This is the first of a four-part series on some of the best foreign-language films—at least according to two of our critics, foreign-film buffs Agnieszka Tennant and Stefan Ulstein. This installment examines the best films from Europe. Part 2, coming next week, will look at the best films from Asia; part 3, in two weeks, will examine the best films from the Middle East; and part 4, in three weeks, looks at the "best of the rest" of the world.

I cannot speak in generalities about movies from Europe. This diverse continent falls victim to enough stereotypes already. For example, we may think that the former Soviet Union chased out God from its territory and its art, or that French movies are risqué and shallow. Swedes are cold; Polaks are dumb; Serbs are ruthless.

But for every generalization about Europe and Europeans, there's a movie that defies it. The directors of the films listed below do it masterfully, giving us remarkable lessons in complex sensibilities of the continent from which many of our ancestors—and some of us—came.

Andrei Rublev

Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky

A critically acclaimed epic that sheds light on what it means to be a Christian and an artist, Andrei Tarkovsky's movie is based on the life of a medieval icon painter. Andrei Rublev traces its protagonist through a famine, a Tatar incursion, a "painter's block," a faith crisis, and finally his artistic restoration and a kind of redemption. The film itself is a visual magnum opus that celebrates beauty and art with such breathtaking intensity that one wonders if one could endure this movie had it not been in black-and-white.

Babette's Feast

Directed by Gabriel Axel

In Babette's Feast, director Gabriel Axel serves up the most delicious ...

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