To direct the Spanish-language thriller Everybody Knows, two-time Academy Award®-winning director Asghar Farhadi moved from his homeland of Iran to the picturesque plains of Spain. In the film, Laura (Penélope Cruz) returns from Buenos Aires with her family to attend her sister’s wedding in her small hometown. But this joyous event turns frantic after Laura’s teenage daughter is kidnapped and she must depend on her old flame Paco (Javier Bardem) to help untangle the local secrets covering up the crime. While Farhadi—whose earlier masterpieces A Separation and The Salesman were set in Iran—changes locations, New York Magazine points out, “his interest in the microcosms of small communities needs no translation, and perhaps even benefits from some fresh scenery.”
With Everybody Knows opening in select theaters on February 8, we're remembering Focus’ other international films. From Ang Lee’s steamy spy thriller Lust, Caution to Cary Fukunaga’s harrowingly emotional tale of immigration Sin Nombre, these movies demonstrate that cinema is a truly universal language.
Raw | Femme fatale
Julia Ducournau’s horror drama Raw rocked audiences with its shocking tale of a vegetarian (Garance Marillier) who develops a taste for the human animal during her first year at veterinary school. While set in France, the film’s agile exploration of taboo and desire is universal. “For me when you talk about the body, you talk about much more than the body—you talk about the human condition,” Ducournau explains. From its subtle air of dread to its splattering of gore, Raw proves that Ducournau “knows how to make the vocabulary of horror filmmaking either finesse or bludgeon with a frightening degree of facility,” all making for what Rolling Stone proclaims is a “Modern Horror Masterpiece.”
Thirst | True blood
In Thirst, Korean director Park Chan-wook recasts the vampire story as an allegory of faith and fear. When a priest (Song Kang-ho) suffers the unfortunate side effect of becoming a vampire while participating in an experimental vaccine test, he finds his belief in God being overwhelmed by his insatiable thirst for blood. Originally inspired by Emile Zola’s 19th century French novel Thérèse Raquin—a decidedly non-vampire story—Park wanted to explore the idea of past crimes haunting the present though the classic monster myth. Freely mixing Eastern and Western elements, Park makes a masterful movie mash up, which Entertainment Weekly calls “a gaudy, daring, operatic, and bloody funny provocation of a melodrama.”
Sin Nombre | Crossing borders
In 2009, filmmaker Cary Fukunaga (Jane Eyre, True Detective) opened the world’s eyes to his cinematic talent with his debut feature Sin Nombre. In the film, a young girl looking for a new life (Paulina Gaitan) and an ex-gang member (Edgar Flores) hoping to flee his past meet on a train bound for the United States. Fukunaga—himself the child of Japanese-American and Swedish-American parents—had become interested in the tough challenges facing immigrants in his award-winning short Victoria para chino and spent months traveling the same rail lines his characters do in Sin Nombre to get the story just right. Looking to a classic American story, “the idea of the pioneer drudging to the West with that hope” for something better inspired him to focus on Central American immigrants. For The Washington Post, Fukunaga creates “a polished yet authentic mini-masterpiece: a simple, engrossing fable whose classical storytelling feels very alive and appropriate in today's world of tangled borders and allegiances.”
Lust, Caution | Heart of darkness
After creating a masterpiece of American cinema with Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee returned to China—albeit not the Taiwan of his youth—to film the erotic espionage story Lust, Caution. Set mostly in Japanese-occupied Shanghai in the late ‘30s, Lust, Caution follows a young actress (Tang Wei) recruited by the Chinese resistance to entice and then help assassinate a leading collaborator (Tony Leung). When their liaison strays into dangerous emotional waters, the two enemies find their political beliefs and personal desires becoming tragically entangled. To tap into the couple’s raw energy, “I had to strip down and get to the heart of the darkness, ” Lee admits. In fully embracing the complexity of the human heart, Lee creates what The Los Angeles Times calls “A brooding meditation [that] gets under your skin with its examination of what qualifies as love and what does not.”
Swimming Pool | A French twist
French master François Ozon conjures up a chilling summer fantasy with his sunny-noir Swimming Pool. When mystery author Sarah Morton (Charlotte Rampling) is offered her publisher’s chalet in the South of France, she jumps at the chance to get away from her writer’s block and grey, overcast London. What she didn’t expect was her publisher’s impulsive French daughter (Ludivine Sagnier) showing up to stir things up, including Morton's feverish imagination. "I wanted to start with two cliches and then find out what really lies behind the masks,” Ozon explains about the way he aligns English and French stereotypes for dramatic effect. In so doing, The New York Times notes, “he slyly turns his delicate study in generational and cross-cultural sexual rivalry into a suspense thriller.” And a sizzling one at that.