It’s a treat for history fans to watch these 10 films, which were all shot in languages that are either extinct or in danger of extinction.
Language enthusiasts and linguists are constantly searching for documentaries on or in extinct languages in order to broaden their linguistic horizons and pass the time. The real question is, why limit it to documentaries, and why limit it to linguists?
If you’re looking for an excellent movie to see in a language that most people haven’t heard of, this is a great resource for you. We’ve included films in languages that are only spoken by a small minority of the world’s population, languages that are only spoken by a small minority of monolingual speakers, and even a few films in extinct languages.
1. Volcano / Eldfjall (2011)
The Cannes Film Festival nominated this Icelandic film, which was shot entirely in Icelandic, for a few categories at the Cannes Film Festival (amongst others). Hannes, an elderly guy who does not get along with his children, is the focus of the film. After his retirement, his wife had a stroke, and he was devastated.
Hannes’ harsh and hard exterior begins to soften as a result of the sad events, and he begins to make amends with his children and atone for his earlier sins. Icelandic is not a dead language, but it is spoken by just about 350,000 people around the world.
2. Calon Gaeth [Lit. Small Country] (2006)
An topic of familial obligation and personal fulfillment was addressed in this Welsh-language (with some English) drama film. In the year 1914, Tom Evans visits his parents’ estate in West Wales with his fellow Oxford student, Edward.
While at home, Tom receives a surprise. As a result of his father Josi’s decision to leave the home he grew up in with his mother Rachel, Miriam, his infant is being carried by the local teacher. Infuriated and duped is Catrin’s reaction to her father’s betrayal. Each finds a way to break free of a tethered heart when Catrin discovers her desire for Edward. Welsh isn’t the rarest language on this list, but it has fewer speakers in the world than most other languages, making it less common than other languages.
3. Seachd: The Inaccessible Pinnacle (2007)
The Inaccessible Pinnacle at the summit of Mount Sgurr Dearg in the Cuillin mountain range on the Isle of Skye was the setting for this Scottish Gaelic-language film. For the sake of finding out the truth about the loss of his parents and his grandfather’s terrifying stories, Angus visits his dying grandfather. In this collection of tales from the Gàidhealtachd (Scotland’s Highlands and Islands and the Gaelic-speaking tradition of the Highlands and Islands), there are tales of tragic lovers, terrible revenge, and water horses.
Angus’ grandfather takes control of his life and leads him to the Inaccessible Pinnacle, one of Scotland’s most treacherous mountain summits, where he discovers an ancient truth he never expected. Three BAFTA nominations were made for the film. In 2020, a research predicted that the Gaelic language will be extinct within a decade if there were only 58,000 proficient speakers remained.
4. The First King: Birth Of An Empire / Il Primo Re (2019)
Old Latin was still in use in 75 BC when this Italian historical film was made (the beginning of the age of Classical Latin). Legendary Rome’s founding duo of Romulus and Remus are reimagined in this story.
Siblings aged 18 are living a peaceful existence close to the Tiber River at the opening of the film. Having come to believe that life has more to give, Remus has faith that he will one day rule over his own city, one that he and Romulus would build together in the future. Nevertheless, their calamitous end was written in the stars. This incredible journey will lead the brothers to build one of the most powerful empires the world has ever seen.
5. Gypsy / Cigán (2011)
Gypsy tells the story of Adam, a young man who, after the death of his father, sets out to better the lives of his siblings by leaving the confines of his Roma community. Amidst a sea of prejudices, he finds himself at odds with the unrecorded rules of his own people. He feels compelled to commit a heinous crime because of the odds stacked against him.
This was Slovakia’s official entry for the 84th Academy Awards’ Best Foreign Language Film category, but it was omitted from the shortlist.. The majority of the film is shot in Romani, with a small amount in Slovakian thrown in for good measure. There are numerous Romani dialects, none of which can be understood by anybody else. Some are so distinct from one another that they are really classified as separate languages. Only about 150,000 people speak Carpathian Romani, one of the Romani dialects found in Slovakia and the surrounding countries.
6. The Orator / O Le Tulafale (2011)
When Tusi Tamasese made his first Samoan feature-length film in the Samoan language with a Samoan cast and storyline in 1995, he made history as the first Samoan filmmaker to produce a feature-length Samoan film. There are currently an estimated 510.000 speakers of Samoan, according to a 2015 estimate, however that number could be significantly lower today. Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2012 Oscars, The Orator was New Zealand’s entry but did not make the cut. It was New Zealand’s first entry in this category because it was the first Samoan film.
When Saili, a villager and taro farmer, faces major challenges to his land and his household, he is content with his lovely home life with wife Vaaiga and their small daughter Litia. Also, he’s been stripped of his father’s title as chief of the tribe. For the sake of his loved ones, Saili will have to speak up.
7. Kings (2007)
When an Irish-speaking group of friends relocates to England in the 1970’s, they face a variety of challenges, including adjusting to a new country, adjusting to a changing national identity, and adjusting to the lives they left behind. Leaving Galway’s Connemara Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking district of Galway), the boys set off for London, bursting with hope for a better future. They rejoin at Jackie’s burial, the group’s youngest member, thirty years later.
The film weaves together recollections to an Irish adolescence marred by deception and the harsh realities of the present day. It’s been a rough 30 years. As the facts of Jackie’s death become more apparent, the friends begin to realize they will miss the closeness they shared before she died. Only 170,000 people in Ireland today are fluent in Irish as a first language.
8. Arracht [Lit. Monster] (2019)
Tomás Silleabháin’s historical drama, shot primarily in Irish Gaelic and released in 2019, is set during the Great Irish Famine of the late 19th century. In 1845, Connemara, Ireland: At a time when the Great Famine is decimating his community, fisherman, farmer, and family man Colmán Sharkey is at his wits end. He confronts his landlord on the subject of raising the rent for his lodgers while potato blight contaminates the crop one ill-fated evening.
Violence erupts that night, causing Colmán to flee the law for a crime he didn’t commit in the midst of the famine of his township’s residents.
9. Time Of The Gypsies / Дом за вешање [Dom Za Vešanje, Lit. Home for Hanging] (1988)
Romani and Serbo-Croatian dialects were used in the filming of Emir Kusturica’s Yugoslavian coming-of-age fantasy (with a little Italian and English).
An important film in the Kusturica canon. Filming took place in Sarajevo, which is now part of modern-day Bosnia-Herzegovina; and Skopje, which is now part of modern-day North Macedonia, where the native dialect is Balkan Romani.
Perhan, a young Romani child with telekinetic skills who lives in the area around Sarajevo and in Italy, gets seduced by the cash-grab world of petty criminals, which puts his life in danger and threatens to damage the people he cares about.
10. The Passion Of The Christ (2004)
As the greatest grossing Christian film of all time, as well as one of the ten highest grossing R-rated films of all time, this well-known biblical epic has a cult following worldwide. It was shot fully in reconstructed Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. There are flashbacks to Jesus’ life, including the Passions, which are the final 12 hours of Jesus’ life depicted in the film.
Critics were split about the film because it depicts the Scourging at the Pillar with too much realism, which some found too disturbing. Other critics thought the film to be emotionally charged and riveting. One thing is for sure: Jim Caviezel’s portrayal of Jesus Christ was flawless.