Five Great Foreign Comedies

5) Xala (1975), dir. by Ousmane Sembene, Senegal

This movie is so wonderfully hilarious, but also manages to make a scathing, satirical political statement. It follows official “El Hadji” in the wake of Senegal’s independence from France. He decides to marry his third wife (much to the chagrin of his daughter and other two current wives), and soon discovers on his wedding night he has been plagued with the curse of impotence, or “xala,” and makes every attempt to find the cure.

4) The Last Laugh (1924) dir. by F.W. Murnau, Germany (Spoilers ahead)

Okay, so technically this movie is not a comedy at all, nor was it ever originally intended have any comedic twist. Really, it’s a somber and devastating look at the life of an experienced doorman. After taking a brief, much needed respite, his manager replaces him. Jobless, homeless, and utterly humiliated, the doorman tries to hold his life together but eventually goes to die in a public bathroom. Why is it funny, then? Murnau and screenwriter Carl Mayer were forced by the production company UFA to change their ending to a happy one to ensure its success. So, immediately following the depressing, original ending, a title card explains that a supremely wealthy hotel resident bequeathed their estate and all of their money to the doorman. The film ends with a jovial doorman feasting and giggling. It’s hilarious, and still manages to hold up as one of the greatest commentaries on the film industry.

3) Hot Fuzz (2007) dir. by Edgar Wright, UK

I might get some flack for choosing this over Shaun of the Dead (2004), and I’m okay with that. I think Shaun is absolutely hilarious, and I don’t blame anyone who might think it’s superior. However, there’s something about Hot Fuzz that I just connect with more. Maybe it’s because I have more of a penchant for action films than zombie films. Regardless, it’s a movie I could probably see every day and not get sick of. It’s incredibly smart, detailed, exciting, and makes me laugh more than most movies.

2) The Rules of the Game (1939) dir. by Jean Renoir, France

Easily one of (if not) the greatest films of all time, Rules of the Game has everything you could ask for in a movie. Jean Renoir expertly deals with class differences and societal commentary in such a subtle but affecting manor. While this is not uncommon for Renoir (The Grand Illusion [1937]), Rules seems to be his crowning achievement. At once emotional and thought provoking, it is also filled with wit and humor. The beautifully languid camera pans and floats from scene to scene, providing groundbreaking long takes that perfectly complement the complicated choreography of the film.

1) Playtime (1967) dir. by Jacques Tati, France

Where do I even start with Playtime? It is my personal favorite film of all time, and is my go-to “desert island” movie answer. It’s a film that requires such acute attention, and yet it also urges you to take your time, and enjoy yourself. Repeated viewings are highly recommended, as it’s near impossible to absorb all of the amazing sight gags even after years of rewatching it. Tati started his career as a mime, and later took that style of quiet, subtle humor and translated that into the richest, comically brilliant films that may not rely on dialogue, but have a focused attention on sound. His masterpiece is without a doubt Playtime. He built an entire city (referred to as Tativille), and because of that, the movie rendered him completely broke. It is a truly exceptional film.

Honorable Mentions: House (1977), Trollhunter (2010), Amelie (2001), The Triplets of Belleville (2003), The Gods Must be Crazy (1980), La Cage aux Folles (1978), Big Man Japan (2007), and literally every other movie made by Jacques Tati.

Author: Catherine Haas

Catherine Haas is a native Philadelphian who received her master’s in film history from Columbia University. She is a freelance film programmer, writer, and an avid pug enthusiast.

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