In no particular order, these are the best foreign films of 2012. This list is not limited to foreign language films.
The Intouchables – Incredibly uplifting French film about an economically disadvantaged minority man being forced to apply for a job he doesn’t want in order to get his ‘welfare’ check. The job is as the caregiver for a well-to-do quadriplegic man. He gets the job and both of their lives change in a major way.
The Impossible – While this is an English language film it’s from Spain and it is on my list of the ten best overall films of 2012. Based on the true story of one family’s ordeal and survival of the 2004 tsunami that devastated much of Asia, it is magnificent.
Headhunters – A Norwegian film based on a novel that tells the story of a very successful headhunter who is moonlighting as a thief of rare artworks. He must steal to continue to support his wife in her preferred lifestyle. Contains a very well-constructed conspiracy.
Barbara – German film about a woman doctor in East Germany in 1980 who gets into trouble when she applies for an exit visa. Exiled to a provincial clinic and substandard housing, she cares for her patients while keeping her distance from her colleagues. She pays particular attention to the care of a young girl who escaped from a work camp, while she herself seeks to escape to the West.
Eat Sleep Die – A Swedish film that is the feature debut of writer/director Gabriela Pichler. It is the story of a woman who lives with her father who wants nothing more than to qualify for a disability pension. She works very hard at her job in a produce packing plant and when her job is about to disappear, it puts her entire life into turmoil.
Monsieur Lazhar – While this Canadian film in French qualified for the 2011 Oscars as a Best Foreign Language film, it fits onto our list because it wasn’t released in the U.S. until 2012. It is the story of an Algerian émigré in Montreal who take a job teaching an elementary school class, after the woman who was teaching the class kills herself at school. He lies about being an experienced teacher and has his own past tragedies haunting him.
Amour – It is the Austrian entry into the 2012 Oscar race for Best Foreign Language film, although the film’s language is French. The story of a married couple, both retired music teachers in their 80s, who are very much in love. Then when she falls ill, he insists on caring for her rather than putting her into a care facility. A very surprising ending awaits.
The Deep – An Icelandic film about tragedy and survival under the most daunting of situations. Great use of imagery. You might think that a man bobbing in freezing waters, trying to just stay alive might get tiresome. It doesn’t.
Easy Money – A fine film from Sweden about a man living multiple lives. He is a student at a fine university, drives a taxi illegally to earn money and feigns being a member of the entitled upper-class. Then he gets involved in organized crime to help pay for his desired station in life and things happen.
Kon-Tiki – A modern Norwegian version telling the story of Thor Heyerdahl’s 1947 voyage. Dramatization that thoroughly engages the audience in the effort to sail across the Atlantic on a boat made of papyrus.