Hulu Plus is not just for catching up on this week's episodes of The Daily Show or binge-watching old seasons of The Real Housewives of Orange County. It's also home to a huge number of films distributed by the Criterion Collection, a prestige company that since the Laserdisc days of the 1990s has been fulfilling its promise to release "a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films." And since not every important film was made in the United States (shocking but true), here are 10 of the best international films in the Criterion Collection, all streaming on Hulu Plus.
The Passion of Joan of Arc
A transformative, transcendent experience. Dutch director Carl Theodor Dreyer started with original court transcripts for his silent-era The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), telling the story of the mysterious 15th-century teenage French girl who claimed to have been chosen by God to lead troops into battle against the English. He also used strange, daunting close-ups of actors with no makeup, highlighting moles and other facial imperfections on Joan's accusers. But aside from this realism, Dreyer employed a disorienting technique of never matching two shots in the same space, so that everything seems to be untethered, drifting, like a dream. The movie also used an expensive set that goes largely unseen in the film. But the key to the movie is the beautiful, ethereal performance by Maria Falconetti as Joan — many have called it the greatest performance in the history of film. As she deflects each accusation that comes her way, she seems to have bared her very soul. It's a film that immerses viewers in a spiritual, intellectual, and emotional space unlike any ever captured on film before or since. Sadly, Hulu has opted to show only the silent version, with no musical accompaniment, but perhaps viewers can come up with their own score.
Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa is perhaps the best-known of all international directors, but this is mainly for his exciting, action-packed samurai movies. Those are great, but Kurosawa also made many powerful, contemporary dramas, and none were quite as moving as Ikiru (1952). Fans may recognize star Takashi Shimura from Kurosawa's Seven Samurai as well as Godzilla; here he plays a big city bureaucrat who learns that he has cancer. He grapples with the fact that his life's pencil-pushing office work hasn't amounted to much, and so he devotes his time to building a children's playground. The image of Watanabe sitting on a swing somehow manages to sum up all the movie's simple, powerful themes. Kurosawa's direction here is as gentle as it is energetic in the samurai films, and Shimura gives another of the all-time great screen performances.
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