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Six international holiday films to complete your expat Xmas (and improve your language skills)

As expats we can’t always make the trip back to spend Christmas with family, which can make this time of year tough for us. Nothing cures that holiday homesickness like cosying up in front of a classic festive film which takes us back to golden days of yore.

But instead of sticking with “It’s a Wonderful Life” or one of the infinite iterations of “A Christmas Carol,” why not try something new for your nostalgia fix this year?

How about a yuletide classic in the language of your adopted country, to bring you closer to the spirit of Christmas where you live?

This list compiles festive favourites in several languages and genres, from modern treats to classic tales, as well as one film widely regarded as an all-time great. Take your pick, and – depending on your choice – Feliz Navidad, Buon Natale, Feliz Natal, Hyvää Joulua, Joyeux Noël, Frohe Weihnachten or God Jul!

“Grumpy Christmas” (“Una navidad no tan padre”)

Where to watch: Netflix

Language: Spanish
Country: Mexico
Year: 2021

The age of streaming makes it possible for us to watch films anywhere, in almost any language. The most recent film on our list is a case in point. Netflix produced “Grumpy Christmas” as the seasonal sequel to Mexico’s 2016 minor-hit comedy “Un Padre no tan Padre” (“The Patriarch”).

Héctor Bonilla’s curmudgeonly grandpa Don Servando is dragged into spending Christmas at the beachside villa of his daughter-in-law’s aunt Alicia. Chaos naturally ensues as patriarch and matriarch butt heads, while several holiday movie stock characters – from the overworking, neglectful father to trysting young romantics – populate the supporting cast.

Although Grumpy Christmas follows a well-trodden formula with moments of genuine hilarity few and far between, what it lacks in belly laughs it more than makes up for in heart. There is a depth and warmth to its most touching scenes reminiscent of the best festive family movies.

Look out for the sprinkling of Mexican holiday traditions, too – some of which are broken, much to Servando’s chagrin.

“7 Women and a Murder” (“7 Donne e un Mistero”)

Where to watch: Netflix

Language: Italian
Country: Italy
Year: 2021

If your idea of a Christmas evening well spent is an Agatha Christie special, then this is the film for you. A darkly comic murder mystery, “7 Women and a Murder” sees a family of five women and their maid servant holed up in an Alpine mansion during a snowstorm on Christmas Eve in 1930s Italy. The body of Marcello, the father of the household and a wealthy entrepreneur, lies blood-stained in his bed upstairs.

Amid the women’s mutual suspicions and recriminations, there is a spine-chilling knock at the door. Could this unexpected visitor help unravel the mystery of Marcello’s untimely death?

While it is based on the 2002 French musical film “8 Women,” this version offers a quite different take on the story by removing the songs and adding a sharper, more satirical edge in their place.

“Just Another Christmas” (“Tudo Bem no Natal que Vem”)

Where to watch: Netflix

Language: Portuguese
Country: Brazil
Year: 2020

This novel twist on Groundhog Day stars Brazilian comedian Leandro Hassum as the perennial “man who can’t stand Christmas until he has to.” The film plays around with its source material innovatively to create an originally sympathetic character who develops in ways you really don’t expect – some achievement for a story of its kind.

As well as gags aplenty, the film offers up a moving climax which is navigated skilfully and sensitively when it could so easily have been the melodramatic pitfall to bring the whole thing down. As long as you don’t mind a good tearjerker over the holidays, this movie’s just another Christmas winner.

“Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale”

Where to watch: Prime Video (free with ads), Apple TV (rent or buy)

Langua Finnish, EnglishCountry: Finland
Year: 2010

There’s something in here for you, too, horror buffs. Santa’s real after all, and he and his elves are out to get you. This Finnish horror film is the progeny of two “Rare Exports” short films from the mid-noughties. It seamlessly combines the driest of deadpan black comedy with elements of terror, suspense, blood and guts that horror fans will love.

It also makes the most of its Lapland setting, weaving a reindeer slaughterhouse and sacks of giant ice blocks into the plot, and using a research team’s excavation of the Korvatunturi fell as the highly plausible MacGuffin for the story.

Overall, this funny, terrifying and compelling piece of work is up there with the very best of the Christmas Horror sub-genre.

“Joyeux Noël”

Where to watch: Prime Video, Apple TV (rent or buy)

Languages: French, German, English
Countries: France, Germany, UK, Belgium, Romania, Japan
Year: 2005

Joyeux Noël covers the legendary events of Christmas 1914 on the Western Front of the First World War, when British, French and German soldiers spontaneously began to fraternise in no man’s land. Men on opposite sides of the conflict returned prisoners, buried one another’s dead, exchanged gifts, sang carols and even played football together.

Given that this powerful subject has been misused and abused down the years purely for its sentimental value, the film does a good job handling it with care. It does so through the eyes of six protagonists – three in the British and French trenches, and three in the German trenches – each with their own authentic story and perspective on the events that unfold.

The film’s dedication to realism and aversion to simplifying or rose-tinting its plot allow it to pack the emotional punch that the real 1914 Christmas Truce story deserves.

“Fanny and Alexander” (“Fanny och Alexander”)

Where to watch: Prime Video, Apple TV (rent or buy), YouTube (free TV mini-series)

Language: Swedish
Country: Sweden
Year: 1982

The last theatrical film made by cinematic genius Ingmar Bergman is considered one of his masterpieces. Leaving aside its allusions to Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” and the piercing psychological intensity in its treatment of the two child protagonists, “Fanny and Alexander” is first and foremost celebrated in its native Sweden as a staple Christmas movie.

The film is not for the faint-hearted. Yet its lavishly beautiful depiction of a Swedish family Christmas at the turn of the 20th century, as well as the prominent role it assigns ghosts and other magical elements, ensures its place firmly in the canon of holiday classics.

Note: You can watch the longer mini-series version in five parts here, or rent or buy the 188-minute version of the film on various streaming platforms if you prefer.

Alex Beaton
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Alex Beaton is a writer from London, UK. His published works include a guide to starting a business in Warsaw, a fictionalised account of his time living in Egypt, and a 2013 report of the political situation in Bulgaria. He has also written extensively about his travels in France, Portugal, Italy and Malta.

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