By Regan McMahon, Common Sense Media editor
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. Check out the slideshow of some of our favorite foreign films for kids, and for more suggestions, visit our Foreign Films for Kids list.
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. Read the full review
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. Read the full review
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. Read the full review
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. Read the full review
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. http://www.commonsensemedia.org/movie-reviews/cinema-paradisoRead the full review
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. Read the full review
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. Read the full review
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