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Now Playing: Foreign Language Films at the Theater, October 2010

Now Playing, a monthly feature by Beyond Words, highlights some of the best foreign films currently playing at the theater. American attendance at foreign language films dropped exponentially during the last decade, with foreign film ticket sales accounting for less than 1 percent of business at the US box office. We don’t want foreign films to disappear from the American movie landscape — they remain a great way to expose American moviegoers to new languages and cultures. So, we’re providing you with a few plot synopses and trailers.

This month we’re showcasing a Chinese documentary about migrant workers, a French thriller about the Résistance during World War II, and an experimental morality tale from Estonia. All you need to do is make your way to a local art house and enjoy these films on the big screen.

Last Train Home

Director: Lixin Fan, Languages: Mandarin and Sichuan

Every spring, China’s cities are plunged into chaos as 130 million migrant workers journey to their home villages for the New Year’s holiday. This mass exodus is the world’s largest human migration — an epic spectacle that reveals a country tragically caught between its rural past and industrial future.

Working over several years in classic verité style Chinese-Canadian filmmaker Lixin Fan (with the producers of the award-winning hit documentary Up the Yangtze) travels with one couple who have embarked on this annual trek for almost two decades. Like so many of China’s rural poor, Zhang Changhua and Chen Suqin left behind their two infant children for grueling factory jobs. Their daughter Qin — now a restless and rebellious teenager — both bitterly resents their absence and longs for her own freedom away from school, much to the utter devastation of her parents. Emotionally engaging and starkly beautiful, Last Train Home’s intimate observation of one fractured family sheds light on the human cost of China’s ascendance as an economic superpower. — &#169 Zeitgeist Films

Army of Crime

Director: Robert Guédiguian, Languages: French and German

In Robert Guédiguian’s taut, internationally acclaimed thriller, set during the French Resistance, Armenian poet Missak Manouchian (Simon Abkarian) and his French wife (Virginie Ledoyen) lead a ragtag assortment of volunteers — Jews, Poles, Hungarians, Italians, Spaniards and Armenians — in an assassination plot against the German occupiers and their French allies. — &#169 Lorber Films

The Temptation of St. Tony

Director: Veiko Õunpuu, Languages: Estonian, Russian, English and French

To appreciate Veiko Õunpuu’s artful tale of moral confusion, let’s begin where he does — with Dante’s Inferno: “Midway upon the journey of our life, I found myself within a forest dark.”

Tony, a middle-aged, midlevel manager, leads a quiet life. But one day, he starts to question the value of being good. In a series of bizarre encounters in which he fires his employees, witnesses his wife’s infidelity, and meets a soon-to-be kidnapped girl (never mind the severed hands and mystery dog), Tony gradually becomes unhinged from reality.

Õunpuu’s second feature asks, what good is goodness when all it brings is loss? He gleefully supplants our sense of narrative context with avant-garde flourishes, wryly devised vignettes, and unfolding metaphors, stranding us in poor Tony’s forest dark. Provocative and evasive, the film infuses chaotic energy and emotional tension into its elegant black-and-white imagery. Õunpuu’s stark vision feels more like a dream (or nightmare) and recalls the beauty of being oblique. — &#169 Sundance Film Festival 2010

Original source photo provided by The Powerhouse Museum Collection

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