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Monday, March 20, 2000
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Volume 65, Issue 114

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Foreign films provide window into diverse global community

By Kunal Mishra
Daily Cougar Staff

Every year beyond the shores of America there are hundreds and thousands of films released by actors, directors and writers who are unknown here, but have a wealth of talent and innovation. 

The past decade has seen foreign films that have mesmerized audiences. Foreign movies enable us to relate to and understand the issues that are being confronted around the world.


Sergio Strizzi/Miramax Films


Life Is Beautiful, considered by many one of the greatest foreign films ever made, stars the zany Roberto Benigni.

There is a wealth of foreign films I have yet to see; however, the top five movies I have chosen for the 90s are probably able to stand their own ground among them. 

They each deal with different topics, but they are unified by being great movies. The movies are listed in descending order.

5) Open Your Eyes (Spain, 1997)

What is real and what is an illusion? It is hard to distinguish between the two in Open Your Eyes. A young playboy (Eduardo Noriega) survives a car crash perpetrated by his ex-girlfriend. 

He has to live with a permanently disfigured face; meanwhile, his luck with the girl that he met before the crash (Penelope Cruz) has diminished and his best friend is staying detached. 

The question is whether this really happened? He is at a psychiatric ward with a mask on his face recounting the events with his psychiatrist. In truth, was he the one that killed his ex-girlfriend? Did he restore his face back to its original appearance? All the various scenarios are shown. 

The audience and the actors in the movie have to figure out what is real. Open Your Eyes might appear confusing, but the intriguing suspense carries on until the end. 

4) Children of Heaven (Iran, 1998)

The simplicity of Children of Heaven is what makes the movie attractive. A brother and sister (Mir Farrokh Hashemian and Bahare Seddiqi) who come from a modest background have a dilemma to deal with. 

The brother has accidentally lost his sister's shoes. In order to avoid punishment from their parents, the two siblings have to find a way to protect their secret. They are innocent children who realize their parents do not have a lot of money. Writer/director Majid Majidi has created a film full of richness out of a simple and unassuming subject matter. Hashemian and Seddiqi are talented child actors. Children of Heaven received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film.

3) Damini (India, 1993)

A newlywed wife (Meenakshi Sheshadri) is confronted with a shock of reality after her marriage. Her brother-in-law and his friends gang rape the family's servant. She tries to fight for the victim's rights and make sure that the accused are punished, but there are obstacles that she must overcome. 

Luckily, she runs into a washed-out lawyer (Sunny Deol) who agrees to help her. Deol's acting in the courtroom is unforgettable. 

Both Sheshadri and Deol make a great acting pair in Damini. Director Raj Kumar Santoshi was an assistant for the 80s classic about police corruption, Aardh Satya, which launched the career of internationally known Om Puri

(City of Joy, Wolf, My Son the Fanatic).

2) Bitter Sugar (Cuba, 1996)

A young communist (Rene Lavan) in Havana is enthusiastic about Fidel Castro's regime, although he slowly starts to witness how everything is crumbling around him. 

His musician brother (Larry Villanueva) is sent to an AIDS camp after intentionally infecting the HIV virus into himself as a form of protest. His father (Miguel Gutierrez) has given up psychiatry for more money as a piano player in a hotel. And his girlfriend (Mayte Vilan) has turned to prostitution. 

He realizes that the country's priorities are with appearance and tourist money, rather than the well-being of its people. Bitter Sugar is completely in black and white, which provides a forceful impact to the movie. 

Lavan, Villanueva and Gutierrez are outstanding. Especially noteworthy are Lavan's facial expressions, which reveal the emotions that are running through his head. Writer/ director Leon Ichaso has done an excellent job with Bitter Sugar.

1) Life is Beautiful (Italy, 1998)

I don't know where to begin to describe the greatness of this movie.

An Italian Jewish man (Roberto Benigni), his wife (Nicoletta Braschi) and his son (Giorgio Cantarini) are sent to a concentration camp by the Nazis. The father doesn't want his son to find out the truth, so he pretends it is a game. He tries to shield his son from the real evils that exist. 

Benigni is magnificent as he switches between a humorous facade and a face that shows his real feelings of pain from being in a horrific situation. 

Cantarini does a good job as an innocent boy. Benigni directed and co-wrote (with Vincent Cerami) Life is Beautiful. The movie received an Oscar for Best Foreign Film and Benigni for Best Actor. 

Life is Beautiful

is nothing short of a masterpiece.
 

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