The Palm Springs International Film Festival, which ran January 5-16, can be counted upon to screen those foreign films that have garnered distribution and awards and nominations, such as my Top Ten lister Neruda by Pablo Larrain, the James Baldwin documentary I Am Not Your Negro, directed by Raoul Peck or The Salesman, Asghar Farhadi's follow-up to his brilliant A Separation.
One can only hope that the following worthy foreign films also get more attention, beyond the festival circuit:
A Man Called Ove (Hannes Holm/Sweden)
Adapted from Fredrik Backman's best-selling book, Holm's wry, charming tale of a cranky, exacting widower grows into a story deeply moving by its end. Learning why Ove (Rolf Lassgard) is as hilariously bitter as he is becomes a psychological detective story that should wring tears from even the most hard-hearted.
Nelly (Anne Emond/Canada)
Nelly Arcan was a Montreal sex worker whose semi-autobiographical novel Whore proved to be a scandalous sensation. Emond craftily blends what is known about Nelly with what might have transpired, also smoothly insinuating interior fantasies, in a film that melds reality and fantasy and works on our imaginations in an engrossing manner.
Death in Sarajevo (Danis Tanovic/Bosnia & Herzegovina/France)
Tanovic, who won a Foreign Oscar for No Man's Land, has an even more expansive and provocative film here, winner of the Grand Jury and FIPRESCI awards at Berlin. In a Sarajevo hotel, a hotel manager fighting a labor strike, a hotel concierge, her laundry room mother, a news reporter and a historian who may have murderous intentions all swirl around an EU dignitary's appearance and a discussion of the tragic history of the Balkans.
The Age of Shadows (Kim Jee-woon/South Korea)
An historical epic, set in the 1920s, when Japan's occupation of Korea prompts spies, double agents and questions of betrayal to one's native land. The director's astounding gift for action set pieces includes a rooftop chase scene and a search and shootout on a passenger train that are as elegant as they are enthralling.
The Teacher (Jan Hrebejk/Slovakia/Czech Republic)
A teacher who forces students to do favors for her is at the center of this bitterly amusing tale, set during the last decade of Soviet occupation of Czechosolvakia. After being cowed by her connections to Moscow, parents of the put-upon children begin to argue with each other about standing up to the corruption. Zuzana Maurery is alternately sugary and cruel and utterly absorbing, rightfully winner of Best Actress at Karlovy Vary.
The Commune (Thomas Vinterberg/Denamrk/Sweden/Netherlands)
Vinterberg exploded onto the world cinema stage with The Celebration in 1998 and he is again in exceptional form with this tale inspired by his own childhood experiences. An architect and his TV newscaster wife inherit a large home and create a commune in the 70s. But they find that free love is a lot more psychologically confusing than they hoped. Trine Dyrholm is absolutely stunning as the wife and mother who is emotionally collapsing and it is no surprise she won Best Actress in Berlin for work as remarkable as any of the great actresses who worked with Ingmar Bergman.