Syndromes and a Century (2006)
Like Tsia Ming-Liang, Apichatpong Weerasethakul introduced the decade to a slower, more internally rhythmic cinema than had been seen ever before. With long, slow moving takes, sometimes on inanimate objects, unexplained allegorical images, and sparse dialogue with no connection to any kind of traditional plotting, "Joe" created some of the most quietly thrilling cinema of the decade. His masterpiece Syndromes and a Century is his most brilliant work. The film was censored and then banned in his homeland of Thailand, for what the Thai government saw as perverse content. But the film, with no nudity or violence, is not perverse, it is radical. It's a new cinema, and it's one that will take time to settle into favor.
See also: Tropical Malady (2004)
Dans Paris (2006)
The spirit of the Nouvelle Vague is alive and well inside Christophe Honoré's 2006 film Dans Paris. Starring a charismatic, Jean-Pierre Léaud-esque Louis Garrel and a convincingly depressive Romain Duris as two brothers, one energetic and full of life, one depressive and suicidal, taking place during one day (save for flashbacks) near Christmas, the film is as playful as any since the dawn of the New Wave. Speeding up scenes, direct addresses to the camera, a spontaneous burst of song, all welcome and normal in the free-floating Paris story. These techniques would be used further in his next film Love Songs, a Umbrellas of Cherbourg-esque tragic love story, and to even chillier effect in his brilliant literary adaptation of high school melodrama, La Belle Personne. But this is not to say Honore has repeated himself, as it did with the new wave pioneers, the freedom to do anything in a film has focused and intensified his work, but none are as thrilling as the first strike of that freedom, Dans Paris.
See also: Love Songs (2007), La Belle Personne (2009)
Three Times (2006)
This triptych of love stories from Taiwanese master Hou Hsiao-Hsien is equally the most grave and unforgiving, and the most beautiful and heart-swelling depiction of romance on film this decade. Ranging from a gorgeous, tenuous 1960s tale of affection without maturity, to a gorgeous, restrained 1910s tale of love blocked by societal standards, told entirely without dialogue, a piano score providing the only sound, to a gorgeous, if harsh modern day tale of love through separation, the interference of technology and the opening of morals. Did I mention it's well shot? This is what Hsiao-Hsien had been leading up to all decade, and his follow-up film brought that same approach to France, with equally beautiful results.
See also: Millenium Mambo (2001), Café Lumière (2003), The Electric Princess House (from Chacun Son Cinéma, 2007), Flight of the Red Balloon (2007)
The new millennium saw the brothers Dardenne charged with following up their most critically acclaimed work, the Palme d'Or winning Rosetta. They did it by making a revenge film, The Son, but because it's a Dardenne film, none of the usual artifice of those films is included, and in the end there is no revenge that can be taken. They continued on this path for their 2005 film L'Enfant, marrying crime plots with the harsh reality of their circumstance. They introduced more artifice, but never sacrificed their following cameras, lack of scoring, and inability to ring a false note. Featuring a brilliantly callous performance from Jérémie Renier, L'Enfant earned the Dardennes their second Palme d'Or in just six years, and is the pinnacle of their powers this decade. Arguably the most influential film on American independent cinema. If their newest film Lorna's Silence, with it's use of music and occasionally locked down camera, is a harbinger for the Dardennes' next decade of work, it'll be quite a change. For now, we wait, and we follow.
See also: The Son (2002), Dans L'Obscurité (from Chacun Son Cinéma, 2007), Lorna's Silence (2009)
In The Mood For Love (2002)
Wong Kar-Wai's elegiac platonic love story set in 1960s Hong Kong about two neighbors whose spouses are having an affair with one another. Developed through an arduously long shooting schedule and improvisation, this gorgeous film (shot mostly by Three Times cinematographer Mark Lee Ping-bin), features some of the most indelible images of the decade. Smoke curling up towards an overhead light, one hand reaching over and grabbing the next in the darkened light of a taxicab, a woman descending into a noodle shop, her hair and hip-hugging cheongsam soaked from the rain, a metal noodle container in her hand, passing by a man with an unacknowledged secret between them. It's an intelligent, emotionally complex, and engaging tale of love and loss that is told without the aid of plot. The spiritual sequel and follow up to the film, 2046, is an interesting continuation of mood, if not an entirely successful one, or one that lands anywhere near this masterpiece. Though Kar-Wai ended the decade with his disappointing English-language debut My Blueberry Nights, that film has enough spark from his previous films to hold out hope that the maker of the best foreign film of the decade has another great one in him.
Notre Musique, (2004) Jean-Luc Godard
After returning from the cold world of the Histoire(s) du Cinéma, Godard produced one of his best and most vital works of his post-Marxist career. This political, philosophical meditation on violence is split into Hell, Purgatory and Paradise. As affecting and demanding a work Godard has made, it was his lone bright spot in a mostly unproductive decade. Godard's next film will be his first on digital video. I guess things really are changing.
The Best Foreign Films of the Decade:
1. In The Mood For Love (2000), written and directed by Wong Kar-Wai*
2. Three Times (2006), written by Hou Hsiao-Hsien and Chu T'ien-Wen, directed by Hou Hsiao-Hsien
3. Syndromes and a Century (2006) written and directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
4. L'Enfant (2005), written and directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
5. Dans Paris (2006), written and directed by Christophe Honoré
*Kar-Wai's film would be somewhere in the middle of my other list, had I remembered it earlier.