With South Korean film Parasite taking home the Best Picture gong at this year’s Oscars, it’s clear that foreign language films and series are having a bit of a moment. Keen to polish your language skills whilst devouring a good box-set at the same time – or just looking to sound more cultured at your next dinner party? Either way, you won’t regret getting stuck into these subtitled Netflix dramas:
Following hot on the heels of Homeland (which also began life in Israel), Israeli terorrism thriller Fauda – which means ‘chaos’ in Arabic – has been a bit of a global smash for Netflix. While the show has tension and explosions by the bucketload, the secret of its success lies in the knowledgeable perspective of its creators – in particular, Lior Raz who served in the elite undercover Israeli Defence Force unit on which the series is based. Having already swept the awards in Israel, Fauda will be hoping for even bigger things when its third series – set in Gaza – hits Netflix later this year. If you’re not sold yet, it’s also got the James Delingpole seal of approval.
Given its about missing children and time travel, Dark – Netflix’s first German language original series – prompted instant comparisons to Stranger Things when it landed in late 2017. Yet many fans say the more accurate comparison is with Twin Peaks – another surreal and brooding drama which revels in its own weirdness. The second series of Dark, released last year, mixes things up even further, transporting the main characters into a mysterious future realm where they encounter even more supernatural freakery. With overlapping plots and multiple timelines in play at once, this isn’t one to watch with one eye on your phone. Those who pay attention will reap the rewards.
Based on a prize-winning Scandi crime novel Quicksand probes the aftermath of a school shooting on a quiet Swedish community. The show’s main character is Maja, a 16-year-old girl who had been in a relationship with the shooter (now deceased) and, as the only bystander left alive, finds herself suspected of being an accomplice. The question for the police – and the viewer – is whether she is really complicit. Geared towards older teen audiences (not unlike the Scandi mega-hit Skam) Quicksand dives backwards into the couple’s past, deftly exploring their respective family problems and alienation from their peers.
Pitching itself somewhere been a telenovela and House of Cards, Ingobernable is a Mexican political thriller which doesn’t hesitate to put its foot to the pedal – which in this case means offing the president within the first episode. This regicide sets in place an elaborate conspiracy plotline as the former First Lady – who had been petitioning for divorce – is forced to flee the country to avoid being framed for his murder. If that weren’t salacious enough, the show has also generated some real-world intrigue: its star, Kate del Castillo, was a former love interest of the Mexican drug-lord Juan ‘El Chapo’ Guzman and famously brokered a meeting between the narco boss and the actor Sean Penn (who conducted a secret interview with Guzman prior to his arrest).
As a workplace period drama, Cable Girls offers a neat foil to the testosterone-laden world of Mad Men. Following the lives of a group of women working as telephonists in 1920s Spain, this rich drama provides a powerful reminder of that old feminist maxim: that the personal is political. Though for all its spunky heroines – and intelligent plotlines around domestic violence and women’s liberation – the show does share some interesting similarities with the world of Don Draper’s ad-men: there’s plenty of smoking (of course), its period aesthetics are stunning, and one of the central characters is operating under a stolen identity. A show of contrasts indeed.
Suburra: Blood on Rome
Inspired no doubt by the runaway success of Gomorrah, Suburra is a gritty Italian crime series that explores the pervasive nature of organised crime in modern day Rome. Like The Wire, Suburra starts by chronicling the lives of street hoodlums before eventually broadening its focus to show how Mafia-style corruption infects everything from provincial government to the all-powerful Catholic church. After solid critical acclaim, Suburra’s third and final season is scheduled to hit Netflix later this year.
Norwegian thriller Nobel was scooped up by Netflix in late 2016 after the NPR drama made a bit of a splash in Scandinavia. Combining the nail-biting tension of Zero Dark Thirty with a splash of understated Nordic noir, it follows a Norwegian sniper who returns from combat in Afghanistan only to find himself embroiled in a dark web of geopolitical intrigue stretching from Oslo’s foreign minister to China and the Middle East. While its lead man, Aksel Hennie, might look like a Hollywood hardman with his shirt-ripping physique, Nobel is no mindless action-fest. Instead the show slowly builds the tension over its eight-part run – and is all the better for it.