Cinema of Europe

Explore the very best movies from Western, Southern and Northern Europe, based on a selection of over 9,100 films.

Join us in shifting the world’s focus on American cinema back to the many other equally rich, yet underappreciated film industries around the world. In this article series, we highlight several hidden gems produced within a certain geographical region, one film per country, from the riches of Europe to the remote island nations of Polynesia.

As a bonus, we will make a donation to the welfare of wild cats, and the preservation of their habitats, for every film purchased through this site.

Table of Contents

Pick a Country

BelgiumDenmarkEstoniaFinlandFranceGermanyGreeceIcelandIrelandItalyLithuaniaThe NetherlandsNorwaySpainSwedenSwitzerlandUnited KingdomWest-Germany

The History of European Cinema

Before World War I, Germany, Italy, France, and Britain dominated the worldwide film industry. The destructive nature of both World Wars caused many of Europe’s film industries to falter, as its hosting countries lacked funding for the motion picture industry. Meanwhile, the United States had reached what is now known as “the Golden Age of cinema”. Import embargos prevented American films from reaching Europe during World War II, but once those embargos were lifted, the European markets were flooded with American films that had been produced during the war.

The heavy competition arising from this steady stream of films being imported into Europe meant the final nail in the coffin for many national film industries. It wasn’t until the late 20th century that European cinema found its footing again.

European Cinema (Lola Rennt)
(Credit: Lola Runs / Lola Rennt, Germany)

Today, the modern European film landscape is still dominated by American films. Thanks to decades of growth, North American film studios can now continuously produce big-budget films, easily fending off foreign competition. This has forced European production houses to focus on a cheaper, more cost-effective form of film: art house productions. Europe became known for the production of serious, small scale films, focusing on different aspects of everyday life and the emotional struggles originating from it…

The Best Films from Western Europe

We start off in bustling Western Europe, visiting the national film industries of some of the world’s most prolific non-English cinematic landscapes. Hitting the ground running, we explore the controversial films of the Netherlands, before moving into experimental Germany and looking back at the impressive output of West-Germany. We continue our journey through gentle-natured Belgium, eclectic France, working-class Ireland, and the prolific United Kingdom. Slowly migrating south, we cross mountainous Switzerland to reach the sun covered beaches of Southern Europe.

The Netherlands: Off Track

Directed by: Sander Burger, 2017.

World Cinema 001 - The Netherlands (Off Track)
(Credit: Off Track)

Worldwide, the Netherlands is known for its open-mindedness, famously legalizing soft drugs, prostitution, and euthanasia. Dutch films are similarly known for their blasé handling of taboos. It’s not uncommon for a Dutch movie to depict a sweaty sex scene complete with freely dangling genitals, or to show a character doing his or her business on the toilet. If you haven’t seen at least one pair of bare breasts bouncing around in the latest Dutch movie you watched, you might have mistaken a Flemish film for a Dutch one.

Though the first Dutch film, Disturbed Angler (1896) was a fictional slapstick comedy, the country was renowned for the production of documentary films before fiction films grew in popularity. National cinema didn’t start gaining in popularity until the 1970s. From the 1970s to the 1990s, directors Paul Verhoeven and Dick Maas boosted the national film industry with commercial films such as Turkish Delight (1973) and Flodder (1986) – each having a fairly high breast count – but it wasn’t until the early 2000s that Dutch film really found its footing. Sadly, this was paired with a steady stream of lackluster releases: every year the Dutch film industry churned out a host of silly, star-studded romantic comedies, leaving audiences skeptical at the idea of quality Dutch cinema – as is evident in the low IMDb scores for about every Dutch movie ever made.

Because it was extremely difficult for producers to gain funding for their projects, the public broadcasting foundation Nederlandse Publieke Omroep initiated the Telefilm initiative in 1998; a financial support system aiding the production of six made-for-television films per year. Over 20 years and 100 titles later, the Telefilms are stronger than ever, offering up films that put the country’s cinematic output to shame.

Off Track (2017) is one of those Telefilms. First broadcasted in 2017, the film tells the story of three Dutch men enjoying life on the road in Ecuador. After a nightly adventure at a local club, the backpackers are lured into a shady brothel. There, main character Luuk encounters Soledad, a young prostitute forced to work under dire conditions. Shocked by his encounter with Soledad, Luuk takes the story of meeting a “hooker with a heart of gold” one step further: he tries to negotiate her freedom, hoping to save her from life in hell.

Off Track is an honest, true-to-life depiction of illegal prostitution, bringing the story of Luuk and Soledad to a heart-breaking conclusion. In the tradition of Dutch film, Off Track doesn’t shy away from complex social issues and manages to challenge its viewers’ ideas about illegal prostitution.

Raw and uncompromising, Off Track follows the struggles of three friends backpacking through South America as their ideals and values are challenged following an encounter with a local prostitute.

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Germany: Head-On

Directed by: Fatih Akin, 2004.

World Cinema 002 - Germany (Head-On)
(Credit: Head-On / Gegen die Wand)

The history of the German film industry is one of the richest in Europe. In the years after World War I, Germany produced up to 250 films per year. The unstable political situation in the country during the 1930s and 1940s, however, led to a number of renowned filmmakers and actors leaving the country. Many of them established prosperous careers in the United States, such as director Fritz Lang and actress Marlene Dietrich. Though the country was able to re-establish its film industry after the war, German cinema never found its way back to the top.

From the 1980s onwards, a new wave of popular films revitalized the industry by harking back to the provocative nature of early German cinema, while establishing a new form of film. The original feel of German cinema was recaptured in films such as Run Lola Run (1998), Good Bye, Lenin! (2003) and Reclaim your Brain (2007).

Modern German films often take a critical look at current social and political issues. Spirited and rebellious, the films continuously question the German social system, making sure past mistakes are not repeated. Fatih Akin’s Head-On (original title: Gegen die Wand, 2004) combines the provocative nature of early German films with a story firmly rooted in the multicultural society of modern-day Germany. Head-On is a raw drama about Cahit, a nihilistic Turkish-German who has given up on life following the death of his wife, and Sibel, a woman trapped between traditional values and the modern world. The film shines a dark light on the lives of the immigrants living in Germany, sketching a modern love story within the framework of a broken society.

In Head-On, a forty-year-old addict is approached by a suicidal young woman requesting to set up a pretend marriage in order to break free from the strict rules of her conservative family.

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West-Germany: Wings of Desire

Directed by: Wim Wenders, 1987.

World Cinema 003 - West-Germany (Wings of Desire)
(Credit: Wings of Desire / Der Himmel über Berlin)

After World War II, Germany was split in two, as was its national film industry. In Berlin’s Soviet occupation zone, cinemas re-opened merely three weeks after Germany’s capitulation and the East-German film industry was given a strong boost by the ruling powers. On the other side of the wall, film production stagnated. Though both East and West eventually fully re-established their film industries, neither could fight off foreign competition.

Thanks in part due to its relations to the West, West-Germany was able to secure eight Academy Award-nominations between 1949 and 1990, while East-Germany was only nominated once in 1976 for the Holocaust film Jacob the Liar (1974). Only a few years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, director Wim Wenders filmed Wings of Desire (original title: Der Himmel über Berlin, 1987), a film depicting the lives of two immortal angels roaming around Berlin. Walking freely throughout the city and unbound by the wall, the angels reflect on the Germany that once was.

Wings of Desire offers an intriguing view of human existence through the eyes of Damiel, an angel who sheds his immortality to be with a lonely trapeze artist named Marion. Damiel’s confrontation with the limitations and harshness of his newfound humanity is beautifully sculpted throughout the film, offering an intriguing glimpse into the history of a once-divided nation.

Two angels, Damiel and Cassiel, wander around Berlin, listening to the many thoughts of the city’s inhabitants and offering comfort where needed. Becoming tired of his immortality, Damiel chooses to become human after falling in love with a beautiful trapeze artist.

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Belgium: Come as You Are

Directed by: Geoffrey Enthoven, 2011.

World Cinema 004 - Belgium (Come as You Are)
(Credit: Come as You Are / Hasta la Vista!)

Compared to other Western European countries, the Belgian film industry is characterized by its slow start. It wasn’t until the 1990s that the country’s cinematic landscape really came into bloom, producing Academy Award-nominated films such as Daens (1992) and Bullhead (2011). Belgium’s film industry perfectly reflects the state of the nation itself: the country’s cinematic landscape is linguistically and politically divided into two separate regions; the Flemish-speaking north and the French-speaking south.

The Flemish road comedy-drama Come As You Are (original title: Hasta la Vista!, 2011) crosses both the country’s linguistic border as well as its actual borders. In the film, three twentysomething men are paired up with a grumpy, French-speaking nurse hired to chaperone them on a road trip. Each of the men struggles with a physical handicap: Philip suffers from paraplegia, Jozef is almost completely blind and Lars has an incurable brain tumor, which paralyzed his body. Worried they might all die as virgins, the three friends plan to overcome their disabilities and travel to Spain, where they hope to visit a brothel specialized in taking care of “their kind of people”.

The film brilliantly balances the sadness of living with a handicap with a dose of true, heartfelt optimism. Come As You Are shows how a strong spirit, guided by undying friendship, can overcome any disability. Humorous and endearing, the film gives life to the obstinacy of these three special friends, doing what most non-disabled people can only dream of doing.

Come as You Are tells the story of three physically handicapped men and their chaperone, embarking on a unique road trip through France to Spain, hoping to finally lose their virginity in an accommodating Spanish brothel.

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France: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Directed by: Jacques Demy, 1964.

World Cinema 005 - France (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg)
(Credit: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg / Les Parapluies de Cherbourg)

France is the birthplace of cinema. Auguste and Louis Lumière – together known as the Lumière brothers – screened the first 10 films ever made on 22 March 1895 in Paris. Their screening started with the short black-and-white silent documentary film Workers Leaving The Lumière Factory in Lyon (1895), which is considered to be the first film ever made. In the years that followed, the Lumière brothers would travel the world to introduce their new invention, and their trip sparked the dawn of many foreign film industries.

France continued to be at the forefront of development within the budding film industry, producing early success such as the adventure film A Trip to the Moon (1902) and the surrealist An Andalusian Dog (1929). To counter the onset of imported films, the French installed an import quota on foreign films after World War I. The quota indicated that for every seven foreign films imported into France, one French film was to be produced and screened in national cinemas.

The effects of this decision can still be felt today: France remains one of the strongest national film industries on the European continent. Counting the most Academy Award-nominations for Best Foreign Language Film ever and coming in second only to Italy in the number of wins, French cinema is a shining example of independent film production.

One of France’s most wonderful Academy Award-nominees is The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (original title: Les Parapluies de Cherbourg. 1964). The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is the antithesis to what we know about modern French film. French films often depict simple, yet captivating and emotional stories; a slice of life with a gut-wrenching twist, such as The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007). The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, however, is an all-out embracement of wonder.

Director Jacques Demy produced the film as a spiritual sequel to his film Lola (1961), which he often self-described as a “musical without music”. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg reuses the themes presented in Lola, but turns the film’s concept upside-down style-wise: were Lola was a black-and-white art-house film, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg became a meticulously designed splendor of color, combining a captivating musical vibe with a story of bittersweet passion.

A cinematic piece of art, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg tells the story of Geneviève, a young woman working in an umbrella boutique who is separated from her lover by the Algerian War.

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Ireland: The Commitments

Directed by: Alan Parker, 1991.

World Cinema 006 - Ireland (The Commitments)
(Credit: The Commitments)

Though often used as a location for filming foreign productions, such as in John Ford’s The Quiet Man (1952) and the HBO series Game of Thrones (2011-2019), Ireland’s own national cinema is a young one. During the 1980s, American animator Don Bluth managed to produce a series of hit animation films from within the Irish Sullivan Bluth Studios. An American Tail (1986) and The Land Before Time (1988) became worldwide hits, and Irish animation film studio Cartoon Saloon would later lift Irish animation to new heights with titles such as The Secret of Kells (2009) and Song of the Sea (2014).

The country’s commercial production of fiction films equally didn’t start proper development until the late 20th century. One of Ireland’s early successes was Alan Parker’s The Commitments (1991), an uplifting musical comedy-drama based on Irish novelist Roddy Doyle’s novel of the same name. The Commitments is distinctively Irish at heart. The spirit and soul of the Irish can be felt throughout the narrative: positive, no matter the circumstances. Watching the film feels like visiting Dublin’s obscure bars, or staying up until dawn in busker paradise Galway: music seems to flow through the country’s veins.

Like many other Irish films, The Commitments focusses on the country’s working-class. Set in northern Dublin, the film details the formation of an Irish soul band under the lead of happy-go-lucky music fanatic Jimmy Rabbitte. The film follows Jimmy’s attempt to form a proper musical group out of a band of working-class misfits and manages to portrait a charming portrait of the country’s spirited youth.

Living in the slums of Dublin, Jimmy Rabbitte decides to put together an Irish soul band: the Commitments.

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United Kingdom: Life of Brian

Directed by: Terry Jones, 1979.

World Cinema 007 - United Kingdom (Life of Brian)
(Credit: Monty Python’s Life of Brian)

The British film industry started operating in 1888, with the production of the world’s first moving pictures by Louis Le Prince. From the first British film, Incident at Clovelly Cottage (1895), to the poignant The Father (2020), Britain’s national film library is so extensive that choosing one definitive movie is nearly impossible: every choice would be a divisive one.

The United Kingdom produced mesmerizing classics such as The 39 Steps (1935), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), and A Clockwork Orange (1971) to franchise hits such as Dr. No (1962) and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001), proving that British cinema is of limitless wealth. Successful throughout the decades – in part due to its collaborative nature with the United States and other English-speaking markets – the United Kingdom managed to secure itself a place at the top of the worldwide box office.

Known for its fish and chips, school uniforms, the Beatles, and an insurmountable dose of dry humor, British culture is reflected in every film genre from heavy drama to over-the-top action movies. Where the British film industry really excels, though, is when its directors present their deadpan humor in its purest form: comedy – dark or otherwise. Prime examples of British comedy can be found within the body of work put out by the comedy group Monty Python, consisting of John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin.

Broadcast by the BBC, Monty Python’s Flying Circus (1969-1974) was an incredibly popular British sketch comedy series. Following their television work, the Pythons began making films, including 1979’s Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979), a film every lover of British cinema should have seen at least once, because, “yes – [they] are all individuals!”

Brian of Nazareth, born in the stable next door to Jesus, becomes a reluctant Messiah after joining up with an anti-Roman political organization.

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Switzerland: My Life as a Courgette

Directed by: Claude Barras, 2016.

World Cinema 008 - Switzerland (My Life as a Courgette)
(Credit: My Life as a Courgette / Ma vie de Courgette)

Sandwiched between the Swiss Alps displayed in Philipp Stölzl’s Nord Face (2008), Switzerland has a relatively small film industry. Swiss national cinema is primarily influenced by the industries of its neighboring countries: France, Germany, and Italy. Like other European films, early Swiss productions mostly focused on the working class, who accounted for most of the paying audience.

Switzerland enhanced its film industry by co-producing several films with its surrounding neighbors. This led to the production of award-winning hits such as the Academy Award-nominated The Boat is Full (1981), a film about refugees seeking shelter in Switzerland during World War II. Still slowly growing its national film industry, Swiss films vary greatly in terms of content: the landlocked country’s multicultural nature – Switzerland has four official languages – is reflected in its output.

My Life as a Courgette (original title: Ma vie de Courgette, 2016) is a remarkable French-language stop-motion animated film, directed by Swiss animator Claude Barras. At first sight, My Life as a Courgette’s visually stunning pallet of colors hides the dark, sobering story of its main character Courgette. The opening scenes of the film, however, instantly reveal its true nature: My Life as a Courgette is an adult comedy-drama, filled with emotional depths not often found in an animated movie.

After losing his mother, a young boy nicknamed Courgette is sent to an orphanage, where he struggles to fit in amid the foster home’s equally traumatized children.

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The Best Films from Southern Europe

After exploring the national cinema of Western Europe, we move onto the cinematic industry of Southern Europe. From the great epics of Italy to the colorful slice-of-life dramas of Spain, we finally reach the shores of Greece: the birthplace of theatre.

Italy: The Best of Youth

Directed by: Marco Tullio Giordana, 2003.

World Cinema 009 - Italy (The Best of Youth)
(Credit: The Best of Youth / La Meglio Gioventù)

The first Italian film was a short 1896 documentary showing Pope Leo XIII. Before the wars, the nation led the development of art cinema and pioneered many stylistic aspects of film. Italy was responsible for producing some of the world’s first blockbusters, such as Quo Vadis? (1913) and Cabiria (1914), making it one of the most renowned film-producing countries of its time.

Unfortunately, like in most other countries, Italy’s national film industry was brought to a grinding halt due to World War I. Re-establishing itself after World War II through the production of neorealist films, the country’s film industry survived by continuously reinventing itself. Moving from neorealist films to sword-and-sandal films and Spaghetti Westerns such as Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars (1964), Italy managed to stay relevant within the cinematic landscape.

Following the Academy Award-win for Cinema Paradiso (1988) in 1989, Italy’s national film industry was boosted by a generation of new talent. To detail the rich, yet the troublesome history of his country, director Marco Tullio Giordana adapted the tradition of several earlier Italian films: in The Best of Youth (original title: La Meglio Gioventù, 2003) he narrated Italian history through the eyes of one family.

Running at 366 minutes, The Best of Youth chronicles the lives of two Italian brothers and their families from 1966 through 2003. Balancing the family’s personal dramas with the political events that took place during the brothers’ lives, The Best of Youth paints a beautiful portrait of the shaping of modern-day Italy, in the form of a true Italian epic.

Spanning from 1966 to 2003, The Best of Youth follows the lives of two brothers as they live through some of the most tumultuous events of recent Italian history.

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Spain: Talk to Her

Directed by: Pedro Almodóvar, 2002.

World Cinema 010 - Spain (Talk to Her)
(Credit: Talk to Her / Hable Con Ella)

War and authoritarian rule long thwarted the proper development of Spain’s national film industry. The first Spanish film was released in 1897, and by 1914, Barcelona was the center of the Spanish film industry. Like their neighbors in Italy, Spanish studios produced many historical epics, such as The Life of Christopher Columbus and His Discovery of America (1917).

Following the Spanish transition to democracy in the mid-twentieth century, Spain began to collaborate with Italy to finance and produce a number of films. Additionally, countries such as the United States, Greece, the United Kingdom, and Mexico shot several films in Spain. The collaborative nature of the Spanish film industry in the early democratic era can still be seen in the production of several English-language films produced by Spain, such as The Machinist (2004) and The Impossible (2012).

Though co-producing many films with other countries for several decades, Spain was also able to establish its own national film industry. Following the general trend of European cinema, Spain produced mainly art films for niche markets. Spanish films are characterized by their absurdist, off-beat nature, often combining humor, drama, and romance, such as in Cows (1992), Unconscious (2004), and Km. 0 (2000).

Pedro Almodóvar’s Talk to Her (original title: Hable Con Ella, 2002) takes on a somewhat more serious tone, combining drama with an unconventional, off-beat romance. The film stars Spanish art-house actress Leonor Watling as Alicia Roncero, a beautiful dance student residing in a coma. Watling, who is equally famous for her talents as the lead singer of the jazzy band Marlango, is a familiar face within the Spanish film industry and can be seen in a large number of Spanish productions from the 2000s.

Male nurse Benigno dedicates his life to his only patient, Alicia, a young dancer in a coma. While at work, Benigno befriends Marco, who’s girlfriend is brought into the hospital in a comatose state after a bullfighter accident.

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Greece: The Red Lanterns

Directed by: Vasilis Georgiadis, 1963.

World Cinema 011 - Greece (The Red Lanterns)
(Credit: The Red Lanterns / Ta Kokkina Fanaria)

The first Greek feature film, Kostas Bachatoris’ Golfo (1914), slowly started the nation’s film industry. Production truly took flight after the end of the 1919-1922 Greco-Turkish War, building up towards the country’s “Golden Age of Cinema” in the 1950s and 1960s. During this period Greece produced a series of internationally successful epics, such as Michael Cacoyannis’s Electra (1962) and Zorba the Greek (1964). Unconcerned with Communist influences like its surrounding countries, Greek films were generally more liberal in terms of story and characterization.

A classic example of these liberal, open-minded films is Vasilis Georgiadis’ The Red Lanterns (original title: Ta Kokkina Fanaria, 1963), which takes place inside one of Pireus’ many brothels. The film was the second Greek film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and, though not a winner, was lauded around the world.

Set just before the ban on brothels in Troumba, Pireus, The Red Lanterns follows the daily lives of the brothel’s residents. Actress Tzeni Karezi takes center stage as the beautiful Eleni, who struggles to fend off the affections of her abusive “manager”. Eleni is surrounded by a diverse group of girls working in the home of Madam Pari, a former prostitute now running her own brothel. The girls’ stories are tales of hope and optimism, but also show clear signs of desperation, oppression, and inevitability.

The Red Lanterns follows the stories of five women working as prostitutes in a low-class brothel in Troumba, Pireus, in the period before the ban on prostitution forces the girls’ Madam to close down their house.

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The Best Films from Northern Europe

Heading into Northern Europe, we start with Iceland in the North Atlantic, after which we’ll dock our boat in Denmark, take the Øresund Bridge to Sweden, and travel onwards to Norway and Finland, before heading into the Baltics to visit the former Soviet Republics Estonia and Lithuania.

Iceland: Reykjavík-Rotterdam

Directed by: Óskar Jónasson, 2008.

World Cinema 017 - Iceland (Reykjavík-Rotterdam)
(Credit: Reykjavík-Rotterdam)

It took some time before Icelandic cinema established itself internationally. In 1991, director Friðrik Þór Friðriksson’s Children of Nature (1991) was the first Islandic movie to receive an Academy Award nomination. Afterward, the country’s cinematic landscape started showing signs of growth. Iceland’s relative seclusion in the film market lies mostly in its geographical isolation and its small, thin-spread population. Counting less than 40 screens and producing less than 10 films per year, the country’s small but steady output is slowly gained traction.

With Reykjavík-Rotterdam (2008), director Óskar Jónasson bridged the gap between Iceland and mainland Europe, leading his characters on a high-risk voyage from their home island to the busy port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands. Jónasson assembled an all-star cast of Icelandic actors and with Reykjavík-Rotterdam, made one of the most expensive Icelandic films of all time.

The film was a great success, winning five Edda Awards in its home country and receiving the dubious honor of being remade in the United States under the title Contraband (2012). The remake, starring Mark Wahlberg, was directed by another successful Icelandic director, Baltasar Kormákur, who made a name for himself with films such as The Deep (2012) and Everest (2015). Quality-wise, Kormákur’s Contraband is no match for its predecessor, though. Reykjavík-Rotterdam easily overshadows the remake in terms of action, humor, and drama, unveiling a touch of what life is like beyond the sea.

Faced with money problems, a security guard accepts a smuggling job aboard a ship sailing from Reykjavík to Rotterdam.

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Denmark: Nymphomaniac, Vol. I & Vol. II

Directed by: Lars von Trier, 2013.

World Cinema 018 - Denmark (Nymphomaniac)
(Credit: Nymphomaniac)

Ever since director Peter Elfelt shot Denmark’s first film, Traveling with Greenlandic Dogs (1896), the country’s film industry has maintained a steady stream of film production. Denmark has a long history of off-beat, unconventional filmmaking, challenging social, religious, and moral themes.

In 1995, Danish directors Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg started the Dogme 95 filmmaking movement to bring the art of filmmaking back to its core. The directors hoped to do this by embracing the profession’s traditional values and obscuring the use of elaborate special effects and advanced technology. Subversive and controversial, von Trier himself spent a lifetime making experimental films.

In 2013, von Trier concluded his thematic “Depression” trilogy with the two-part art film Nymphomaniac (2013). Though Nymphomaniac is not directly related to its predecessors – the controversial Antichrist (2009) and the enigmatic Melancholia (2011) all three films feature characters dealing with depression or grief.

Watching Nymphomaniac will be a true test of open-mindedness, as the film reads like a poetic presentation of a psychological study. The film starts by telling the story of the sexual awakening of a young woman, but progresses into more controversial territories as it goes on. Throughout its lengthy running time, Nymphomaniac continues to challenge viewers’ ideas and conceptions concerning several topics, from sadomasochism and abortion to the psychological issues of pedophiles. The film has the ability to offend every single conservative mind, but if you are willing and intrigued by the question of whether a child molester can be a victim of his own mind, this might be the right movie for you.

Running at over five hours, Nymphomaniac tells the story of a self-diagnosed nymphomaniac recounting her sexual experiences to the man who takes care of her after receiving a beating.

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Sweden: Force Majeure

Directed by: Ruben Östlund, 2014.

World Cinema 019 - Sweden (Force Majeure)
(Credit: Nymphomaniac)

Swedish cinema is inseparably connected with the name Ingmar Bergman, Sweden’s most famous and influential filmmaker. Winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film for two consecutive years with The Virgin Spring (1960) and Through a Glass Darkly (1961), Bergman paved the way for future generations of Scandinavian filmmakers. Just like many other European countries, Sweden upped its film production in the 1980s and hasn’t slowed down since.

A recent addition to Sweden’s director’s pool is Ruben Östlund. Östlund debuted making skiing films and documentaries, but broke through internationally with his feature film Force Majeure (original title: Turist, 2014). Much like the previously discussed Nymphomaniac, Force Majeure deals with some uncomfortable subject material. The film’s main storyline concerns the aftermath of an avalanche, during which a man prioritized his own escape over the safety of his family. The marital tension resulting from the man’s split-second decision derails the lives of the family.

One of the things that make Force Majeure so uncomfortable to watch is seeing just how destructive human emotion can be. Our lack of communication, our sense of self-worth… Force Majeure brings its core characters spiraling down a deep hole they might never climb out of – not by major conflict, not by a series of life-changing events, but simply through their own, flawed humanity.

A family vacation in the French Alps takes an unexpected turn when a man prioritized his own escape over the safety of his family during an avalanche.

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Norway: Kon-Tiki

Directed by: Joachim Rønning & Espen Sandberg, 2012.

World Cinema 020 - Norway (Kon-Tiki)
(Credit: Kon-Tiki)

Norwegian cinema started several years after the film industries of its surrounding countries. The first local film was the documentary short The Dangers in a Fisherman’s Life (1907). Though not as prolific or revered as its neighboring countries’, Norway’s cinematic output has been a notable player on the international market for some time. With Kon-Tiki (2012), directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg brought a unique part of Norwegian history to the big screen and were awarded for it with a series of nominations. Taking place far away from the country’s icy shores, Kon-Tiki is set in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

The Kon-Tiki expedition was a 1947 journey across the Pacific Ocean, led by Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl. Heyerdahl aimed to prove the possibility that Polynesia had first been settled by people from South America, rather than people migrating from the west. His beliefs were based on the similarities between the cultures of Peru and Polynesia, as well as several native legends detailing a conflict between the Hanau epe and Hanau momoko tribes.

To prove his theory, Heyerdahl – played by Pål Sverre Valheim Hagen in the film – set out on a journey to sail the Pacific on a pae-pae raft, which he named after the Inca god of sun and storm, Kon-Tiki. Along with his crew of five men, he voyaged the ocean on the steerless raft, left to perils of the open sea. Kon-Tiki shows the great challenges Heyerdahl and his crew went through in proving what nobody in the world wanted to believe.

To complement your viewing experience, also watch Heyerdahl’s own documentary Kon-Tiki (1950), which details the sea voyage through his own lens.

To prove that it was possible for South Americans to first settle in Polynesia, Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdal sets out to sail 6,900 km across of the Pacific Ocean on a balsawood raft.

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Finland: Rare Exports, Inc.

Directed by: Jalmari Helander, 2003.

World Cinema 021 - Finland (Rare Exports, Inc)
(Credit: Rare Exports, Inc.)

After the Lumière brothers screened their films in Helsinki in 1896, it took almost a decade for Finland to produce its first local film, Novelty from Helsinki: School youth at break (1904). Regular film production started in the 1920s, and the country’s film industry slowly developed throughout the silent era into the Finnish “Golden age of Cinema” in the 1930s. After a decline in success in later years, the industry was revitalized under influence of the French New Wave movement of the 1960s and received a second boost by the European surge of national cinemas in the late 1990s.

Running at a mere 8 minutes, Rare Exports, Inc. (2003) is by far the shortest recommendation on this list. Carefully crafted by Jalmari Helander, the short film turns Finland’s legendary status as the home of Santa Clause upside down. Rare Exports, Inc. follows the efforts of three skilled hunters venturing into the woods to capture a rare and dangerous prey. The question as to what exactly they are hunting – and why – is part of what makes Rare Exports, Inc. such a great little dark fantasy film.

Dark, surprising, and funny, Rare Exports, Inc. serves as one of the best anti-holiday movies. The short’s brilliant pacing combined with its documentary-style storytelling offers a rare and unconventional take on the Christmas festival. Though Helander’s feature film career never really took off, Rare Exports, Inc. did spawn both a sequel titled Rare Exports: The Official Safety Instructions (2005) and the full-length feature film Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010). Both were directed by Helander himself.

Rare Exports, Inc. is the perfect film for you if you wish to have a full cinematic experience in under ten minutes. The short combines a sense of wonder with the thrills of a horror movie and the laughs of a solid dark comedy. Do watch the short film first before turning your attention towards the feature-length version; the initial reveal is just too good to be spoiled.

Three elite hunters venture into the bitter cold woods of Lapland, to track down and capture a rare and dangerous prey for the Christmas season.

Watch Rare Exports, Inc. on Vimeo. Not available on

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Estonia: In the Crosswind

Directed by: Martti Helde, 2014.

World Cinema 022 - Estonia (In the Crosswinds)
(Credit: In the Crosswind / Risttuules)

A short ferry ride from Finland, Estonia is the most Northern of the three Baltic states in Europe. Occupied by Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Russia even before World War II’s Soviet occupation began, Estonia finally declared independence in 1991. During it’s earlier, short-lasting period of independence between 1918 to 1934, Estonian director Konstantin Märska produced and directed the country’s first full-length feature film Shadow of the Past in 1924.

Estonia’s national film industry followed the same path as that of the Polish film industry: the end of Stalinism allowed filmmakers to become more liberal and the country’s declaration of independence in 1991 opened up the market for independent filmmakers. During this period, however, the cost of filmmaking skyrocketed and Estonia’s output declined dramatically. In 1996, no feature films were produced at all.

After the 1990s, Estonia’s national film industry once again showed signs of growth. One of the country’s – and perhaps, all of Europe’s – most unique films is director Martti Helde’s In the Crosswind (original title: Risttuules, 2014). In the Crosswind is a beautifully sculptured three-dimensional photograph of the emotional and tragic mass deportation of Estonians to Siberia during World War II. Helde’s black and white tableaux vivant is both mesmerizing and hypnotic, and fashions an eerie portrait of a dark page in Estonia’s history.

In the Crosswind recounts the tragic deportation that took place in the early morning of June 14, 1941. Ordered by Stalin to remove the political opponents of the Soviet government, more than 40,000 people from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were deported to Siberia.

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Lithuania: Forest of the Gods

Directed by: Algimantas Puipa, 2005.

World Cinema 023 - Lithuania (Forest of the Gods)
(Credit: Forest of the Gods / Dievu Miskas)

The history of Lithuania’s cinematic landscape is very similar to that of Estonia’s film industry. In the early 20th century, Lithuania mainly produced short films, but during the country’s short-lived independence in the 1920s, several feature-length films were produced. Similar to Estonia and Latvia, Lithuania was occupied by both the Soviets and the Germans during World War II, and after the war ended the Soviet Union had once again reoccupied the small nation.

Following the same path as other Soviet-occupied nations, Lithuania’s film industry’s output was embedded in Communist ideals, but became more liberal after the death of Stalin and was eventually liberated from censorship after the country gained independence in 1990. With independence came a heavy decrease in state funding due to financial issues, drastically dropping the number of movies the Lithuanian film industry was able to produce. Nowadays, the country produces an average of two films per year.

One of Lithuania’s modern-day successes is Algimantas Puipa’s Forest of the Gods (original title: Dievu Miskas, 2005), a film highlighting a different aspect of the mass deportation depicted in Estonia’s In the Crosswind. Forest of the Gods is based on the novel The Forest of the Gods by Lithuanian poet Balys Sruoga. Sruoga based the novel on his experiences as a political prisoner in the Stutthof concentration camp during World War II. Stutthof was built on the former site of the Forest of the Gods, which was leveled by the Nazis to construct the camp. During the war, an estimated 63,000 to 65,000 prisoners died in Stutthof. Due to Soviet censorship, Sruoga’s novel was not published until after Stalin’s death in 1957…

A university professor is sent to a Nazi concentration camp as a ‘political safety arrest’, where he details the ongoing struggles of the camp’s prisoners and sheds light on its many inhabitants.

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Looking for something else? Check out our recommendation for the best films from Eastern Europe, films from Africa, films from South Asia, films from West and Central Asia, films from East and Southeast Asia, films from Oceania and the Pacific, films from North America, films from Central America and the Caribbean and films from South America.

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