Still from Ajami; Kino International

Shair Kabaha and Fouad Habash in Ajami; Kino International

Throughout the month of April, Film School Rejects will be dedicating the bulk of our Sunday programming to a series we call “Movie Geek Self Improvement.” We’ve tasked our writers with finding ways to improve your life — from losing weight to restoring old VHS tape jackets — we want to help you get the most out of your pop culture obsessed existence.

Want to sit around watching movies will simultaneously learning about cultures other than your own? Sorted by region – here’s a list of engaging films that you may not have seen. You can watch to gain a bit of insight about places from all over the world, while your butt gets sore from sitting on your couch at home.

Ajami – Israel – 2009

Ajami takes place in Jaffa – which is the oldest neighborhood in Tel Aviv, Israel – and it follows five different stories about a diverse group people in the area and how their lives eventually intersect. Though it’s an Israeli film, the majority of the dialogue is in Arabic, and the film documents both Israelis and Palestinians. While there are Jews, Muslims, and Christians all represented in Ajami, the film shows how it is ultimately territorial violence and long-held grudges and prejudices that divide the characters – not their religious beliefs.

The Milk of Sorrow – Peru – 2009

The title of this film refers to a disease in which the emotional trauma of female rape victims is passed onto the children of the abused through breast milk. Specifically, Milk of Sorrow is referring to the trauma experienced by women in Peru between 1980 and 1992, when the Shining Path, a militant Maoist group in Peru, used rape as a war strategy. This psychological film opens eyes to the Peruvian conflict, arguing that such horrific political violence affects more than one generation.

Gael García Bernal in No; NPR

Gael García Bernal in No; NPR

No – Chile – 2012

Starring Gael García Bernal, No follows René, a successful commercial advertiser in Chile, after he is asked to work with the political “no” committee on their advertising mission against the re-election of General Augusto Pinochet in 1988. This arty film was shot in the same low definition tape often used in Chilean ‘80s television. No captures a crucial moment in Chilean history when commercial advertising methods became the norm for political campaigns, a cultural change that is certainly easy to relate to in many countries around the world.

Osama – Afghanistan – 2003 

In 2003, Osama was the first film shot in Afghanistan since 1996, when the Taliban had banned film creation. It follows the story of a young girl (Marina Golbahari) living under the Taliban regime who disguises herself as a boy – named Osama – in order to support her family. The haunting film details the tragic lives of women and families in Afghanistan during the Taliban’s power, though to be clear, Osama holds no relation to Osama bin Laden, outside of the same popular name.

Lubna Azabal and Kais Nashif in Paradise Now; Warner Independent Pictures

Lubna Azabal and Kais Nashif in Paradise Now; Warner Independent Pictures

Paradise Now – Palestine – 2005

Paradise Now follows the final days of two best friends living in the West Bank before they enact a suicide attack in Tel Aviv. The film is clearly controversial; subject matter aside, there was the matter of being submitted as a Palestinian film at all for awards consideration. Director/writer Hany Abu-Assad has said in interviews that, referring to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the issue is not just “black and white” or “good and evil,” and with two potential-suicide-bomber protagonists, Paradise Now clearly seeks to highlight the grayer aspects of morality.

Viva Riva! – Democratic Republic of the Congo – 2011

Viva Riva! is a crime drama that takes place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, spoken mostly in French. It’s a pretty thrilling action film, making it worth the watch, despite the fact that it’s one of the only few accessible modern films about life in Congo, making it a must-see to begin with. The film includes a small cast, including Riva (Patsha Bay), who become caught up with a gang war, mostly inspired to a fuel shortage and a truck full of barrels of oil.

Thibault Sérié in The White Ribbon; Films du Losange

Thibault Sérié in The White Ribbon; Films du Losange

The White Ribbon – Germany – 2009

Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon is a masterpiece; this 2009 black-and-white film presents a bleak view of life in a Protestant German village briefly before World War I. Most of the film follows the family of a strict pastor, including his maturing children, who are often punished unusually and are instructed to wear white ribbons that represent their “purity.” Haneke has said in interviews that the film is meant to portray the route of radicalism, and though he does say that The White Ribbon isn’t about German facism, he adds that family depicted is the best example of  the “origin of evil” in German society.

What are some of your favorite foreign films that you found educational? Let us know in the comments.


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