Deadline’s Top International Films Of 2022

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As 2022 draws to an end, Deadline’s critics have each chosen their top three movies of the year to hail from abroad. Some were festival world premieres, and some have made the International Feature Oscar shortlist (not all were put forth by their country of origin, nor are they each in a foreign language). Donkeys certainly made a splash, including in one 2020 French title that only saw U.S. release this year.

Here are Deadline critics’ top international films of 2022, based on their respected individual opinions (in alphabetical order by title):

ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT 

The last time Erich Maria Remarque’s classic anti-war novel All Quiet on the Western Front was made as a theatrical motion picture was nearly a century ago in 1930. It took home Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director. Can history repeat itself? I wouldn’t bet against it as this official German entry for Best International Film at the Oscars seems to have across the board support at the Academy having already been mentioned in five categories on the shortlist, as well as winning nominations from the Golden Globes and Critics Choice among other groups including the National Board Of Review. Director Edward Berger tells the story for the first time from the German point of view as young men are first enthusiastic, then increasingly devastated as they are being enlisted to fight in World War I. Not simply a war film, this is a movie startlingly relevant for today’s audiences with real comparisons to Ukraine, rising hate-speech and groups around the globe, and a general feel of the futility of war. Made nearly 100 years ago for the big screen, it packs an even bigger punch now. – Pete Hammond

Stories about the horrors of war and the fact that there are nearly always armed conflicts going on in some part of the world, as is the case today, ensure that war films will always be timely. The first combat film to win the best picture Oscar, in 1930 at the third ceremony, was All Quiet on the Western Front, based on Erich Maria Remarque’s international best-seller. Except for works of propaganda, books and films accentuate the horrors of war, and few have portrayed them as vividly and painfully as this new version, directed by television veteran Edward Berger. The film benefits from being told from the German side and, even for those who have seen countless war films, this one brings something extra and new; fresh recruits are shockingly gunned down before they can even get off the trains that bring them near the front, enthusiasm on the part of the blindly patriotic youths is immediately squelched by brutal reality as they are sent off to battle, and it doesn’t take long to realize why this was subsequently called The Lost Generation. Berger captures the shock and disillusion felt by common soldiers as well or better than any war film in recent memory, and at this moment in time it’s impossible to watch this without thinking of today’s soldiers who are similarly being thrown by their superiors into deadly combat for no good reason. – Todd McCarthy

ARGENTINA, 1985

Over 30,000 people “disappeared” under the reign of Argentina’s military junta; many more were raped, tortured or interned in unspeakable concentration camps. When this vicious crew was overthrown, it was popularly assumed that they could never be brought to justice; they remained too powerful. Enter Julio Strassera, a second-string public prosecutor who has survived under the fascists as the office clown, but who is now charged with bringing these men to trial. Santiago Mitre’s exceptional political thriller weaves together this legal battle with the lawyers’ own conflicts, the inherent comedy of bureaucracies and the historic struggle for human rights everywhere. Ricardo Darin, already unquestionably one of the world’s greatest actors, gives the performance of a lifetime as Strasser, steering between irony and intensity with an unerring instinct for the dramatic moment. His final courtroom summing-up – taken from the real transcripts – moved many in the San Sebastian audience, including this critic, to tears. – Stephanie Bunbury

AUTOBIOGRAPHY

In the last two years, the Venice Film Festival has platformed a couple of films from South East Asia that struck a nerve internationally, despite the supposedly parochial nature of their subjects. One is Erik Matti’s On The Job: The Missing Eight, this year’s Oscar entry from the Philippines, which looks at the way authoritarian governments exploit and manipulate rural (and vulnerable) media. The other, Indonesian director Makbul Mubarak’s Autobiography, didn’t have its country’s awards endorsement but has had a strong festival life nonetheless. Beginning as a simple two-hander, as a young working-class caretaker comes under the spell of his returning boss — a charismatic military man who has designs on getting into local politics — Mubarak’s film develops into a tense psychological thriller about the way populist leaders groom and abuse their people. It works on its own terms in that way, as a dark father-son allegory within Indonesia’s somewhat military culture, but there’s a universality here that hits hard. – Damon Wise

CLOSE

The Grand Prize winner at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Close comes from Belgian filmmaker Lukas Dhont and centers on the touching friendship between two 13-year-old boys, a carefree union until events and tragedy take center stage. Leo (a marvelous performance from young star Eden Dambrine) sees his life turned inside out as he learns life can sometimes hit you right in the gut. Dhont’s handling of tender themes and his young cast, which also includes the excellent Gustav De Waele as Leo’s friend Remi, moved audiences right from the moment it premiered in May, and now continues to do so having just been shortlisted for the Best International Feature Oscar. I would say it is a certainty to be a major contender for the prize, but the real gift this film delivers is a story of what true friendship means, the flaws in ourselves, and the meaning of humanity. As a study of a young person and their growing pains, you would have to go back to the films of Francois Truffaut, particularly The 400 Blows, to find something that so skillfully touches the mind and the heart. – PH

EO

The Academy Awards should have a category reserved for animal performances. Sure, they will have no idea what’s going on, but the donkeys from EO deserve some type of acting acknowledgment. With his own take on Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Batharzar, director Jerzy Skolimowski follows a donkey named EO that works in a traveling circus but is soon taken from its owner. EO captures humanity’s highs and lows by traveling around Europe experiencing some of the darkest dark sides of humanity no animal or human should endure. – Valerie Complex

Aside from being my favorite film in the 2022 Cannes competition, EO was certainly the most surprising. Not only did it seem ill-advised and unnecessary for anyone to attempt a remake of Robert Bresson’s 1966 austere masterpiece about the vagabond life of a donkey, but one wondered if Jerzy Skolimowski, who arguably hadn’t made a first-rate film since Moonlighting 43 years earlier, wasn’t asking for trouble by being measured against an indisputable masterpiece. However, to the astonishment of nearly all who saw it, EO was one of the genuine highlights of the festival. No matter that the dramatic trajectory of the story remains the same — you are born, you toil, you die — the director turned the tale into something of an eccentric comic odyssey. The arbitrariness of fate remains present as before, but Skolimowski allows the beast of burden a far greater range of experience — and expression — than did Bresson. He also injected it with disarming comedy, which lessened the heavy determinism of the original without sacrificing the story’s considerable impact. – TM

GIRL PICTURE

This Finnish Oscar entry got me excited about Alli Haapasalo as a director, as well as thoroughly entertaining me. The filmmaker has such a confident, fresh approach and, working with her writers, avoids genre clichés with such skill that you don’t notice until you unpack it afterwards. Girl Picture is a vibrant story of three teenagers but it seems to have wide appeal: in London screenings, I’ve seen it land with women and men ranging from their 20s to 60s. – Anna Smith

HOMMAGE

Korean cinema this year is very well represented by Park Chan-wook’s exquisite Cannes hit Decision to Leave, but there was plenty more from the region, and two world premieres at this summer’s Bifan film festival — the cool punk cousin to Busan — were particularly exciting. One was Son Kyoungwon’s A Good Boy, a slow-burn Bad Seed drama about a pre-teen boy who acts out against his mild-mannered female teacher and destroys her life, another was Christine Ko’s The Woman in the White Car, a terrific Fargo-esque thriller about a routine police investigation that goes deliriously off the rails. Tribeca, meanwhile, hosted the American debut of Shin Su-won’s lyrical Hommage, in which Parasite’s housekeeper Lee Jung-eun plays Ji-wan, a struggling filmmaker who takes a restoration job to pay the rent, only to find that the history of women in Korean cinema is repeating itself. Lovers of the art will be heartened and devastated in equal measure; it’s a tender but brutally honest movie that shows where all filmmakers are right now. – DW

MY DONKEY, MY LOVER & I 

An official selection of the 2020 Cannes Film Festival that had to be cancelled due to the pandemic, the winner of 8 Cesar Awards nominations in 2021 including a win for Laure Calamy as Best Actress, and finally a U.S. release in July 2022, this charming French romantic comedy, was for me well worth the wait its U.S. domestic release caused. A finer example of the genre I cannot recall this year, a movie that genuinely makes you feel good when you leave the theater and a return to the kind of human character-driven French comedy missing in recent times. Calamy deserved that Cesar playing Antoinette, a woman who decides to follow her married lover Vladimir (Benjamiin Lavernhe) on his family vacation, a hike accompanied by a donkey to various spots in Cévennes. Much of the humor comes not from the relationship with Vladimir, but from her trials and tribulations on the road with Patrick, the donkey she has rented. Director Caroline Vignal gives it the perfect light touch, with a script she had written based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s Travels With a Donkey in the Cévennes. Gorgeously filmed, and easy on the eye, this was a summer treat in a year where donkeys have made a real impression in movies from EO to The Banshees of Inisherin to Triangle of Sadness. Unlike those films however, in this movie there is not only romantic hope for Antoinette — Patrick the donkey also gets the girl. – PH

MY IMAGINARY COUNTRY

My Imaginary Country

With civil liberties in America under attack, those willing to fight to keep the liberties we have in place could learn a thing or two from this Patricio Guzmán documentary about the Chilean protest of 2019. The people of Chile are fighting for the same things folks in the USA are. The only difference is that the Chilean people never took their foot off the necks of their oppressors and successfully achieved building a new hope for the country. Guzmán shows the duality of war, how it breeds anger and violence but also creativity, ingenuity and imagination. He archives varying perspectives and allows the Chilean public to speak for themselves. – VC

A PIECE OF SKY

A Piece Of Sky

Every so often, you see a film that makes you feel your heart move in your chest: for me, this was that film for 2022. The beautiful things here – the towering Alps, flowery meadows, chalets decorated with boxes of geraniums – may recall Swiss chocolate boxes, but there is nothing sugary about Michael Koch’s deeply felt portrait of a marriage. Marco is a mountain of muscle, esteemed by his fellow villagers as a hard worker; like the cows he tends, he is a big, gentle beast. Anna is the local beauty whose heart he wins; Julia is her daughter. Their togetherness is torn asunder when Marco is diagnosed with a brain injury that will ultimately make him violent and thus dangerous; he must be locked away.  Koch’s unconventional storytelling meshes their tragedy with the magnificent, merciless natural world: everything here is of a piece. Lovely and moving, Koch’s film – unveiled at the Berlinale – deserved way more attention. – SB

THE QUIET GIRL

The Quiet Girl (An Cailín Ciúin)

Seventy years ago we had John Wayne fighting and bickering his way around Ireland in The Quiet Man, while this year there is a young and painfully introverted girl trying to stay out of harm’s way in the Irish film The Quiet Girl. Based on Foster, a short story by Claire Keegan, Colm Bairead’s first feature after television work and a number of shorts has impressed critics and won plaudits all year long at various festivals, beginning in Berlin. The film has also become the highest grossing Irish film of all time on home turf. It’s a muted, mostly quiet and restrained film, one devoted to observing, but the emphasis on the undercurrents running through the story shift the viewer’s attention to the unexpressed feelings and extreme subtleties of the text; there is hardly a scene or exchange in which something is desired or contemplated but not expressed. No doubt in order to even slightly decrease the load at home — her fifth child is on the way — and due to her errant husband’s increasing alcoholic belligerence, arrangements are made by Máthair for the seriously introverted nine-year-old Cait to stay with a childless couple elsewhere. Cait has no friends nor anyone to talk to and seems to have been intimidated by her family or, perhaps more likely, simply ignored; she’s childlike to an alarming degree. As the drama evolves, with Cait taking long walks, the film settles into a progression of events that are mostly undramatic but nonetheless eventful in a subtle way and represent the potential emergence of this blank slate personality who, up to now, has had no outlet or release for her feelings and thoughts. It’s a generally quiet and subtle work, and unique on top of it. – TM

SAINT OMER

'Saint Omer'

Loneliness, postpartum-depression, motherhood and isolation are at the core of Alice Diop’s feature film which premiered at Venice. Written by Diop and Marie N’Diaye, Saint Omer stars Kayije Kagame and Guslagie Malanga. The film sends a message about the pressures of being a single parent and how women connect through trauma. Euripides’ play Medea runs parallel to the narrative as a mother struggles with the death of her child. Saint Omer allows the audience to get into the mind of someone suffering on a level beyond comprehension. Diop and N’Diaye aren’t asking viewers for sympathy, but asking them to keep an open mind and lend some form of understanding to the characters involved. – VC

SPARTA

Before it screened anywhere, Ulrich Seidl’s Sparta was derailed by an investigative report in Germany’s Der Spiegel which raised concerns that official guidelines established to protect children and keep their guardians informed when making films were not followed. Seidl denied the allegations, but TIFF removed Sparta from its lineup while San Sebastián pushed on with its screenings, saying only a court order would result in it dropping the film. Otherwise, it has seen limited festival play. It’s a sorry fate for one of the best films of the year. Admittedly, Seidl was playing with even hotter fire than he usually does: the story of a pedophile. Ewald runs away from Austria to the Romanian countryside and sets himself up as a judo teacher, turning an abandoned school into a summer camp for local lads who, like him, are lonely: they have few loving men in their lives. Ewald knows and hates what he is. He never touches the boys erotically, but his churning feelings of longing, guilt, sadness and frustration are seen when he turns his face away. Like its companion piece Rimini – which is the story of Ewald’s brother, a lounge singer – Sparta is a work of grim brilliance. – SB

THE SWIMMERS

Manal Issa and Nathalie Issa in The Swimmers

An incredible true story beautifully told, The Swimmers is also laudable for making a refugee story upbeat and triumphant as well as deeply moving. Director Sally El Hosaini does a tremendous job of making the story of swimming sisters accessible and often lightly amusing, showing a side of young Arab women rarely shown on screen, as my colleague Pete Hammond noted in his review. I was lucky enough to interview Olympian Yusra Mardini along with the actresses that played her and her sister Sara, and seeing the bond between them all was affecting. – AS

THE WONDER

Florence Pugh The Wonder

From A Fantastic Woman to Disobedience, I’ve always loved the work of Sebastián Lelio, and The Wonder is no exception. Based on a novel by Emma Donoghue (Room), it’s a brooding, absorbing period thriller set in Ireland, with a formidable central performance from Florence Pugh and a star-making turn from Kila Lord Cassidy as her perplexing patient. It plays with fascinating themes around faith, science, gender and family, and is stunningly lensed by Ari Wegner. It feels like all the departments are at the top of their game here, from costumes to the writing team: Lelio co-wrote this with Donoghue and Alice Birch (Lady Macbeth). – AS

ZILLION

The Belgian nomination for the Best International Oscar has been sewn up, of course, by Lukas Dhont’s haunting Cannes hit Close, an emotional study of a young boy whose life is thrown into turmoil when tragedy takes away his best friend. Robin Pront’s local hit Zillion is brash by comparison, but it does mine similar themes of male insecurity, telling the true story of a nerdy, short-statured computer whiz who changed horses midstream when his money-laundering involvement with a porn producer introduced him to the glamorous world of nightclubs. Like Fatih Akin’s recent urban gangster story Rheingold, Zillion gives a refreshing European makeover to the Goodfellas formula and a bunch of other Scorsese movies too (Casino and The Wolf Of Wall Street). But like Akin, and arguably even more than Scorsese, Pront is careful to show that the adrenaline excitement of a crazy story is soon countered by the ugly truth of the human cost.  – DW