7 Foreign Films Kids Will Love

Don't let the subtitles scare you -- there's lots of fun to be had watching movies in other languages. By Regan McMahon
7 Foreign Films Kids Will Love

I showed my son, Kyle, his first foreign film when he was 7: the Academy Award-winning 1957 French classic The Red Balloon. I had seen it when I was his age, and I still recall being fascinated by how different the French kids dressed and how different the Paris streets looked. The fable-like, nearly wordless story was universal, yet so utterly French. Kyle loved it, especially seeing kids at play in another era. 

Fast-forward to his tween years, when I took him to his first foreign film at a movie theater, the dreamlike Chinese martial arts film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. He thought it was amazing, and it wasn't just the action sequences that wowed him. It was also the period detail, the artful cinematography, the heartbreaking romance -- everything that was nothing like anything he'd ever seen before. And he was able to follow the subtitles without a problem: "I barely noticed them after a while," he said," I was so caught up in the story."

Despite globalization and global pop culture, there are distinct perspectives, cultural differences, and approaches to filmmaking on display in films made in other countries. I suggest seeing them in their native tongue -- not dubbed -- so kids can hear the sound and rhythm of the language as it's spoken.

Exposing your kids to other cultures is also a great way to challenge prejudices and cultural stereotypes. Here are some of our favorite foreign films for kids:

  • The Red Balloon (age 7+)  --  A boy and a balloon make friends on the streets of '50s Paris and run away from a gang of kids who want to hurt the balloon. The movie is wordless except for some background voices.
  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (age 12+) -- This is a martial-arts fairy tale about two sets of star-crossed lovers and a magical sword. The fight scenes are balletic masterpieces.
  • Au Revoir Les Enfants (age 12+) -- Amusing scenes of classmates at a Catholic boys' school in 1944 France mix with the threat of Nazi occupiers. The movie helps kids see war and bigotry through the eyes of children.
  • Life Is Beautiful (age 13+) -- This Italian Oscar winner is full of humor and romance, but it also poignantly conveys the Holocaust's tragic toll on families.
  • Cinema Paradiso (age 13+) -- A fatherless boy in a small Italian town finds solace at the movie theater -- and a mentor and friend in its older projectionist. It won an Oscar for Best Foreign Film. 
  • Amélie (age 16+) -- This offbeat, whimsical romance set in contemporary Paris has odd and memorable characters, chief among them Audrey Tautou's strange and isolated Amélie. My daughter was so taken with the title character that she started sporting the same coiffure.
  • A Very Long Engagement (age 16+) -- This is a sweet, romantic World War I-era story of a woman (also played by Tautou) searching for her missing fiance. It offers searing views of life and fear in the trenches and bloody battles yet is fueled by the power of undying love.

For more suggestions, check out our Foreign Films for Kids list.

Tell us below: Would your kids sit through a foreign movie? Do you have any faves?

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About Regan McMahon

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Regan has been reviewing children's books for more than a decade. A journalist and former book editor for the San Francisco Chronicle, she cites as one of her toughest assignments having to read and review the 784-page... Read more

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Comments (10)

Parent of a 2, 6, and 8 year old written by SanJuanDweller

The movie Children of Heaven is a beautiful story about two poor children (a sister and a brother), and how they share a pair of shoes to go to school. The cinematography is superb. From Iranian filmmaker Majid Majidi. Also from same filmmaker is The Color of Paradise which I highly recommend as well. It's about a blind boy and how he perceives the world around him, how he enjoys life, and how he overcomes danger. For both movies your kids need to be able to read the subtitles or at least have someone explaining what's going on. For teenagers, I recommend Wake up Sid (Indian with subtitles), a love story that is fun, innocent, and not fast paced. You wouldn't imagine a love story without a kiss, and guess what? It's possible.
Parent of a 12 year old written by WildsonBug

Bollywood has many good ones for kids, at 11 our son really loved "Zokkomon." He is currently 12 and likes "A Town Called Panic" (French) which keeps him laughing at it's absurd sense of humor and "Dragon Hunters" (French, but I think there's an English dub now)... actiony buddy cartoon movie with some tween appropriate scary stuff. I agree with Mrs Crabapple about "Kirikou" and "Azur et Asmar." Finally, a great film from Iran called "Children of Heaven" about a pair pf lost shoes... and so much more.
Parent of a 8 year old written by Mrs. Crabapple

I'd recommend these French movies too: /1/ Kirikou et la sorcière (Kirikou and the Sorceress) (5+) - animated, dubbed in English. A boy who outsmarts everyone he meets ends up saving his village. 1998. /2/ La Boum (The Party) (11+) Subtitled. Good tween fun, made Sophie Marceau a star. /3/ Azur et Asmar (Azur and Asmar) (7+) - Animated tale of two brothers born to very different fates. 2006. /4/ Crin Blanc (White Mane) (8+) - beautiful, short b/w film about a boy who tames wild horses in the marshes of Camargue, France. Same director as Red Balloon. 1953.
Adult written by Scarsdale mom

There is the Japanese film, Shall We Dance? I have not seen it in many, many years, but I recall it being a beautiful, gentle movie. It would transport children to ordinary daily life in Japan and also introduce them to the world of ballroom dancing.
Adult written by Dr.Pepper

Just one word of caution: there is an uncut version of Cinema Paradiso out there that contains some strong sexual related content. Maybe like 16+ for that version. One foreign movie I remember watching in school was called Children of Heaven. It was kind of cute. I don't remember anything to objectionable in it (like strong violence, sex scenes, excessive foul language, etc) but it has been several years since I have seen it.
Adult written by AmieBerryhill

Amelie is my favorite movie but I would definitely give a stronger warning about the content not being appropriate for children or possibly even teens. It would be nice if there was a clean version that just cut out the few scenes that make the movie R-rated.
written by Amalthea

I loved "Life is Beautiful", and watched it with my daughters, ages 10 and 8. They both loved it as well (although the 8-year-old is constantly repeating "BELLYBUTTON!!!!"). It was a risk, but worth it. They want to see it again!
Adult written by nobbsy

Caterina in the Big City (Italian with subtitles). Somewhat like Mean Girls but better, in my opinion. Caterina is a young girl age 12 or 13 who moves from a rural Italian town to Rome. It's a very funny, and touching film. Available on Netflix streaming but the video is not sharp and occasionally the subtitles are difficult to read. I ended up buying the DVD. Mick LaSalle wrote a nice review in the SF chronicle, which you can read on IMDB.
Parent of a 11 and 11 year old written by jagness

We just watched all 6 episodes of Arn: The Knight Templar on Netflix. My boys are 11 so there was a scene or two that might have been questionable for their age but nothing too extreme. They really enjoyed the story with minimal explanation on my part about how the clans all fit together. It does have a LOT of characters. After the first episode one of them said "That is so good. It is totally worth having to read what they are saying."

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