Foreign & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video ">

Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video

Rotten Tomatoes
Showtimes & Tickets
Enter Zip Code:

Last year offered plenty of strong contenders to choose from. There were over 300 foreign, documentary, and independent films released, including indies from the studio boutique divisions, the stalwarts (Strand Releasing), and the here-today-gone-tomorrow (Yari Film Group, we hardly knew ye.) But here’s one reassuring sign of a erstwhile robust industry: most of the following films were released earlier in the year, outside of the deluge of award hopefuls. Only two were released in the fall—it may take some detective work on the part of moviegoers, but there is almost always something worth seeing (if you’re lucky enough to live a city with an art-house scene.) In fact, the weeks around Labor Day, usually the sleepiest time of the year, saw the debut of some of the year’s best. And now that more than half of the list is out on DVD, here are candidates for your Netflix queue:

Brilliantly shot 16mm home movies; the compelling journal entries of celebrated writer Christopher Isherwood (Berlin Stories); and the emotionally charged anecdotes of his widowed longtime companion, artist Don Bachardy, memorably recount the rich lives of this openly gay couple in closeted 1950s Hollywood. Going beyond merely breaking social barriers, the pair treated their decades of love as a celebration, or more appropriately, like a work of art. The documentary’s a joy to watch, and breathes with life along with its fascinating subjects. Michael Lee (DVD out February 24).

Fatih Akin’s somber yet uplifting follow-up to his frantic Head-On is this year’s most economical (yet dense with detail) film. So strong is Akin’s storytelling that when the audience discovers from the outset the fate of a character, the spoiler makes the film even more powerful. The foreshadowing adds a resonance, but what really matters to Akin is the torturous road to reconciliation and forgiveness in two intertwined storylines involving three families in Germany and Turkey. And in a career high point, Hannah Schygulla has her best role in decades (this is what’s happened to her). Kent Turner (DVD)

Remember to breathe when viewing this raw, horrific film by Romanian filmmaker Cristian Mungiu. Set in the Bucharest of the 1980s when abortion was illegal, the story revolves around a college student who takes on the responsibility of helping her roommate terminate her pregnancy. Confined to a creepy hotel, with Shining-esque red upholstery and flickering fluorescent lights, the two young women are at the mercy of a cold and creepy male abortionist, and forced to endure a nightmare that Mungiu refuses to skirt around. It’s hardly a comfortable film to watch, but it’s an important and profound one to experience. B. Bastron (DVD)

One of the most beautiful and suspenseful documentaries I’ve seen, Man On Wire follows the eccentric and charmingly mad Frenchman Philippe Petit, his slightly more grounded crew, and their scheme to make Petit’s dream come true—to tightrope walk across the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in 1974. He illegally strolled and danced between the towers for 45 minutes before being arrested by New York City Police. The resulting images produce nothing short of breathtaking, exhilarating awe. BB (DVD)

Nina Davenport’s digital camera doggedly follows a young (and I mean young) Iraqi, who dreams of becoming a big shot director. First, his internship on a film directed by Liev Schreiber is a train wreck (he hates making copies and preparing food) and then the project evolves (or implodes, as the director would more likely call it) into the give-and-take making of this very film as Davenport waits to capture on camera something “good” to happen to the broke, jobless, and visa-less Muthana Mohmed. At one point, he holds her equipment hostage after she has declined his demand for money for his continued participation. Mandatory viewing for fledgling film students and wide-eyed filmmakers.  KT (DVD)

A refreshing and frank look at race, not only through the rearview mirror but also straight ahead. Director Margaret Brown returns to her hometown (and former slave port), Mobile, Alabama, to observe two parallel Mardi Gras celebrations, one for blacks and the other for whites, at two segregated local institutions weighed down by tradition (and some odd and fascinating rituals). Made the year before Barack Obama’s historic victory, Brown may have caught the changing mood of the times more than any other filmmaker this year. KT (DVD)

A remarkable coming-of-age fable set in Goa, India, a far cry from director Chris Smith’s Midwestern roots (1999’s American Movie). The Pool pays unique attention to its locality—a rare achievement in itself—where a hardworking hotel house boy covets a neighbor’s unused swimming pool and learns a powerful lesson of his own place within his community. Quiet and subtly insightful, it’s also a surprising contrast to many recent slick, sensationalized depictions of India. In-jokes and local idiosyncrasies abound. Largely improvised by its mostly non-professional cast, Smith adeptly blurs the line between documentary and feature film. ML (Out in theaters)

Among this year’s glut of films dealing with or touching upon the Holocaust, this layered memory piece is the most affecting. In the 1950s, a gangling young French boy learns the truth about his über-athletic parents’ past during the Nazi Occupation. (Played by stunners Cécile de France and Patrick Bruel, it’s no surprise the boy grows up feeling inadequate.) Based on Philippe Grimbert’s autobiographical novel, the beautifully filmed drama succinctly and sympathetically depicts the larger historical milieu of French Jews during and after the war. At the showing I attended, there were two gasps, including my own, at the disclosure of just one of the corrosive secrets. KT (DVD out on March 10)

A complicated and poignant portrait of a Tunisian immigrant family in southern France gradually emerges. One by one, from grudging to enthusiastic, a squabbling extended community, played by a largely non-professional and charming cast, pitch in to help the patriarch achieve his entrepreneurial dream. Each contributes gumption (while one unintentionally sabotages it). Writer/director Abdellatif Kechiche follows the comic and suspenseful pitfalls inherent in the opening of a new restaurant naturalistically, almost like in a documentary. Despite a meandering story, cooking up a batch of couscous has probably never been steamed with so much meaning. Nora Lee Mandel (In theaters) 

With this gritty, intimate haymaker of a movie, Darren Aronofsky masterfully complicates the well-tread aging athlete comeback narrative. Anchored in a brutal reality where redemption is hard to come by and colored with the conventions of a sport with preordained victories, The Wrestler tells the story of a selfish bastard too tied to his 1980s glory days to make the kind of seismic life change that he needs for a new beginning. But that doesn’t make Randy “The Ram” Robertson any less endearing. In a revelatory, career-defining performance, Mickey Rourke brings down the house. This is filmmaking at its most unsentimentally affecting. Patrick Wood (In theaters)


The Best of 2007

The Best of 2006

The Best of 2005

The Best of 2004

The Best of 2003


Archive of Previous Reviews

Contact us