My Top Ten Non-English Language Tragedies
Jun 21, 2004 (Updated Nov 10, 2005) Write an essay on this topic.
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Hand me the Kleenex! Just thinking about this list brings tears to my eyes. Whaaaaa! Boo, hoo! Why do we subject ourselves to such agony?
What makes a great tragedy, anyway? Well, the depth of tragedy is increased by (1) the fate of the tragic figure being truly appalling; (2) the tragic figure being someone we have come to care about; (3) the tragedy revealing a nobility in the tragic figure; and (4) the tragic figure bearing minimal or no moral responsibility for their own sad fate. My intention is to rate these films expressly for their tragic component NOT their overall worth as films (which would result in a different order). With that in mind, heres my . . .
Top Ten Non-English Language Tragedies.
#10. Anna Karenina (1967). Russian.
Anna Karenina is one of the great tragic heroines of literature torn between love for her man and love for her son. All she wants is to have them both at her side, but a loveless marriage and the social expectations of the Russian aristocracy force the tragic denouement.
#9. Sundays and Cybele (1962). French.
Who could ever forget Pierres senseless death . . . Cybeles final assertion that she no longer has a name? What makes this film special as tragedy is that pure love gets turned into pure tragedy by societys suspiciousness and intolerance.
#8. Shoeshine (1946). Italian.
Tragedy is always tough to take emotionally, but when it befalls children . . . it can be devastating. Take two spirited young boys and best friends and mix them up with a corrupt juvenile detention system, and the stage is set for disaster.
#7. No Mans Land (2001). Belgian.
This recent Oscar winner deals out a tragic outcome of gruesome proportions. It also makes a strong statement about the stupidity of war.
#6. Passion of Joan of Arc (1928). French.
This intensely moving tragic film spares the viewer no pain. Youll feel like youre practically in Joans skin as she suffers one humiliation after another and, ultimately, martyrdom.
#5. Burnt By the Sun (1995). Russian.
The impact of this film is rendered all the more potent by the appeal of Colonel Kotovs little nuclear family and the total senselessness of the Stalin purges that lead to the tragedy.
#4. Nights of Cabiria (1957). Italian.
For a non-fatal outcome and one that even includes a wry smile by the protagonist, this beautiful film still manages to feel pretty darn tragic. Cabiria only wants a little honest love but finds instead only heels ready to stomp on her heart.
#3. Los Olvidados (1950). Mexican.
Wherever and whenever boys grow up in slums, a significant percentage of them will end up in one kind of tragedy or another death, incarceration, or ground down by the poverty itself. Even for the good kids, sometimes theres no way out, as this masterpiece by Buñuel illustrates.
#2. La Strada (1954). Italian.
Poor sweet Gelsomina, poor broken-hearted Gelsomina. Left on the side of the road, driven to distraction! Poor Zampano, never realizing until it was too late how precious love is.
#1. Cyrano de Bergerac (1990). French.
Cyrano is one of the greatest tragic and romantic figures in literary history. First, he sacrificed his own great love for Roxane to help her pursue her interest in Christian. Then, after Christians death he again sacrificed his own amorous desires to protect Christians memory and his share of Roxanes love. Then, his old adversaries close in!
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Others in the Running and why they didnt quite crack the Top Ten (though all are beautiful films):
#11. The Virgin Spring (1959). Swedish.
Karins fate is tragic, but it comes in the middle of the film. The denouement doesnt qualify as tragic given that the Herr Tore is morally responsible for his actions.
#12. Black Orpheus (1959). Brazilian.
The tragic element is a little maudlin. This film is really mainly great for its lively music and atmosphere.
#13. Hate (1995). French.
The real tragedy isnt so much the ending as the antecedents poverty, ignorance, hopelessness that make such gruesome specifics somewhat inevitable.
#14. Freeze Die (1989). Russian.
The low-budget feel is a slight drawback for this film, but the tragedy is utterly powerful, especially because it involves children.
#15. War and Peace (1967). Russian.
Natashas loss of Prince Andrei is tainted just a bit as pure tragedy because her realization of her deep love for him came belatedly. Her youthful naivety did her in!
#16. Camila (1984). Argentinian.
The cruelty of the tragic outcome in this film is immense, yet the choice made by Camila and Ladislao, given the time and place, made the outcome almost inevitable.
#17. Star Maker (1995). Italian.
The tragic element of this film is reminiscent of that of La Strada: sweet, innocent, dim-witted young woman is driven mad by insensitive con artist and he realizes way too late what he let slip away. The weak and ambiguous ending detracts somewhat from the impact of the tragic outcome.
#18. A Bout de Souffle (Breathless) (1959). French.
Michel, the tragic figure in this film, is certainly a likable enough fellow, but hes also terminally stupid making his tragic outcome pretty much assured.
#19. Ran (1985). Japanese.
On overall merit, this film would rank much higher, but as tragedy it is marred by the fact that none of the principal characters are fully sympathetic ones. Every major character in this film has died by its end, but mainly as a result of their own destructive approaches to life.
#20. Jean de Florette (1986). French (See Jean de Florette/Manon.)
Taken by itself, the tragic conclusion of this film is weighty, but Jean de Florette was, in fact, the first installment in a two part film sequence and the concluding segment, Manon of the Spring, answers with an upbeat outcome.
#21. El Norte (1983). U.S.; Spanish language.
Brother and sister Enrique and Rosa struggle to reach El Norte (the USA) in one piece from Guatemala, only to find that tragedy has followed them all the way. This tragedy is medical in nature and therefore no more than what could befall any one of us.
#22. Raise the Red Lantern (1991). Chinese.
Songlians outcome (insanity) is certainly tragic, but Ive never quite bought that it was a credible response to what she had experienced. The whole social circumstance in which Songlian finds herself was fraught with tragedy.
#23. Journey of Hope (1990). Swiss.
The combination of hope, naivety, and callous disregard for risk set the stage for tragedy in this poignant film. Since only one of those three qualities (hope) is something to be admired, too much of the responsibility rests with the protagonist to make this pure tragedy.
#24. Mayerling (1936). French.
Romance and tragedy, forbidden love this film was based on the real life story of Archduke Rudolph of Austria and his beloved Marie. Only edge off the tragic element is that Ruddy kind of set himself up for this disaster.
#25. The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1971). Italian.
Any war film or Holocaust film can also be classified as tragedy, but Ive generally confined this list to tragedies befalling one or two major characters rather than mass political tragedies.
You may also enjoy my other genre lists for non-English language films:
Ten Excellent Spanish-Language Films
Ten More Excellent Spanish-Language Films
Coming-of-age Outside the USA!
Top Ten Foreign Language Psychodramas
Top Ten Non-English Language Political Movies
Top Non-English Language Comedies
Top-Ten Non-English Language Film Biographies
Top-Ten Non-English Language Action/Adventure Films
Top-Ten Non-English Language Mystery Films
Top-Ten Non-English Language ~Horror~ Films
Top-Ten English-Language ~Horror~ Films from Outside the USA
Ten Excellent Films Featuring Royalty
Ten Excellent Non-English Language Thrillers
Ten Non-English Language High-Yield Tearjerkers
Ten Best Non-English Language War Movies!!
Ten Excellent Non-English Language Senior Films
Top-Ten Non-English Language Films Featuring Classical Music
The Top Non-English Language Epics
The 10 Best Foreign Language Romance Movies!!
The Ten Best Non-English Language Love Story Movies!!
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