Last Updated: May 7th
With every passing year — with every passing week — Netflix inches closer to a future in which the service streams only original content and eschews outside programming completely. But until that apocalypse arrives, some off-the-beaten path picks continue to hang tough in the under-explored International section of the ever-expanding library. The pickings favor the recent over the time-tested, but a neophyte trawling for something novel to watch can still get a pretty varied crash course on world cinema. Who needs the prestige festival circuit? Give Cannes, Berlin and Venice the slip by trying out one of the best foreign films on Netflix right now.
15. Battle Royale (2000)
As dystopias in which children must murder one another for the amusement of a watching public go, The Hunger Games is kids’ stuff. Go right for the jugular with this Japanese forebear, where mighty jets of blood spatter the clean pressed whites of one unlucky student group. Director Kinji Fukasaku holds nothing back, assuming a gleefully sadistic tone where his franchised American cousin went dour and self-serious. The plentiful, highly creative murder scenes play like live-action “Tom and Jerry” cartoons where the eyeballs don’t pop back in. Those viewers inclined to search for it can find a subtext about the hazards of fascism and autocracy, but for the happy majority of viewers, the extravagant carnival of carnage is more than enough.
14. Cinema Paradiso (1988)
An aging maestro of Italian filmmaking takes a trip down memory lane both within and outside of this bittersweet salute to cinephilia. As the character Salvatore Di Vita returns to his hometown for the funeral of his mentor and gets flooded with Proustian recollections, so too does director Giuseppe Tornatore join in remembering a decades-spanning love affair with movie houses and the lights that dance on their walls. An unabashedly nostalgic film about the hazards of nostalgia, it charmed the pants off of American audiences, earning the Academy Award as well as the rare handsome gross for a foreign-language film. The cynics among us may have to suppress a gag reflex, but it’s hard to deny the overwhelming emotionality of the much-touted kissing montage.
13. The Assassin (2015)
Taiwanese master Hou Hsiao-Hsien took the onscreen martial arts tradition known as wuxia and slowed it down, way down, to the point where Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon starts to look like Rush Hour. In a centuries-old fable following a familiar schematic — girl raised as ruthless killing machine nearly goes native during a mission when love tests her allegiances, so what if the romantic opposite happens to be her cousin? — Hou expands his pauses until they grow into full poems of stillness and silence. He does so much with nothing, creating tension from the distinct absence of action. While fans of the Shaw Brothers’ manic flurries of fists may start to fidget in their seats, those viewers amenable to Hou’s leisurely approach will drift right into a transcendental state.
12. Girlhood (2014)
Another gritty exposé on fictitious youth gangs, though this one’s more in the mold of a coming-of-age narrative. Like any 16-year-old, Marieme (Karidja Touré) wants to fit in, but unique to her suburban enclave of French-Africans, the top dogs of the social food beat each other up for sport. She muscles her way in and enjoys the lifestyle at first — the scene in which she and her friend lip-synch Rihanna’s “Diamonds” in a hotel room feels classic from the first time you see it — but eventually experiences with no-good boys and even-worse drug dealers disillusion her. She ends the film a woman too grown for her own home, brutally aware of how hard the adult world can be.
11. Immoral Tales (1973)
Poland’s proudest envelope-pusher Walerian Borowczyk directed a long line of surrealist features freely weaving elements of pornography into the dreamy realm of Euro-art cinema. And while this 1973 effort may not be his finest work, it is the only one currently available on Netflix. This anthology binds together four shorts simpatico in their hunger for perversions off the beaten path: incest, crucifixion fetishes, and a whole lot of bloodplay make for a rather exotic delicacy, even for those with a taste for the kinky. But the golden-hued ‘70s production values, the bosom-clutching emoting from Borowczyk’s lineup of French beauties, and a willingness to follow his weirdest artistic whims to their logical conclusion (here’s hoping you’re into extended close-ups of lips getting fondled!) amount to the sort of classed-up sleazefest seldom made these days.