Unveiling the Hidden Gems of Films

By Timi Ayeni

When we think of Academy Award-winning movies, we may well think of epics from America and the U.K. or even Bollywood, big film-producing nations, the powerhouses of filmmaking. But there are some hidden stars that are easily overlooked, usually coming from smaller film-making nations. These lesser-known joyous productions have often won awards like the Oscars and offer audiences fresh and captivating perspectives on storytelling. Often interesting, unusual and a great glimpse into another world. Do you know any of these? Find out on Unveiling the hidden gems

There are quite good offerings of films from these lesser-known countries that have won accolades and awards. Not always well known enough possibly because the subtitles make watching a little harder, but it’s worth that extra little bit of work.

Switzerland – Marie-Louise 

It is a 1944 Swiss – German and French language film directed by Leopold Lindtberg.

The movie is about a woman named Marie-Louise who evacuated to Switzerland after her country is overturned by the Nazis.  After suffering a nervous breakdown, she is given comfort and shelter by a wealthy family where she is living in the lap of luxury.

The young woman turns into a spoilt child as she is hesitant to return home to her mother and her destroyed home. She wants to rebuild her life and her senses, but it is not easy to navigate around her hometown broken as it is after such luxuries. 

It was distributed in the U.S by Arthur Mayer and Joseph Burstyn as the first foreign film to win the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay 

Greece – Never on Sunday 

A 1960 Greek romantic comedy film that was directed, written, and starred by Jules Dassin. 

The film tells the story of Ilya, a contented Greek prostitute (Melina Mercouri), and Homer (Dassin), an earnest American classicist. Homer attempts to steer her toward morality while Ilya attempts to make Homer more relaxed. 

The original screenplay examines the impact of intellectual imperialism upon an indigenous ‘Joie de vivre’ as it constitutes a variation of the Pygmalion plus “hooker with a heart of gold” story.

The film won the best original song at the Academy Awards as it was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Mercouri), Best Costume Design, Black-and-White, Best Director and Best Writing, Story, and Screenplay as Written Directly for the Screen (both Dassin). Mercouri won the award for Best Actress at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival.

Algeria – Z 

This French- Algerian, political thriller, directed by Costa-Gavras from a screenplay he co-wrote with Jorge Sermprún was adapted from the 1967 novel of the same name by Vassilis Vassilikos. 

The film shows a prominent politician named Z who is murdered during a demonstration in what appears to be a traffic accident as the government and army are trying to find out the truth about what happened to him as the firm magistrate is determined to not the government get away with it. 

But given the political climate, the death of such a prominent activist raises troubling questions. Though it’s too late to save Z’s life, a postmortem examination suggests that the ruling party was behind his death. As the facts leak out, those who tell the truth pay the price for their honesty.

It was the first film and only of a handful to be nominated by the Academy Awards for both Best Picture and Best Foreign Language Film. 

However, it won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, the BAFTA award for best film music and the Golden Globe Award for Best foreign film. 

The movie earned $17.3 million at the box office in the United States being one of the top five highest-grossing non-English language films there.  

Italy – Divorce Italian Style 

This 1961 Italian dark comedy film directed by Pietro Germi is based on Giovanni Arpino’s novel Un delitto d’onore (Honor Killing). 

The subject of the film is about a man named Ferdinando Cefalù who is desperately trying to marry his cousin, Angela, but he is already married to Rosalia, and divorce is illegal in Italy. 

However, to get around the law, he tries to trick his wife into having an affair so he can catch her and murder her, as he knows he would be given a light sentence for killing an adulterous woman. He persuades a painter to lure his wife into an affair, but Rosalia proves to be more faithful than he expected.

It won the Academy Award for Best Writing, Story, and Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen. 

In 2008, the film was included in the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage’s 100 Italian Films to be Saved, a list of 100 films that “have changed the collective memory of the country between 1942 and 1978.” 

The movie earned $2.3 million at the box office in the U.S and Canada. 

India- RRR 

Next in 2022 to India for an epic action-drama film directed by S.S. Rajamouli who co-wrote the film with V. Vijayendra Prasad. 

The movie begins with two legendary revolutionaries and their journey far away from home. After their travels they return home to start fighting back against British colonialists in the 1920s.

However, the colonialists kidnap and abduct a little girl at the request of Catherine Buxton; the governor’s wife as the tribe’s guardian Komaram Bheem, makes an oath to find the girl in Delhi and bring her back to the tribe.

It received universal praise for its direction, screenwriting, cast performances, soundtrack, action sequences and VFX.

The film was considered one of the ten best films of the year by the National Board of Review, making it only the second non-English language film ever to make it to the list.

Mexico – Roma 

A Mexican film released in 2018 was written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón, who also produced, shot, and co-edited the movie. 

The film sets in Mexico in 1970 where we met a woman named Cleodegaria “Cleo” Gutiérrez, a Mixtec live-in maid in an upper-middle-class household in the Colonia Roma neighbourhood of Mexico City. She is one of the two domestic workers who help Antonio and Sofía take care of their four children in 1970s Mexico City. 

Complications soon arise when Antonio suddenly runs away with his mistress and Cleo finds out that she’s pregnant. When Sofía decides to take the kids on vacation, she invites Cleo for a much-needed getaway to clear her mind and bond with the family.

The film is one of the best films of 2018 and has been widely regarded by critics as one of the best films of the 2010s and appeared on many critics’ “top ten” lists of the year.

The film received universal critical acclaim, with praise given to Cuarón’s screenplay, direction, and cinematography, as well as the performances of Aparicio and de Tavira. 

The movie earned $5.1 billion at the box office in its first week of tickets being sold with a budget of $15 million.

South Korea- Parasite

The 2019 South Korean thriller movie was directed by Bong Joon-ho who co-wrote the screenplay with Han Jin-won and co-produced the movie.

The film follows a poor family who schemes to become employed by a wealthy family, infiltrating their household by posing as unrelated, highly qualified individuals. Greed and class discrimination threatens the newly formed symbiotic relationship between the wealthy Park family and the destitute Kim clan.

The movie won many accolades including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best International Feature Film at the Academy Awards. 

It became the first non-English language film to win the Academy for Best Picture and the first to win the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film. 

The movie earned $262.7 million at the box office with a budget of $15.5 million. 

It has since been cited as among the best films of the 2010s, the 21st century, and of all time.

Ran – Japan 

An epic 1985 action-drama film directed, edited, and co-written by Akira Kurosawa. The film was hailed for its powerful images and use of colour.

The film follows the story of a powerful but elderly warlord named Hidetora Ichimonji who decides to divide his kingdom among his three sons: Taro, Jiro, and Saburo.  

As the eldest, Taro must receive the prestigious First Castle and become a leader of the Ichimonji Clan while his brothers Jaro and Saburo would be given the Second and Third Castles as Hidetora claims his title as the Great lord as his sons Jiro and Saburo support Taro.

However, Saburo is exiled after criticizing his father’s lecture about unity and Hidetaro’s servant Tango is also exiled for defending his son Saburo. 

The movie earned $19 million at the box office with a budget of $11 billion. 

The movie’s costume designer Emi Wada won for her work on Ran which received Best Costume Design and the director for the movie received a nomination for Best Director at the academy awards.  

Sweden – Cries and Whispers

It is a Swedish 1972 period film written and directed by Ingmar Bergman and was distributed in the U.S. by Roger Corman and New World Pictures. 

The film centres in a large 19th-century mansion with red walls and carpets where a dying woman named Agnes is dying of cancer and her sisters are so deeply immersed in their own psychic pains that they can’t offer her the support she needs. 

Maria is wracked with guilt at her husband’s suicide, caused by his discovery of her extramarital affair. The self-loathing, suicidal Karin seems to regard her sister with revulsion. 

Only Anna the deeply religious maid who lost her young child, seems to be able to offer Agnes solace and empathy over their sorrows. 

The movie was a critical and commercial success which received five academy award nominations including one for Best Picture and Best Cinematography and won the Guldbagge Award for Best Film and other accolades. 

The movie earned $1.5 million in the U.S. and earned SEK 2,130,705 in Sweden at the box office. 

Now that we have explored films that have won awards that are from lesser-known areas and were successful, here are new releases to explore now that you may well be excited to explore more.

From Beijing with Love

This James Bond spoof film was directed by Stephen Chow who is also starring in the film released originally in 1994.

It is coming out on Blu-ray in October in its UK debut under Eureka! entertainment.

The movie tells the story of a Martini-swilling butcher (and disgraced former spy) Ling Ling Chat who is sent off to recover a stolen dinosaur skull from a golden-gun-wielding supervillain.

Equipped with the latest gadgets, our hero dons his tuxedo and swaggers into a world of danger, beautiful women, and metal-mouthed assassins. A total James Bond spoof from China.

Order the Blu-ray version from Eureka From Beijing With Love

Our River…Our Sky

This BIFA- award-winning movie is directed by Maysoon Pachachi and was produced by herself and Talal Al-Muhanna which features star-studded actors from Iraq.

This movie is set in Baghdad, at a time of intense sectarian violence and nightly curfews, unfolding over the last week of 2006, culminating in the sudden execution of Saddam Hussein.

Dedicated to the youth of Iraq, Maysoon Pachachi’s film offers a glance at the realities of ordinary life in Baghdad, a stark contrast to past Western media portrayals of the 2003 US-led invasion and its catastrophic aftermath.

A raw and powerful display of humanity, Pachachi’s film explores identity and nationalism, and what it means to belong. The film explores how people whose worlds, both outside and inside, are shattered, and find the courage to resist the damage and renew a fragile sense of hope every day.

Through the chaos and destruction, the residents never let their ambitions and desires for the future fade. Yet, they can’t help but contemplate leaving Iraq, and are forced to ask a painful question – who does Baghdad really belong to?

It won the BIFA award for Best Ensemble Cast and it is going to be released in cinemas on October 20th.

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This Japanese anime directed by Takahiko Inoue is currently the 5th highest-grossing anime film of all time and has overtaken Makoto Shinkai’s Suzume in Japan.

The film marks the directorial debut of Takahiko Inoue, the author of the original best-selling manga story that is credited with introducing young people to basketball and paving the way for sports stories in anime.

It has been applauded by critics for its unique blend of 2D and 3D animation that is “expertly staged and beautifully rendered” (The New York Times) and “stunning” (IGN), creating “some of the most exhilarating basketball sequences in the history of cinema” (South China Morning Post).

These foreign movies may have altered the way we have approached lesser-known cinema in real life showing that there is more that the world has to offer even if it is successful or a critical success.

If you have enjoyed reading Unveiling the hidden gems, why not read More with Less

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