What was the very best foreign film of the year?
2022 was a great year for world cinema. South Korean legend Park Chan-wook delivered one of his most stylish films yet with Decision to Leave; Finnish cinema made a splash with Alli Haapasalo's Girl Picture and Hanna Bergholm's Hatching; and, of course, Bollywood reigned supreme with smash-hit RRR. It was a remarkable year for Iranian directors, as well, despite the authorities' attempts to suppress them.
These projects range from gritty drama to anime fantasy, realistic war films to revisionist epics, and coming-of-age stories to political sagas, from countries across the globe. They're a persuasive counterargument to those pessimistic about the state of the movies. It'll be exciting to see what foreign cinema has to offer in the coming year.
EO is a road movie about a donkey, born into a Polish circus, as it travels across Europe and meets a range of people along the way. It's kind of a modern-day update of Robert Bresson's 1966 movie Au Hasard Balthazar, which also revolves around a donkey. It's directed by Polish filmmaker Jerzy Skolimowski, who also made Moonlighting starring Jeremy Irons.
Skolimowski has said that telling a story about a character who doesn't speak was challenging. As a result, he enlisted classical composer Paweł Mykietyn to produce a score that would evoke the donkey's emotions."I told him […] to please hunt for the moments when you can get with your tune inside this donkey’s brain or heart, to present something like the inner monologue of the protagonist," Skolimowski says. "And Paweł did it."
Girl Picture is a coming-of-age drama by Finnish director Alli Haapasalo. It follows three girls navigating life, love, and ice skating against the unique setting of the long dark Nordic winter. The lead performers – Aamu Milonoff, Eleonoora Kauhanen, and Linnea Leino – are all terrific. They make the film feel authentic.
It's one of several Finnish movies that have drawn international attention in recent years, like horror Hatching and war film Tuntematon sotilas. Indeed,Haapasalo thinks that Finnish cinema is on the up. "There’s momentum now to make films here," she has said. "The only annoying things are the small budgets."
This animated science fantasy, a riff on Beauty and the Beast, tells the story of shy high school student Suzu who escapes into an online alter ego: world-famous singer 'Belle'. Suzu crosses paths with another famous user in the online world, the unbeatable player known as 'the Dragon', and finds herself entangled in a much larger plot.
Belle is the latest take on a Sword Art Online-style virtual world, which succeeds thanks to the gorgeous animation, relatable angsty heroine, and thoughtful commentary about connection in the internet age.
Hit the Road is a comedy-drama road movie, directed by Iranian filmmaker Panah Panahi. He is the son of noted director Jafar Panahi, a collaborator of Abbas Kiarostami, perhaps most well known for the documentary This is Not a Film. It's a remarkable debut; Panahi is clearly a chip off the old block.
The film centers on a family taking a road trip to the border to smuggle their eldest son (Amin Simiar) out of the country. The inside of the car makes for a cramped but intriguing setting, with the characters forced into close proximity. However, this setting was just as much practical as thematic: Iranian filmmakers often shoot inside cars, as this makes it more difficult for the authorities to detect them.
Decision to Leave is the latest project by icon of South Korean cinema Park Chan-wook, director of Oldboy and The Handmaiden. It won the Best Director award at last year's Cannes Film Festival. It follows a detective (Park Hae-il) investigating a death up in the mountains who begins talking to the dead man's widow (Tang Wei).
Like Park's other projects, the film boasts a narrative full of surprises, alongside gorgeous cinematography and believable performances. While it's not quite as intricate as The Handmaiden or as instantly iconic as Oldboy, it arguably tops both as a character study.
Another Iranian film, A Hero is the latest drama by director Asghar Farhadi. Farhadi is most famous for his 2011 project A Separation, the first movie from Iran to win the Best Foreign Language Oscar. He returns to similar territory with this story about Rahim (Amir Jadidi), a man in debtors' prison.
Rahim's girlfriend (Sahir Goldoust) discovers a pile of gold, which the two of them consider using to pay off his debts. However, they ultimately decide to return the gold to its owner. This act draws a lot of attention, turning Rahim into a local celebrity. The plot takes unexpected turns from there, morphing into a sharp tale of law and morality.
No Bears, the third Iranian film to make this list, is the newest work from the elder Panahi. It follows two parallel love stories and the obstacles that stand in their way. The film is structurally daring, blurring the line between reality and fiction. Panahi even appears as a fictionalized version of himself, interacting with the lead characters.
Ultimately, it's a film about filmmaking – especially filmmaking in Iran, where Panahi has endured years of harassment, even being banned from making movies several years ago. The film feels even more urgent in light of Panahi's arrest by Iranian authorities shortly before its release.
Argentina, 1985 dramatizes The Trial of the Juntas, in which several leaders of the country's former military dictatorship were prosecuted. It focuses on two lawyers, Julio César Strassera (Ricardo Darín) and Luis Moreno Ocampo (Peter Lanzani) as they fight to bring these leaders to justice.
The film does a good job of revealing the leaders' arrogance, in particular their disdain for the court. But the highlight is Darín, who is funny and charismatic as a frustrated but idealistic man on a mission for the truth.
This German war film is the latest adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque's classic 1929 novel. It follows a young soldier sent to fight in the German Army in World War I. His naive illusions are shattered by the realities he finds there. Rather than undertaking heroic feats for hearth and home, he and his compatriots struggle to survive in a bleak and senseless environment.
The movie has been praised for its faithfulness to the source material (although it adds an original subplot), as well as the acting by Felix Kammerer, Albrecht Schuch, and Daniel Brühl.
This Indian action epic was the most talked about foreign film of 2022, hands down. It was a massive box office success and drew positive reviews from critics all around the world. RRR tells the fictionalized story of two real-life revolutionaries, Alluri Sitarama Raju (Ram Charan) and Komaram Bheem (N. T. Rama Rao Jr.), who fought against British rule in India in the 1920s. However, the movie rejects realism, swapping historical accuracy for death-defying stunts and high-octane fight scenes.
In this regard, director S. S. Rajamouli was influenced by Quentin Tarantino's bold rewriting of history. "Inglourious Basterds is one of the biggest inspirations when it comes to my films, specifically RRR," he has said. "I was shell shocked when Hitler dies in the film, and how the film brings it off as a big surprise."
NEXT: 10 Great Foreign Films From 2021 You May Have Missed
Luc Haasbroek is a writer and videographer from Durban, South Africa. A lifelong movie nerd, he’s written for sites like Paste and Briefly. Luc has also worked behind the camera on short films and other projects. When not writing or watching LOTR marathons, Luc hangs out with his cats and generally forgets where he’s left his keys.