long” with… an Italian comedy. Huh? The picture will be titled “All The Suns” and will feature “8 1/2” hottie Anouk Aimee. Speaking of Italian comedy, Nanni Moretti, (you know, “Italy’s Woody Allen“) is readying “We Have a Pope,” centering on the pope and his psychiatrist. Any reminder of “Analyze This” should be mentally rejected. Hirokazu Koreeda (“Nobody Knows“) will return with “Miracle,” the story of two siblings in different cities who dream of reuniting via the bullet train. Koreeda was hoping to base the script off of his actors, so we should be treated to real slice-of-life charm and cute little tykes. French director Andre Techine is in post for “Impardonnables,” based on the successful book by Philippe Dijan that will star French thespian Andre Dussollier. Despite the book’s popularity and the near completion of the project, we can’t find a synopsis of the story: any French-speaking cinephiles around? Manoel de Oliveira will stop at nothing to continue his breakneck pace of output, shooting “A Igreja do Diabo” which follows a student staying at a house of an unfaithful man, a piece of knowledge that everyone holds including his wife… trouble alert! As for Wong Kar Wai’s‘s “The Grand Master,” and new films by Pedro Almodovar and Lars von Trier, we’ve already covered them here. You can bet their forthcoming films are in our hopes and dreams.

Not Enough Information
Expect a new film by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, who announced he was returning to the horror genre but left details at home. Both “My Joy” director Sergei Loznitza and “Alamar” helmer Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio were invited to the Cinemart to seek funding for their next projects (“In the Fog” and “Tree Shade,” respectively), but information on both of them is nil, only time will tell if they’re progressing or not. Finally, though there’s absolutely no information that would attest to Hong Sang-soo having a new feature, his quick work ethic produced two films (“Hahaha” and “Oki’s Movie“) in 2010 so we’re going to assume that he will pop up at least one of the bigger festivals with his Rohmer-inspired pieces.

Director of the energetic neo-Western “Tears of the Black Tiger” and the oddball “Citizen Dog,” Wisit Sasanatieng took 2010 to shoot a revival of an old Thai serial featuring a costumed hero “Red Eagle.” General reservations on super-hero movies were put aside considering his oeuvre, but poor reviews and a lackluster performance in its native country not only put interest to bed, but also eliminated any legitimate way to see it.

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