Five International Movies to Stream Now

This month’s picks include a charming Polish documentary, a Portuguese coming-of-age tale with a twist, a gothic drama from India and more.

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By Devika Girish

‘The Balcony Movie’

Stream it on Mubi.

This charming documentary, from the Polish director Pawel Lozinski, turns the simple gesture of striking up conversation with a stranger into a deceptively profound inquiry into what people reveal when they’re asked to perform. Across two years, through every season, Lozinski, who lives in Warsaw, planted himself on his veranda and dangled both a camera and a microphone over a gray strip of concrete below, trying to enlist passers-by to do some soul-searching for a purported film about life.

When he tells these folks that they are to be in a movie, some preen, others shyly decline and yet others start philosophizing about what it means to live a life worthy of cinema. Some characters recur, so that we get to know them over time — like a middle-aged man whom we first meet when he’s just gotten out of prison, and whose appearances across the film, spanning several months, coalesce into a gutting portrait of the dispiriting prospects for former convicts.

Lozinski is never seen on-screen (only heard), and his camera is always looking down from above, giving him a godlike perspective. Accordingly, people treat the frame of his film like a confessional, divulging secrets with intimate abandon, reveling in the privacy one can sometimes only find in public spaces.


Stream it on Netflix.

Ghostly, vengeful hands emerge from a mirrored reflection in an ornate glass cabinet; a corpse hangs from a tree, like a chandelier, over a pristine landscape of sparkling snow; a mother, haloed in golden light, looms over a wailing child, only to snuff the screen with a pillow. Set in 1930s colonial India, “Qala” is a Gothic drama in which beauty feels like terror: It’s in the pursuit of artistic perfection that the film’s titular heroine (Triptii Dimri), the scion of a long dynasty of classical musicians, loses herself irretrievably.

Anvitaa Dutt’s movie weaves between Qala’s present as the country’s top singer, sought after by all the best movie directors; and her past as the daughter of an abusive single mother who wants a boy so desperately that she takes in an orphaned vocalist, alienating a distraught Qala. As the film slowly reveals the dark story behind Qala’s success, inviting and then dashing our sympathies, the proceedings can feel a tad predictable, with characters rendered in broad, obvious strokes. But the enticements of “Qala” lie not in plot but in form and feeling: Its haunting, gorgeously composed, period-perfect tableaux linger in the mind long after the film ends.

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Stream it on Mubi.

This first feature by Juan Pablo González is a miracle of nonfiction portraiture that unfolds like a shared secret between its director and his subjects. That sense of intimacy is owed partly to the fact that the setting is González’s own hometown, the Jalisco Highlands in Mexico. The central focus of “Caballerango” is the suicide of a young man, a childhood friend of the director’s. His story opens up an array of reflections from the townspeople on life in a place ravaged by drug violence, emigration and economic hardship.

As people quietly pour out their hearts to González, he keeps his camera close yet respectful, like a friend offering a sympathetic ear; he draws out their personal lives without ever seeming voyeuristic or exploitative. Their stories reside not just in words but also the rhythms of their everyday life, which Gonzalez highlights in striking compositions: The slaughter of a cow is shot in three economical, elliptical scenes; a race between two young men is rendered ebullient by kinetic camerawork; a drive during which a man recounts a tragic tale becomes a kind of visual poem, with González’s lens fixed on the rearview mirror, capturing only the driver’s eyes.

‘Backyard Village’

Stream it on Tubi.

Two lonely, wounded souls find solace in each other’s miseries in this Icelandic drama, though the relationship at the heart of Marteinn Thorsson’s film is refreshingly not a romance; “Backyard Village” is one of those rare movies about adult friendships. Having recently emerged from a naturopathic retreat — locals refer to it more plainly as “the asylum” — the middle-aged Brynja (Laufey Eliasdottir) takes up temporary residence in a nearby guesthouse so she can put off her return to home a bit longer. In that frigid little enclosure strewn with small, spare cottages, Brynja crosses paths with another resident, Mark (Tim Plester), an endearing Brit fighting his own demons.

The film reveals their back stories in increments, so that we discover the two characters as they discover each other, through awkward, endearingly comical exchanges. (At their first meeting, Mark tries to impress Brynja by cooking a local delicacy, only to discover to his great embarrassment that she is both a local and a professional chef). What we eventually learn of their reasons for seeking refuge in this scrappy, snowy limbo is devastating, but “Backyard Village” maintains a thread of warm, openhearted whimsy throughout, culminating with a Covid-themed coda that broadens its modest life lessons into affirmations of existential hope.

‘Simon Calls’

Stream it on Netflix.

For this beguiling, shape-shifting drama about a Portuguese boy dealing with the fallout of his parents’ divorce, the director Marta Sousa Ribeiro filmed her lead actor (Simon Langlois) in three phases: in 2015, 2017 and 2019. As the film unfolds, we watch him grow and mature before our eyes — think “Boyhood,” but in miniature.

This time-capsule structure is just one of the many twists Ribeiro adds to the coming-of-age genre template. The film comprises grainy, hand-held vignettes that drop us in and out of Simon’s home life with little exposition, interspersed with scenes of runaways and unhoused children from various documentaries. The two strands intertwine into a kind of puzzle — a thriller, even — that draws on the inherent unpredictability of an impressionable adolescent mind. The stakes of “Simon Calls” feel at once urgent and wholly banal, and in oscillating between these two emotional poles, Ribeiro precisely captures the microcosmic internal worlds of teenagers, where even the most familiar and everyday of problems can seem like apocalyptic disasters.

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