While most of the press surrounding Netflix Original Films is dedicated to its deals with big-name directors, the streaming service has also emerged as a beacon for world cinema. Thanks to its global reach, Netflix has provided unprecedented visibility for emerging filmmakers from around the world, through aggressive strategies like its recent push to promote content from the African region. With its latest slate of diverse titles like anime “A Whisker Away” and international co-production “Wasp Network” becoming available for subscribers, it’s a perfect time to look back on some of the best non-English language films that Netflix has to offer.
Check out the list below:
10. Us and Them (2018)
dir. Rene Liu
“Happiness is not a story. Misfortune is.” So says Lin Jianqing, one half of a star-crossed couple in Rene Liu’s poignant “Us and Them.” Indeed, this emotional romance drama tests the age-old vow of “for richer or poorer” as it follows a young man and woman who fall in and out of love over several years. Framed around the annual return to their rural home during Chinese New Year, Liu deftly evokes the love and hope surrounding the holiday. Meanwhile, the sincere performances from Jing Boran and Zhou Dongyu will touch your heart as they struggle to make it in the big city while clinging to the promise of a happy life together.
9. A Twelve-Year Night (2018)
dir. Álvaro Brechner
There are many great films dedicated to the numerous dictatorships in Latin American history. “A Twelve-Year Night” is a true story which recreates the nightmarish 12-year ordeal endured by three political prisoners in Uruguay. Starring Antonio de la Torre, Chino Darín and Alfonso Tort as members of the Tupamaros, their soul-baring performances pay homage to the sacrifices and determination displayed in their fight for the greater good. Despite the bleak nature of their confinement and torture, director Álvaro Brechner finds precious moments of levity, through frequent elegiac flashbacks and optimistic daydreams. With this nuanced touch, Brechner crafts an effective testament to the resilience of the human spirit.
8. Dear Ex (2018)
dir. Mag Hsu & Hsu Chih-yen
What would you do if you found out your deceased husband left his life insurance money to a secret male lover? That’s the conundrum Liu Sanlian faces in “Dear Ex,” made even more complicated by her confused teen son’s burgeoning friendship with the father’s boyfriend. As this unlikely trio come to terms with their new normal, directors Mag Hsu & Hsu Chih-yen lean into the inherent melodrama, with raw emotions swirling around Ying-Xuan Hsieh‘s volatile performance as the aggrieved widow and protective mother. Complete with a community theater production, this underseen gem deserves to be heralded as a modern classic of queer cinema.
7. First They Killed My Father (2017)
dir. Angelina Jolie
Though considerably better known for her acting abilities, Hollywood star Angelina Jolie showed off her directing chops with her 2017 release “First They Killed My Father.” Recounting the harrowing events of the Cambodian Civil War, Jolie puts audiences in the vulnerable headspace of a child named Loung Ung. As she is separated from her family and faces the horrors of the Khmer Rouge’s takeover, Jolie’s humanitarian inclinations are evident in her sensitive direction and passionate storytelling.
6. The Edge of Democracy (2019)
dir. Petra Costa
As the Black Lives Matter movement and the failures surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic continue to shatter our idealistic views of democracy, it’s as good a time as any to revisit Petra Costa’s “The Edge of Democracy.” This outstanding documentary rigorously analyzes Brazilian history, charting the rise and fall of the nation’s democratic principles in the face of corruption and propaganda. Brilliantly blending the personal and the political, Costa’s reflections on her beloved homeland make for gripping, essential viewing.
5. My Happy Family (2017)
dir. Nana Ekvtimishvili & Simon Groß
In much of the Western world, children are expected to leave their parents’ nest upon adulthood. But in the Georgian society depicted in “My Happy Family,” such an act is strictly taboo. Indeed, when Manana — a middle-aged wife and mother — does just that, her family is amusingly dumbfounded. Thanks to Nana Ekvtimishvili & Simon Groß’s intimate filmmaking approach, we remain firmly on her side as they perfectly contrast the claustrophobia of the multigenerational household with the calming quietude of her newfound apartment. As Manana forges her daring path to freedom and independence, “My Happy Family” illuminates an utterly fascinating character and culture.
4. Roma (2018)
dir. Alfonso Cuarón
Directed, written, shot and edited by Alfonso Cuarón, “Roma” is the definition of auteur filmmaking. Loosely based on his own youth in Mexico City, this astonishing drama takes place during a pivotal year in the early 1970s, as a middle class family experiences a myriad of personal and social upheavals. At the center of the narrative, however, is their live-in maid Cleo — played tremendously by first-timer and Oscar nominee Yalitza Aparicio — and we witness this world through her eyes. What she reveals is a touching portrait of womanhood in the face of society’s patriarchy, made all the more empathetic through wondrous black-and-white cinematography and enveloping sound design. Equally heartbreaking and life-affirming, “Roma” is a transcendent work of art.
3. Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom (2015)
dir. Evgeny Afineevsky
Since its breakthrough non-fiction release of “The Square” in 2013, Netflix has developed a strong reputation for political documentaries. Following up that account of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, the streamer scored once again with “Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom“. Directed by Evgeny Afineevsky, this engaging documentary depicts Ukraine’s revolution in response to a corrupt president. And the result is a remarkable feat of journalism and filmmaking, at once awe-inspiring and invigorating.
2. Atlantics (2019)
dir. Mati Diop
In one of the most impressive directorial debuts in recent years, Mati Diop announced herself as one to watch with 2019’s “Atlantics.” Embracing her Senegalese roots, the French director sets her mesmerizing tale in Dakar, where a young woman searches for her departed lover who is lost at sea. Incorporating themes surrounding Islamic mystical figures and the politics of the international migrant crisis, “Atlantics” is a truly unique “ghost love story.”
1. Happy as Lazzaro (2018)
dir. Alice Rohrwacher
Alice Rohrwacher deservedly won a Best Screenplay Award at the Cannes Film Festival for “Happy as Lazzaro,” a moving tale centered on a community of sharecroppers who are unwittingly exploited by a tobacco baroness. This social hierarchy is challenged, however, when the baroness’ son befriends a virtuous young boy named Lazzaro. Eventually, their bond sets off a mysterious chain of events as Rohrwacher skilfully blends elements of Italian neorealism and magical fable. The result is a powerful depiction of class conflict, injustice and true friendship.