How international films question and challenge North American perspectives

Different cultures offer different approaches to life’s many questions.

The Oscars’ international entries, including those that weren’t nominated, explore how human fundamentals—love and joy—take shape in the eyes of non-North American artists.

Whether they’re subjectively good or bad is irrelevant – either way, they’ll expand your capacity to appreciate perspective and, I hope, offer new ways of enjoying life.

France’s Oscar submission, The Taste of Things by French-Vietnamese director Tran Anh Hung didn’t earn a nomination but does excel at tenderly melding two human essentials: Food and love.

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Cook Eugénie, played by Juliette Binoche, pours time and affection into every raw ingredient.

Whether a simple breakfast or an elaborate baked Alaska, her painstaking attention to detail richly translates to an indulgent labor of love. Shot to make cooking synonymous with painting, Hung contradicts North America’s negative attitude towards food and food consumption.

Amidst diet culture and body checking, The Taste of Things lovingly reiterates that food is fundamentally a manifestation of love. After watching Hung’s work, home-cooked meals take on new meaning.

Whether made by or for you, food is the product of care, not hollow calories to be tracked and demonized.

Japan’s nominated entry, Perfect Days by German Director Wim Wenders, is a subdued response to a demanding question: How do we find happiness in a world that doesn’t stand still?

North American society would have us believe the answer is nagging positivity – by ignoring our sorrows, we’ll freeze time. Wenders’ film is the thoughtful pause needed to answer our question. The film opens with Hirayama, played by Kôji Yakusho, starting his day as a public toilet cleaner in Tokyo.

The film is paced with a degree of care that suggests time is moving as it should, Hirayama’s regimented life existing within a constant, peaceful flow of motion.

This tempo continues after a surprise encounter with his niece Niko (played by Arisa Nakano) who’s run from home for unknown reasons.

He shelters her as they laugh, eat and listen to the Rolling Stones. Their fun ends abruptly when Niko is forced to go home, breaking the flow Hirayama abided by.

Wenders grapples with Niko’s absence by allocating time for it – there is no cure to Hirayama’s pain, and thus it needs to be felt.

Perfect Days asserts that happiness is cyclical: It waxes and wanes like leaves on a swaying branch. Joy comes from reestablishing ourselves in life’s flowing motion, not stagnation in which we refuse loss.

The impact culture has on outlook is huge, widely differing and inspires beautiful conversation.

Tran Anh Hung & Wim Wenders interpretations expand the mosaic of multicultural perspectives, but the dialogue doesn’t end there.

All the Oscar’s international entries are unique in their approaches to life and equally capable of broadening your perspective.

Expand your watchlist to include international directors and you’ll find a nuanc in living.

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