The UEFA European Football Championship 2020 is underway and we now have 16 country finalists who will compete for the coveted trophy. That led me to the idea to recommend 16 films from each of the 16 European countries currently remaining in the competition:
AUSTRIA : The Counterfeiters (2007) (dir. Stefan Ruzowitzky)
Michael Haneke (The Piano Teacher (2001), The White Ribbon (2009), Amour (2012)) is the greatest Austrian film director, but the country also has other talent to boast about. Stefan Ruzowitzky, born in Vienna in 1961, is known as director and writer of The Counterfeiters, an Academy Award-winning film based on a memoir by Adolf Burger, a man who was imprisoned by the Nazis for forging baptismal certificates to save Jewish people and who was later forced to work on the Nazi Operation Bernhard designed to destabilise UK economy.
BELGIUM : The Kid with a Bike (2011) (dir. Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne)
Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (La Promesse (1996), Two Days, One Night (2014), The Unknown Girl (2016)) have made quite a name for themselves over the years. In The Kid with a Bike, they focus on twelve-year old Cyril (Thomas Douret) whose attempts to reconnect with his father prove futile. Cyril soon befriends a local hairdresser Samantha (Cecile de France) and their friendship blossoms.
CROATIA : H-8 (1958) (dir. Nikola Tanhofer)
This drama is considered to be one of the best Croatian films ever made. It tells of two groups of passengers travelling on a bus and on a truck respectively, and the audience is told from the start that the two vehicles are on a collision course with each other, with the accident bound to happen in the near future. Different characters and their life circumstances are then introduced in this popular film about fate and human connection. H-8 is available to be viewed on Youtube.
CZECH REPUBLIC, THE : The Painted Bird (dir. Václav Marhoul)
Based on the 1965 novel by Jerzy Kosiński of the same name, this slow, but brilliantly-executed Czech film centres on a young Jewish boy in the wake of the World War II who wanders the country, encountering hell on earth and being forced to endure hardship of every kind. The film includes performances by such actors as Stellan Skarsgård, Udo Kier and Harvey Keitel.
DENMARK : A Royal Affair (2012) (dir. Nikolaj Arcel)
This film tells of a young and inexperienced Princess from Great Britain who marries his majesty Christian VII of Denmark and soon realises what trap has been laid out for her. Disillusioned, but not defeated, Princess teams-up up with the court’s physician to change Denmark’s dark path by instilling liberal ideas. Starring Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl (2015)) in the role of Princess Caroline Mathilde and Mads Mikkelsen (The Hunt (2012), Another Round (2020)) in the role of German physician Johann Friedrich Struensee, A Royal Affair is a truly gorgeous period drama that introduces a fascinating chapter in the Danish history.
ENGLAND : I, Daniel Blake (2016) (dir. Ken Loach & Laura Obiols)
This powerful film comes from British director Ken Loach (Kes (1969), Sorry We’ve Missed You (2019)) and depicts a fifty-nine year old widowed carpenter who tries to make his ends meet in modern Britain. Due to injury, Daniel Blake signs up to receive state benefits, but soon finds himself in an inhumane and Kafkaesque system of paradoxes. His touching friendship with a single mother Katie is the only respite in his increasingly isolated and meaningless life.
FRANCE : Indochina (1992) (dir.
In this film, Catherine Deneuve (Repulsion (1965)) is Éliane Devries, an owner of a large rubber plantation, who is having an affair with handsome Officer Jean-Baptiste Le Guen (Vincent Pérez). Unbeknown to Eliane, her adopted teenaged daughter from Vietnam, Camille (Linh Dan Pham (The Beat that My Heart Skipped (2005)), also falls for the same Officer after he saves her life. The duo has to make difficult choices as the Vietnamese nationalist movement grows. This moving period drama about courage and the enduring power of love is also the winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
GERMANY : M (1931) (dir. Fritz Lang)
Fritz Lang (1890 – 1976) was an Austrian-German-American “Expressionist” film-maker known for such films as dystopian Metropolis (1927) and Fury (1956). M is a dark thriller that details a manhunt for a child serial killer played brilliantly by Peter Lorre. Said to be Lang’s favourite film of his own because of its “social criticism”, it has endured to become one of the landmark films in German cinematography. Other great German film directors include Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire (1987), Rainer Werner Fassbinder (Fear Easts the Soul (1974) and Mike Nichols (Closer (2004)).
ITALY : Happy as Lazzaro (2018) (dir. Alice Rohrwacher)
Italy has had its share of cinematic greatness to share with the world, and such directors as Fellini, Antonioni (La Notte (1961)), Rossellini, Bertolucci and Sorrentino (Youth (2015)) are a testament to that. Alice Rohrwacher was born in a suburb of Florence, Italy in 1980 and her award-winning film Lazzaro felice mixes fairy-tale with social commentary as it portrays a simple-minded man, Lazzaro, who is forced to partake in his own kidnapping.
NETHERLANDS, THE : Twin Sisters (2002) (dir. Ben Sombogaart)
Paul Verhoeven (Elle (2016)) is probably the world’s most famous Dutch director. Ben Sombogaart is another director from that country born in Amsterdam in 1947. His film Twin Sisters or De Tweeling, which was an adaptation of the best-selling novel by Tessa de Loo, was nominated for an Academy Award in 2003. It tells of twin sisters who got separated when they were young and lead complete different lives. They hold different values and moral beliefs, and their sisterly bond and affection become tested in the wake of the World War II.
PORTUGAL : Tabu (2012) (dir. Miguel Gomes)
Tabu is difficult to define or describe. This film by the Portuguese director (Our Beloved Month of August (2008)) takes place both in Lisbon, Portugal and in Africa, and the director’s documentary style is felt throughout its 118 minute run. It tells the story of elderly Aurora who has fallen on hard times. Her memory trip leads to unexpected places. Gomes’s dreamy, experimental and black-and-white Tabu is many things all at once, a philosophical, “end-of-life” contemplation, a message about Colonialism and social responsibility, a “forbidden love” story and a silent movie homage.
SPAIN : The Invisible Guest (2016) (dir. Oriol Paulo)
In 2016, Spanish director Oriol Paulo wrote and directed crime-thriller Contratiempo or The Invisible Guest. In this film, a man is accused of the murder of his girlfriend and comes up with a very unbelievable story as his defence. His story involves a third-party, a blackmail and an impossible crime, but what is the truth? This stylish, tense and twisty film that toys with its audience repeatedly is not to be missed. Previously, I also reviewed The Skin I Live In (2011) from legendary Pedro Almodovar, and thought-provoking The Orphanage (2007) and The Others (2001) from J. A. Bayona and Alejandro Amenábar respectively.
SWEDEN : Miss Julie (1951) (dir. Alf Sjöberg )
It is easy to talk about the films of Ingmar Bergman in this category, and, instead, I will talk about Miss Julie, the winner of the most prestigious Cannes Film Festival Award. Alf Sjöberg based his film on the 1888 play of the same name and, in this story, which stars Anita Björk and Ulf Palme, a young heiress realises that she has fallen for her father’s servant. This film, which plays with the theme of gender, class and social differences, also shines unforgettable performances and was deemed to have a unique visual presentation.
SWITZERLAND : The Lacemaker (1977) (dir. Claude Goretta)
This film may be a French production, but it was directed by a Swiss director Claude Goretta who is know for his film The Invitation (1973). The Lacemarker or La Dentellière is based on the novel of the same name by Pascal Lainé and stars young Isabelle Huppert in one of her breakthrough performances. In this story shy and unassuming Pomme (Huppert) finds it hard to unjust to the expectations of others, especially to her new boyfriend’s image of her. Huppert gives a nuanced performance and won both the Most Promising Newcomer at the BAFTA and the Best Foreign Actress Award at the Italian David di Donatello Awards.
UKRAINE : The Tribe (2014) (dir. Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy)
Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy‘s film The Tribe has the distinction to use only the Ukrainian Sign Language throughout its 130 minute run. At the heart of this powerful film is Serhiy who arrives to a boarding school for deaf teenagers and soon battles for survival and dominance in one brutal environment permeated by hate, greed and envy. The Tribe is a unique, unflinching cinematic experience.
WALES : Hedd Wyn (1992) (dir. Paul Turner)
Hedd Wyn is the first Welsh-language film to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. This is a true story of a poet, Hedd Wyn (real name Ellis Humphrey Evans), who enters into a prestigious Welsh competition National Eisteddfod, hoping to win an award for poetry only to see the World War I intervene. This often overlooked anti-war film also has a powerful love story.