‘Top 3’ Foreign Films To Watch This Christmas

Merry Christmas. Happy holidays to each and everyone!

Merry Christmas one and all.

Its that time of year again, where families and close friends get together to celebrate the holidays, and reflect on what their past year’s experiences were like. While everyone is eating, caroling, and perhaps watching football–I like to spend my time watching movies; and not the traditional A Christmas Story or It’s A Wonderful Life holiday films–but a different type of film experience. The three films I have selected to watch this weekend in their own way, help me to appreciate the new friends and relationships made during the past year. As the seasons come and go–the importance of maintaining family bonds, friendships, and continuing to spread good will to others are foundations for humanity–everyday of the year, and not only because “t’is season” to be generous. It is always better to be in a constant practice of selflessness, than to function in a chronic system of selfishness.

What I truly admire about watching the following films is that each allows for the main characters a progression into personal enlightenment. Each start out in periods of complacency, disappointments, and lack of motivation. Each discover who they truly are, themselves, by assisting others–finding that they are not always alone–that we are not alone.

I.  Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring (2004)

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring - 2004 Sony Pictures - all rights reservedThe events in this film play out as if in a dream–as life flown in accordance with the season’s. Written and directed by Kim Ki-duk, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring is one of Ki-duk’s most intimate, and most memorable of all his films. The Spring brings us to the gates of a floating monastery, where an Old Monk (Kim Jong-ho) poignant instruction to his young protege–wearing a stone tied to a rope–as punishment in response to his tying small rocks to the small river animals. He instructs the young Monk to release the small animals and told him that if any of the small animals died, their deaths would be like a stone in his heart–like the one he carried. In the Summer, our young Monk, now a young man (Seo Jae-kyung), is at an age where he find desire in his heart when the mother of a young woman (Kim Jung-young) made a pilgrimage to the floating monastery. Upon seeing the girl, the young Monk and the girl flirtations become more intimate. They are eventually discovered, and the young girl returns home to her mother–and the young Monk, in love with her…follows. As the years pass, the Fall brings the young Monk (Kim Young-min) back to the monastery, his heart burdened by an ill misdeed and again, the Old Monk punishes him. In order for him to cleanse his heart and find peace, the Old Monk instructs him to carve Buddhist sutras into the deck of the monastery. The older Monk eventually passes on, and the young Monk–goes on to repay a debt to society.

In Winter, the frozen pond and abandoned monastery is in a state of renewal as the now older, adult Monk (Kim Ki-duk), heavy with guilt, realizes that life continues and renews itself–just as the seasons do. Spring has returned again. Life and its lessons begin, and the adult Monk can now teach his new protege a life worth of lessons learned. The seasons–life–begins again.

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring is listed as film critic’s Roger Ebert‘s list of the greatest movies of all time.

The protagonist in this film is life, and the antagonists are time and change. Nor is it that simple, because to be alive, you must come to terms with both of those opponents.”

A man sooner or later discovers that he is the master-gardener of his soul, the director of his life‘ – James Allen

Source: Sony Classic Films

II.  Le fils de l’épicier – The Grocer’s Son (2007)

The Grocer's Son - Nicolas Cazalé - 2007 - all rights reservedDocumentary film maker Eric Guirado has a gift for writing dramatic stories with the natural ability to relay his social messages onscreen. In the film Le fils de l’epicier or The Grocer’s Son Nicolas Cazalé (Antoine Sforza) reluctantly has to travel back to his home to help his mother run their local traveling grocery. His father can no longer drive the truck due to his heart. There is obvious negative greeting between Nicolas and his father because he abruptly left town, but what adds to the charm in watching this film, you get to see how Nicolas not only re-establishes a relationship with his father. He also is dealing with an unrequited relationship between Claire (Clotilde Hesme), a young student he persuaded to take the trip with him home–as a break before she chose which college she would attend–she is a secret inspiration for Nicolas as she is the complete opposite personality. Nicolas, after years of being unsuccessful on his own accounts, has turned him into a spiteful man. He is harsh towards the people he delivers groceries to, however, his circumstances change for the better when he realizes that being away from the hustle and bustle of the big city turns him into a much better person. This film is like a powerful, emotional reckoning that enables us to understand what Nicolas is going through.

Eventually, Nicolas realizes, that his father had an important part to play–he sometimes served as a therapists, reverend, mediator, and well, let’s just say he served an important role to everyone he made deliveries to. It is through his introductions and eventual tasks of helping his family’s business that Nicolas begins to learn a lot about himself. This film is all about redeeming oneself and finding that serving others isn’t a waste of time. It is truly good for the soul.

Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first‘ – Mark Twain

Source: The Grocer’s Son

III.  Okuribito – Departures (2008)

Departures - 2008 - Regent Releasing all rights reservedDepartures is an award winning Foreign Language film directed by Yojiro Takita gives an intimate look into the historic Japanese encoffination ceremony. Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki), a devoted cellist who revently becam unemployed when his orchestra disbands. He moves back to his hometown with this wife Mika (Ryoko Hirosue) and finds a job performing ceremonial “encoffinations.” He initially thought that the “departures” on the help wanted sign involved being a travel agent. When he meets with the owner, he hires Diago on the spot! When Diago realizes what the job detailed–he tried his best to get out of it. But the owner, Sasaki (Tsutomu Yamazaki), offers him a large amount of money an an opportunity to see how important his work is persuaded Diago to stay with the position for awhile longer.

Honestly, he doesn’t have many choices. Playing music as a profession was all he knew. Daigo eventually overcomes the job description and begin travelling with Sasaki all over Japan providing this important service to their local community. In this poignant drama, Daigo learns the importance of family and preserving his cultural heritage. This film is based on the novel Coffinman: The Journal of a Buddhist Mortician by Shinmon Aoki, about a man who has to come to terms with his life–and the business of death and dying. The film is a personal and spiritual journey for all the films characters. Departures is a film that delves into our own mortality, and just as in life–it is just as equally important how we will be remembered, in death.

Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live‘ – Norman Cousins

Source: Regent Releasing 

Thank you all for a wonderful year, and I wish you the happiest times and best wishes this holiday season! 

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