YEAR IN REVIEW: Top Foreign-Language Films of 2021

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Not that long ago, a beautiful and wise man said that “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” Bong Joon-ho’s words have always been true and to further prove them, the BWT team has assembled a list of top foreign-language films of 2021 containing a cornucopia of quality from around the world. From a masterful examination of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre to an exquisite exploration of grief, this list contains some of the very best filmmaking of the year.

To make this Top 15, international films had to be released to United States audiences in the calendar year of 2021 in either theater or streaming. We highly recommend you to check them out: not only will they provide high-level entertainment, but also provide powerful reflections, knowledge, and even a window into other countries and cultures. Here are our top foreign-language films of 2021.

15. On-Gaku: Our Sound

On-Gaku: Our Sound

Director: Kenji Iwaisawa
Writer: Kenji Iwaisawa
Country: Japan
Where to Watch: Prime Video and Apple TV (Rent)

A feared trio of high school delinquents embarks on a quest for rock ‘n’ roll glory culminating in a musical finale that will leave you wanting an immediate encore.

14. Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time

Director: Lili Horvát
Writer: Lili Horvát
Country: Hungary
Stars: Natasa Stork, Viktor Bodó, Benett Vilmányi, Zsolt Nagy
Where to Watch: The Criterion Channel, Kanopy

Márta, a forty-year-old neurosurgeon, falls in love. She leaves her shining American career behind and returns to Budapest to start a new life with the man. But the love of her life claims they have never met before.

13. 7 Prisoners

7 Prisoners - But Why Tho

Director: Alexandre Moratto
Writer: Alexandre Moratto & Thayná Mantesso
Country: Brazil
Stars: Christian Malheiros, Rodrigo Santoro, Vitor Julian, Clayton Mariano, Lucas Oranmian
Where to Watch: Netflix

To provide a better life for his family in the country, 18-year-old Mateus accepts a job in a junkyard in São Paulo for his new boss, Luca, but becomes trapped in the dangerous world of human trafficking.

12. Space Sweepers

Space Sweepers

Director: Sung-hee Jo
Writer: Sung-hee Jo
Country: South Korea
Stars: Song Joong-ki, Kim Tae-ri, Jin Seon-kyu, Hae-Jin Yoo, Ye-Rin Park, Mu-Yeol Kim
Where to Watch: Netflix

Set in 2092, spaceship Victory is one of the many that live off salvaging space debris. Crewed with a genius space pilot Tae-ho, a mysterious ex-space pirate Captain Jang, a spaceship engineer Tiger Park, and a reprogrammed military robot Bubs, Spaceship Victory surpasses all other space sweepers. After successfully snatching a crashed space shuttle in the latest debris chase, Victory’s crew finds a 7-year-old girl inside. They realize that she’s the humanlike robot wanted by UTS Space Guards, and decide to demand ransom in exchange.

11. Sun Children

Top Foreign-language films of 2021 - But Why Tho (4)

Director: Majid Majidi
Writer: Nima Javidi and Majid Majidi
Country: Iran
Stars: Roohollah Zamani, Javad Ezzati, Mena Ghafouri, Ali Nassirian
Where to Watch: iTunes, Prime, Vudu.

This is the story of 12-year-old Ali and his three friends. Together they work hard to survive and support their families, doing small jobs in a garage and committing petty crimes to make fast money. In a turn of events that seems miraculous, Ali is entrusted to find a hidden treasure underground. But first, to gain access to the tunnel, the children must enroll at the Sun School, a charitable institution that tries to educate street kids and child laborers, close to where the treasure is located.

10. I’m Your Man

I'm Your Man - But Why Tho

Director: Maria Schrader
Writer: Maria Schrader and Jan Schomburg
Country: Germany
Stars: Maren Eggert, Dan Stevens, Sandra Hüller, Hans Löw
Where to Watch: iTunes, Vudu, Prime.

In order to obtain research funds for her studies, a scientist accepts an offer to participate in an extraordinary experiment: for three weeks, she is to live with a humanoid robot, created to make her happy.

9. Raging Fire

Top Foreign-language films of 2021 - But Why Tho

Director: Benny Chan
Writer: Benny Chan, Ryan Wai-Chun Ling, and Yaoliang Tang
Country: Hong Kong, China
Stars: Donnie Yen, Nicholas Tse, Lan Qin, Angus Yeung, Patrick Tam
Where to Watch: iTunes, Hi-Yah!, Hoopla.

Bong is a highly respected hardline cop with a long history of success in dangerous cases. However, his past unexpectedly comes back to haunt him when a sting operation is attacked by a mysterious group of criminals led by Ngo, his former protégé, a talented former officer who had once respected and admired Bong.

8. I Carry You With Me

I Carry You With Me’ With The Star Armando Espitia

Director: Heidi Ewing
Writer: Hiedi Ewing and Alan Page
Country: México, United States
Stars: Armando Espitia, Yael Tadeo, Raúl Briones, Alberto Juárez, Michelle González
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime

 

7. Flee

FLEE Documentary poster

Director: Jonas Poher Rasmussen
Writer: Amin Nawabi and Jonas Poher Rasmussen
Country: Denmark
Where to Watch: In Select Theaters Now

In FLEE, the Grand Jury Prize winner at this year’s Sundance Festival, filmmaker Jonas Poher Rasmussen tells a poignant story of belonging and the search for identity. Amin’s life has been defined by his past and a secret he’s kept for over 20 years. Forced to leave his home country of Afghanistan as a young child with his mother and siblings, Amin now grapples with how his past will affect his future in Denmark and the life he is building with his soon-to-be husband. Told brilliantly through the use of animation to protect his identity, Amin looks back over his life, opening up for the first time about his past, his trauma, the truth about his family, and his acceptance of his own sexuality.

6. Quo Vadis, Aida?

Top Foreign-language films of 2021 - But Why Tho

Director: Jasmila Žbanić
Writer: Jasmila Žbanić
Country: Bosnia and Herzegovina
Stars: Jasna Đuričić, Izudin Bajrović, Boris Isaković, Johan Heldenbergh.
Where to Watch: Hulu and Kanopy.

Bosnia, July 1995. Aida is a translator for the UN in the small town of Srebrenica. When the Serbian army takes over the town, her family is among the thousands of citizens looking for shelter in the UN camp. As an insider to the negotiations, Aida has access to crucial information that she needs to interpret. What is on the horizon for her family and people – rescue or death? Which move should she take?

5. Night in Paradise

Night in Paradise

Director: Park Hoon-jung
Writer: Park Hoon-jung
Country: South Korea
Stars: Tae-goo Eom, Jeon Yeo-bin, Park Ho-San, Seung-Won Cha.
Where to Watch: Netflix

Hiding out in Jeju Island following a brutal tragedy, a wronged mobster with a target on his back connects with a woman who has her own demons.

4. Drive My Car

Top Foreign-language films of 2021 - But Why Tho

Director: Ryûsuke Hamaguchi
Writer: Ryûsuke Hamaguchi and Takamasa Oe
Country: Japan
Stars: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Tôko Miura, Reika Kirishima, Yoo-rim Park.
Where to Watch: In Select Theaters Now

Two years after his wife’s unexpected death, Yusuke Kafuku, a renowned stage actor and director, receives an offer to direct a production of Uncle Vanya at a theater festival in Hiroshima. There, he meets Misaki Watari, a taciturn young woman assigned by the festival to chauffeur him in his beloved red Saab 900. Forced to confront painful truths raised from his past, Yusuke begins — with the help of his driver — to face the haunting mysteries his wife left behind.

3. Identifying Features

Top Foreign-language films of 2021 - But Why Tho

Director: Fernanda Valadez
Writer: Fernanda Valadez and Astrid Rondero
Country: México
Stars: Merdeces Hernández, David Illescas, Juan Jesús Varela, Ana Laura Rodríguez
Where to Watch: iTunes, Vudu, Google Play.

A mother travels across Mexico in search of her son whom authorities say died while trying to cross the borders into the United States.

2. Demon Slayer – Kimetsu No Yaiba: Mugen Train

Demon Slayer Mugen Train

Director: Haruo Sotozaki
Writer: Koyoharu Gotoge (screenplay by studio ufotable)
Where to Watch: Crunchyroll

Falling forever into an endless dream… Tanjiro and the group have completed their rehabilitation training at the Butterfly Mansion, and they arrive to their next mission on the Mugen Train, where over 40 people have disappeared in a very short period of time. Tanjiro and Nezuko, along with Zenitsu and Inosuke, join one of the most powerful swordsmen within the Demon Slayer Corps, Flame Hashira Kyojuro Rengoku, to face the demon aboard the Mugen Train on track to despair.

1. Titane

Top Foreign-language films of 2021 - But Why Tho

Director: Julia Ducournau
Writer: Julia Ducournau
Country: France
Stars: Agathe Rousselle, Vincent Lindon, Garance Marillier, Bertrand Bonello
Where to Watch: Prime Video.

A Cannes Film Festival sensation and Palme d’Or winner, Titane is a feverish and jaw-dropping ride from the mind of Julia Ducournau (RAW). With a titanium plate surgically fused to her skull following a car crash as a child, car model Alexia embarks on a wild and ultimately unpredictable journey that questions our assumptions about family, identity, and love.


And there you have it, 15 wonderful international movies that left a mark on our team in 2021. Some honorary mentions that barely missed the cut for this list are: Captains of Za’atari, The Summit of the Gods, Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn, Rurouni Kenshin: The Final, Bombay Rose, and Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy. Did your favorite foreign-language films of 2021 make it into our list? Let us know on social media: @butwhythopc