A Separation (2011) is a masterpiece. It completely deserves to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and perhaps even the Best Original Screenplay over some tough competition. Although the story takes place in Iran, a country with customs and laws very foreign to Americans, the affairs in the film are universal as it speaks about the human condition. It refuses to get pigeonholed into one genre; it is a detective mystery, courtroom drama, thriller, divorce drama and coming of age story, all the while examining or critiquing modern-day Iranian society. With brilliant writing, stellar performances and minimalistic direction, A Separation honestly and effectively portrays one of the most morally complex stories ever told on film with acute perception, subtlety and gripping force despite little cinematic dramatization (i.e. no music). Indeed, it is one of 2011’s best films and a new favorite foreign language film of mine.
When it comes to outstanding revenge and serial killer films, few compare to South Korean cinema. Memories of Murder (2003), The Chaser (2008), and Chan-wook Park’s Vengeance Trilogy, most notably Oldboy (2003), are just a few examples. When I heard that Min-sik Choi, the star of the brilliantly twisted cult classic and critically acclaimed revenge film Oldboy, played a serial killer in I Saw the Devil (2011) I was intrigued. Also, when I found out that Ji-woon Kim directed it I could not resist the opportunity to see the film; he created the horror masterpiece A Tale of Two Sisters (2003), which is one of my favorite movies ever. Lastly, the film’s premise and intense trailer (found below or click the link) completely sold me. Although awfully and excessively graphic and absurd at times, even for a Saw or Hostel-type movie, I Saw the Devil is yet another exceptional South Korean thriller that blends the serial killer and revenge genres. It is relentlessly intense, both viscerally and emotionally, and features tremendous performances by its leading actors.
The Lives of Others (2006) is not only my favorite foreign language film, and I have seen a fair share of them but also part of my top five or at least top ten favorite films of all time. Many people, though, disliked the fact that Guillermo del Toro’s fantasy tale Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), set during the Spanish Civil War/World War II, did not win Best Foreign Language Film for the 2006 Academy Awards. However, after audiences got a chance to witness Germany’s The Lives of Others they understood why del Toro’s film lost, and many came to agree with the results. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s feature-film debut garnered massive critical and audience acclaim and has gained somewhat of a legendary status, appearing on countless lists of top films of 2007 and even the decade; in early 2009 National Review even considered it to be the best conservative film of the past twenty-five years.
Yet The Lives of Others remains foreign to many Americans. It is no household name, unlike certain Hollywood blockbusters and Best Picture winners have become. This is a complete shame; The Lives of Others is perhaps one of the greatest films ever made. This semi-historical political/spy thriller and romantic/human drama is compelling, intelligent and poignant. It is filled with absolutely great performances, boasts a truly outstanding score, and delivers an overwhelmingly powerful emotional blow to viewers’ hearts. Relentlessly riveting and moving, The Lives of Others is both a timely and timeless masterpiece that deserves to be seen, promoted, and passed on.
As a warning, I include a few moderate spoilers later in this article, but I alert you before they appear. In addition, because I absolutely love this film, I run a clear risk of overhyping it, which may lessen its impact on new viewers. However, I do not believe you will be disappointed in this film. I hope that my review is entertaining, informative, and beneficial to your viewing experience.