Filmmakers Without Borders: 6 International Directors

From Everybody Knows’ Asghar Farhadi to 21 Grams’ Alejandro González Iñárritu, artists whose talents are universal

Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi ventured into new territory setting his thriller Everybody Knows in Spain. When Laura (Penélope Cruz) returns home for her sister’s wedding after having moved to Buenos Aires years before, tragedy strikes. Her happy reunion is shattered after her teenage daughter (Carla Campra) is mysteriously kidnapped. With the help of an old friend (Javier Bardem), Laura must confront long-buried secrets in the place she once called home to figure out why her child was taken.

Having won Academy Awards® for Best Foreign Film for his Iranian-based A Separation and The Salesman, Farhadi has emerged as one of the masters of world cinema. “As he transfers his talents to a European setting and Spanish-speaking cast,” The Globe and Mail explains, “Farhadi loses none of his remarkable ability to observe close relationships collapsing under stress.” In changing locales, his focus remains global, since as Farhadi notes, “We are all basically the same—love, hatred and anger are feelings that you find in all corners of the world.” 

With Farhadi’s Everybody Knows coming to select theaters in Los Angeles and New York on Friday, we celebrate other favorite directors, from 21 Grams’ Alejandro González Iñárritu to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’s Tomas Alfredson, who prove great filmmaking is universal.

The official trailer for Asghar Farhadi's Everybody Knows

21 Grams | Alejandro González Iñárritu 

When Alejandro González Iñárritu’s first American film 21 Grams hit screens in 2003, The New York Times expressed that watching it was “tantamount to the discovery of a new country.” A few years earlier his propulsive Spanish-language thriller Amores Perros opened the world’s eyes to the young Mexican director’s vision, as well as convinced Focus to help bring his talents to English-language audiences. With a stellar cast that includes Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, and Benicio Del Toro, Iñárritu created what USA Today called “cinematic art in its highest form” by weaving together three disparate storylines into a lyrical meditation on mortality and hope. In the years since, Iñárritu has confirmed what 21 Grams promised. Considered a modern auteur, Iñárritu joins that distinguished class of directors who have received at least two Best Director Academy Awards®—a distinction held by another Focus-favorite, foreign-born artist, Ang Lee.

Get 21 Grams now on iTunes or at Amazon.

Alejandro González Iñárritu directs Sean Penn in 21 Grams. Watch the official trailer.

The Motorcycle Diaries | Walter Salles

When Robert Redford was given permission to turn Ernesto Che Guevara’s travel journal The Motorcycle Diaries into a film, he asked Brazilian filmmaker Walter Salles to direct it. Having plumbed the most profound human emotions from the simplest of actions in his 1998 Central Station—nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress (Fernanda Montenegro) and one for Best Foreign Film—Salles was the perfect filmmaker to show us the brave new world of South America through the eyes of a young Guevara (Gael García Bernal) and his travelling companion Alberto Granado (Rodrigo de la Serna). Spending nearly three years retracing the actual route and meeting the people along the way, Salles beautifully recreated both the book’s intimacy and the journey’s grandeur. “What might have been a schematic story of political awakening” becomes under Salles’ direction writes The New York Times, “a lyrical exploration of the sensations and perceptions from which a political understanding of the world emerges.”

Get The Motorcycle Diaries on iTunes and at Amazon.

Walter Salles working with Gael García Bernal. Watch the trailer for The Motorcycle Diaries.

The Constant Gardener | Fernando Meirelles

Before taking on international intrigue in Africa in his adaptation of John le Carré’s thriller The Constant Gardener, Brazilian filmmaker Fernando Meirelles investigated crime and violence in Rio’s favelas in City of God. While the two films are worlds apart, Meirelles found a way to translate his electrifying South American style to make le Carré’s acclaimed novel cinematic. In the film, British diplomat Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes) sets out to solve the mystery of his wife’s (Rachel Weisz) death, only to run head on into the corrupt influence of pharmaceutical companies in Africa. "Fernando brought to it a third-world view,” exclaimed le Carré. “From the moment he was aboard, the story was about the victim rather than the perspective I had in the novel."

Get The Constant Gardener now on iTunes or at Amazon.

Fernando Meirelles with Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz on set. Watch the official trailer for The Constant Gardener.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy | Tomas Alfredson

Swedish director Tomas Alfredson seemed an unusual choice to bring to the screen John le Carré’s very English espionage novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. A few years earlier, Alfredson showcased his unique cinematic vision by reinventing the vampire genre with his Swedish-language fantasy Let the Right One In. For Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Alfredson would explore the claustrophobic Cold War culture of the seventies. The stony-faced spy George Smiley (Gary Oldman in his first Academy Award®-nominated role) has to ferret out a Soviet mole operating at the center of British intelligence. In decoding this intricate puzzle of politial paranoia, Alfredson turned his cultural difference into an asset. “Maybe it’s a good thing that I’m a foreigner and that I maybe see stuff that people from the same country don’t see,” notes Alfredson. Reinterpreting that world cinematically, Alfredson crafted a movie that, according to The Los Angeles Times, “is endlessly rich in incident, atmosphere and personality, a film that leaves us hanging on by the barest skin of our teeth as we try to figure out who is doing what to whom and why.”

Get Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy now on iTunes or at Amazon.

Tomas Alfredson for the official trailer for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

A Monster Calls | J. A. Bayona

While A Monster Calls takes place in an English village worlds away from the Spanish-language town of The Orphanage, the Barcelona-raised J. A. Bayona understands what ties both his films together. “Children in peril, and the mother in the center, and death in the horizon,” he explained are the elements that bring his stories “to an intensity that I love.” In A Monster Calls, Bayona uses the universal language of imagination to conjure up a dark fantasy in which a young boy (Lewis MacDougall) befriends a mythical tree to help him deal with being bullied at school and to love a mother (Felicity Jones) suffering a life-threatening illness at home. For The Verge, “J. A. Bayona has created an unforgettable, emotional experience with A Monster Calls, one that lets us grapple with our most basic human fears and worries, while lighting a beacon of hope that can shine through that darkness.”

Get A Monster Calls now on iTunes or at Amazon.

J.A. Bayona with Lewis MacDougall on the set of A Monster Calls for the official trailer.

Sign up for the Focus Insider newsletter to be first in line for free advance screenings, world premiere travel packages, weekend set visits, and so much more!

Follow Focus Features on InstagramFacebook, and Twitter.