Movies are a very important part of the holiday season, especially when you really need an escape from your family. There are only so many times you can hear George Bailey cry about Zuzu’s petals, though, or Tiny Tim say “God bless us, everyone!” If that’s the case, you should branch out this year and try a foreign holiday film. Whether you’re into romantic comedies or gory horror, there’s a good one out there for you.
If You Like: Fairy Tales
Try: Tři Oříšky pro Popelku (Three Wishes for Cinderella)
Think Cinderella, except better. The 1973 film, originally released in both Czech and German (Drei Haselnüsse für Aschenbrödel) versions, has become a seasonal tradition in Eastern Europe. It’s broadcast every Christmas Eve in Norway, Switzerland, Germany, Russia, Poland, Slovakia, Ukraine and the Czech Republic (or Czechia, if you’re up on current events). The story observes the regular narrative of poor Cinderella being kept from the king’s ball by her stepmother, but she gets the prince anyway. The most noticeable change is that instead of a Fairy Godmother, Cinderella gets three hazelnuts that grant her wishes. The exact translation of the title is Three Hazelnuts for Cinderella, but I guess that was too nutty for American audiences. Also, instead of just wowing the prince at the ball, Cinderella first impresses him by showing off her hunting skills, which makes this version less shallow than the usual story.
If You Like: Romantic Comedy
Try: Alles ist Liebe (All is Love)
This 2014 German film is Europe’s response to Love Actually. And now that Love Actually is off Netflix, you need it more than ever. Alles ist Liebe is the story of ten men and women in Frankfurt whose stories intersect during the Christmas season. When I said “Europe’s response to Love Actually,” did I really mean that it’s almost exactly the same? Yes, yes I did. In fact, Alles ist Liebe is based on Alles is Liefde, a 2007 Dutch film that itself was a reinterpretation of Love Actually. So basically, Love Actually has created its own genre of international film.
If You Like: Historical Drama
Try: Joyeux Noël (Merry Christmas)
There’s a famous story about how World War I paused on December 25, 1914 when Wilhelm, the German Crown Prince, sent an opera singer to the frontlines to celebrate Christmas. The singing sparked an unofficial truce on all sides of the war. The ordeal was ripe for fictionalization, and that is what happens in the French film Joyeux Noël. The movie follows six soldiers on various sides of the war, and it was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards. It’s a pretty sentimental film for one set in a war zone, and it points to the inhumanity of fighting by using a religious and ideological lens. It’s in French, German and English, so watching it is a particularly multilingual experience.
If You Like: Gory Horror
Try: El Día de la Bestia (The Day of the Beast)
The Christmas season is the most anxiety-ridden time of the year, so you deserve to kick back and watch a movie about the antichrist. Comedy horror and Christmas go together like fine wine and cheese, from 1980’s Christmas Evil to 2015’s Krampus. For biblical Christmas frights, you should watch El Día de la Bestia, which tells the story of a priest who tries to stop the antichrist by committing so many sins he can sell his soul to the devil in exchange for finding out where the demon-spawn was to be born. So deck the halls and lock all the doors and windows this year.
If You Like: Irreverent Comedy
Try: Vacanze di Natale (Christmas Vacation)
Despite the name, this 1983 Italian film has no relation at all to National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, but they are both part of larger series, and they are also both juvenile comedies. Vacanze di Natale starts with the familiar trope of two families, one “refined” and the other “vulgar,” running into each other again and again during their Christmas vacations in Cortina d’Ampezzo. There’s a convoluted love plot and lots of skiing action shots. So if you love Italy, and you really love ‘80s movies, this is the film for you.