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What Ever Happened To These 5 Foreign-Language Filmmakers?

What Ever Happened To These 5 Foreign-Language Filmmakers?

Generally you can find plenty of information about your favorite stateside filmmaker, and depending on who they are (see: David Gordon Green), you can find a long list of potential upcoming projects to investigate. But being head-over-heels for a foreign director is a different story — without the Hollywood system or independent film cliques to generate word of mouth or gossip, you can spend years without hearing a peep from even the biggest festival sweethearts, and only last week were were discussing around the Playlist water cooler where some of our favorite international filmmakers had gone in the last few years.

As we were pondering the status of these auteurs, good news hit the trades: Arnaud Desplechin‘s adaptation of Georges Devereux‘s “Psychotherapy Of A Plains Indianfound a star in Benicio Del Toro and would be shooting June 18th in Michigan. Titled “Jimmy Picard,” Del Toro would play the Plains Indian character who suffers from inexplicable medical problems after World War II and begins sessions with author/ethno-psychiatrist Devereux (Mathieu Amalric). With Desplechin in mind, we took a look at four other directors who struck a chord yet promptly disappeared from the spotlight. Have any favorites we missed? Sound off in the comments section.    

Lucretia Martel
Who: Argentina’s premiere filmmaker often regarded as the Argentinian David Lynch for some inexplicable reason. Yes, her films are odd, but more psychologically disorienting then as outwardly weird as Lynch can be.
Years Away From The Game:  Four. Her last film was the critically acclaimed “The Headless Woman” which screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 2008 and made our year end list that year.
What Happened: Even before Martel’s ‘Headless Woman’ premiered Stateside, she was already talking about her next would-be project, an ambitious sci-fi film about an alien invasion based off an popular Argentine comic book called “El Eternauta.” It all seemed to be moving ahead nicely (she was said to be writing after Cannes 2008) but as it turns out, she had conceptual differences with the producers and then left the project. So then three years later there’s been nary a peep from the filmmaker other than having recently directed a spooky short film called “Muta” for fashion brand Miu Miu’s “The Women’s Tales” series (watch it below). Whether the director is writing a new script or weighing offers remains unclear at the moment.
What To Watch: Everything she’s ever made. Martel only has three films to her name, so catch up shouldn’t be difficult. Marked by their use of sound, an unnerving approach to film grammar that tends to put the viewer on subtle unease (she doesn’t use establishing shots for one), a social and class perspective, plus a disquieting psychological anxiety throughout, all of Martel’s films are fascinating, utterly engrossing, and burrow deep into your head like a psychosis while you’re watching them. “The Holy Girl” (exec produced by Pedro Almodóvar) is a very disquieting coming of age/sexuality tale imbued with religious fervor and “La Cienaga” (“The Swamp“) deals with the disturbing issues between a self-medicated bourgeois family, their daughters and unappreciated servants. Not only a deeply unique and idiosyncratic voice in international cinema (which made her one to instantly watch years ago), Martel creates rich stories for female characters so we’d imagine adventurous actresses like Tilda Swinton or Nicole Kidman should give her a ring and ask the filmmaker to conceive a story for them; a move that would surely benefit them all. Or better yet, she’ll meet Rooney Mara, an actress who was seemingly born to star in her films.

Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Who: One of the preeminent filmmakers in the Japanese J-horror scene from the late 90s and aughts, watching the maverick Kurosawa genre-bend and blend, from thrillers to creepy intelligent horror, to oblique and wonderfully strange  psychological horror, to drama and back again has been as exciting as witnessing any incandescent newcomer in cinema land on the scene. Widely regarded as one of the most talented filmmakers of New Japanese Cinema, he unfortunately doesn’t get the same amount of interest that someone like Takashi Miike does (and no, there’s no relation to Akira Kurosawa).
Years Away From The Game:  Four. Kurosawa also premiered his last film, “Tokyo Sonata” at the Cannes Film Festival in 2008 to much acclaim  where it won the Jury Prize  in the Un Certain Regard section), but the picture mostly fell on deaf ears upon its limited stateside release the following year outside of a few appreciative arthouses (again, it made our best of 2009 list).
What Happened: While “Tokyo Sonata” was arguably a horror of sorts — imagine watching your beloved family tear apart in what felt like an excruciating slow-motion — Kurosawa was clearly testing the limits of genre as the film, for all real intents and purposes, was a masterfully crafted psychological drama (or trauma). And it makes us wonder if Kurosawa split his audience in doing so and or perhaps puzzled financial backers in Japan, but the picture is his best work and shows a filmmaker constantly willing to experiment, progress and grow. Then again, genre fluidity and blending has always been a cornerstone of Kurosawa’s work so perhaps he’s just waiting for inspiration and or a production check to clear. As of right now it remains uncertain what Kurosawa’s next feature-length effort will be and when it will arrive, but perhaps we’ll eventually see the television mini-series he directed “Redemption” (aka “Shokuzai“) that debuted in early 2012 in Japan.
What To Watch: Although horror fans will likely stick with “Pulse” and “The Loft” as their fave Kurosawa picks, it’s really his post-traditional J-horror work that is his most remarkable. “Charisma,” essentially about a toxic tree in what is potentially a haunted forest, which one could reductively call an ecological horror, is an unforgettable and haunting picture.  The enigmatic 1997 serial killer film “Cure” is a genuinely frightening exploration of post-modern identity. And the surreal dystopian love story “Barren Illusion” and the black comedy cum psychological thriller “Doppelganger” are also good places to start.

Arnaud Desplechin
Who: French filmmaker who frequently employs big French fish notables: Catherine Deneuve, Mathieu Amalric, Chiara Mastroianni, and László Szabó among others.
Years Away From The Game: “A Christmas Tale” hit Cannes in 2008 as a contender for the Palme d’Or while also cropping up on many, many year-end lists.
What Happened: Desplechin has been dealing them out consistently for awhile — “Playing ‘In the Company of Men‘” was in 2003, with “Kings and Queens” following a short year afterwards, and both “L’Aimée” and “A Christmas Tale” similarly cropped up soon afterwards. “Jimmy Picard” was announced some time back in 2010, so while it was always cooking, it seems that it either needed a bit more time on the burner or the filmmaker was hoping for a top name to carry the project — something he got in Del Toro, for sure.
What To Watch: If you haven’t seen “A Christmas Tale” yet, (1) we’re surprised and (2) go do it. Family as a subject can be painfully trite nowadays, but ‘Tale’ is both amusing and affecting with terrific performances from its entire cast. “Kings and Queen” is also a solid effort, also featuring an unbeatable Amalric and Emmanuelle Devos.

Kanji Nakajima
Who: Japanese filmmaker that struck Sundance with “The Clone Returns Home,” a sci-fi tale in vein of Andrei Tarkovsky‘s “Solaris” and “Mirror.”
Years Away From The Game: ‘Clone’ was in 2008, so we’ve had a four year period of silence.
What Happened: It’s hard to say, really, because there isn’t much information out there on either the filmmaker or ‘Clone’ aside from reviews. Quiet, slow-paced cinema can bud passionate champions, though they generally are few in number and that’s to say nothing about the science fiction conceit which also unfortunately limits its audience (one look at the glossy, generic Japanese DVD cover will probably hint at how much hope they had for it). All that aside, Nakajima has been working since 1994 and has amassed a scant three pictures, the latter two dealing with fantasy elements that likely cost a pretty penny, so it’s safe to assume that while he probably takes his time with his screenplays, it’s difficult to fund his meditative work. He was able to find an executive producer in Wim Wenders for his last effort, so a new project isn’t out of the cards if he’s able to build that kind of relationship again.
What To Watch: If you can find his first two flicks (“Fe” and “The Box”), have at it, but we’d really recommend ‘Clone.’ Aside from the Tarkovsky lauds, it’s a philosophically-rich, highly moving film for those who froth at the mouth for brilliantly composed long takes. Sure, we’re few, but we’re definitely out there.

Denys Arcand
Who: Arguably Quebec’s most successful director, Arcand broke out internationally with “The Decline of The American Empire” in 1986, and followed it up fairly swiftly with the controversial, but strong, “Jesus Of Montreal” (1989). He’s had three of Canada’s five best Foreign Language Oscar nominations, including winning for “The Barbarian Invasions,” his best known film, in 2003, as well as picking up a nod for Best Original Screenplay that year too.
Years Away From The Game: It’s been five years since “The Age Of Ignorance” (also known as “Days Of Darkness“) closed Cannes in May 2007.
What Happened: Well, the reception for “The Age Of Ignorance,” which completed the trilogy of ‘American Empire’ and “The Barbarian Invasions,” was pretty cool at Cannes (as is so often the case for closing films), and even the Academy, who arguably love him more than the critics, snubbed him for the project. Arcand’s 70 now, and the savaging may have lessened his desire to work somewhat, as there’s barely been a whisper of another feature project since, as far as we can tell. That being said, there have been signs of life, including a cameo alongside fellow Canadian legend David Cronenberg in “Barney’s Version” a few years back. And at the start of this year, to mark the 150th anniversary of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, a retrospective of his work was featured at Montreal’s lone arthouse, Cinéma du Parc, and he produced some new work including a short film made in collaboration with artist Adad Hannah, entitled “Safari.” It’s… not in the top class of his work, perhaps, but it’s at least a sign that more work might be on the way.
What To Watch: “The Barbarian Invasions” is probably the best intro to his work — it’s certainly his most accessible film. “Jesus Of Montreal” is probably a good call, though perhaps not around your religious auntie.

Otherwise, two of the more high-profile missing cases should be returning fairly soon: Juan Antonio Bayona, who made an excellent debut with Guillermo Del Toro-produced ghost story “The Orphanage,” has been away for five years, but has a highly promising follow-up on the way with the English-language tsunami drama “The Impossible,” with Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor. Meanwhile, after a pair of terrific films with “Time Out” and “Heading South,” Laurent Cantet won the Palme D’Or at Cannes in 2008 for “Entre les murs,” or “The Class,” which also picked up a Foreign Language Oscar nod. He’s been absent for a while, but his version of Joyce Carol Oates‘ “Foxfire” is due later in the year, and is almost a dead cert to play in Toronto.

As for those we haven’t heard from in a while, it’s four years since Gotz Spielmann‘s Oscar-nominated “Revanche” without more from the Austrian director, and four since Hou Hsiao-Hsien‘s “Flight of the Red Balloon” — he’s meant to be working on an eagerly-awaited martial arts project called “The Assassin,” but the start date seems to be put back every time it gets close to being made, and there’s no sign if it’s actualy gone before cameras. Also M.I.A: Li Yang, who’s had difficulties with the Chinese authorities, and hasn’t made anything since 2007’s “Blind Mountain” (a close to the trilogy started with “Blind Shaft,” entitled “Blind River” was in the works, but hasn’t materialized), while “Goodbye, Dragon Inn” director Tsai Ming-liang has been absent since 2009’s French-language Cannes entry “Face.”

– Christopher Bell, RP & Oliver Lyttelton

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