Five International Movies to Stream Right Now
In the age of streaming, the earth is flat — screen-sized, with travel to faraway destinations only a monthly subscription and a click away. But sifting the wheat from the chaff can be hard with so many options, and harder still if you don’t know what to look for in the bounties of different national cinemas and film industries.
So let me be your travel agent each month: I’ll journey through the world of streaming and choose the best new international movies for you to watch. This month’s picks take you to Britain, India, Algeria (by way of France), Japan and Spain (by way of Germany). If you feel intimidated by the foreign languages, remember the wise words of Bong Joon Ho, the Oscar-winning director of “Parasite”: “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”
Stream it on Netflix.
We hear the boisterous teenage girls of “Rocks” before we see them. Their affectionate banter plays over the opening credits, which cut to a rooftop in London from which the girls gaze at the city’s skyline. A rousing, wonderfully specific film about a 15-year-old whose mother suddenly leaves, forcing her to fend for herself and her brother, “Rocks” uses voices, noises and languages to conjure up an absorbing portrait of Britain’s working-class immigrant community.
Rocks (Bukky Bakray) is of Jamaican and Nigerian descent, and her friend group comprises diverse nationalities and ethnicities: Somali, Romany, Bangladeshi, white. The girls’ conversations grapple with their cultural differences while never losing the natural rhythms of adolescent chatter. When Rocks encounters speakers of other languages, their dialogue is unsubtitled, faithfully capturing the aural fabric of a cosmopolitan city where the familiar mixes with the unfamiliar.
Most of the film’s young actors, including Bakray, are first-timers, but their ebullient performances convey multitudes: They switch effortlessly between rebellion, seriousness, and playfulness. Even as the director Sarah Gavron paints a wrenching portrait of abandonment and poverty, she makes no sweeping judgments about the film’s characters. Life, “Rocks” recognizes, can be messy and difficult, but the bonds of community can sustain us when all else fails.
‘Eeb Allay Ooo!’
Stream it on Netflix.
In this clever satire from India, a rural youth newly arrived in Delhi lands a strange job: shooing away monkeys from the city’s grand government buildings by making shrill sounds. It might seem like a gag out of a Tim Burton film, but “Eeb Allay Ooo!” draws from real life — some supporting roles are even played by actual “monkey repellers,” experts at the guttural calls that give the film its onomatopoeic title.
As one of these veterans warns our hero, Anjani (Shardul Bhardwaj), the job may seem like a lark but the stakes are high. The workers are caught between the demands of ruthless contractors, snooty bureaucrats, animal rights activists and Hindus who hold monkeys sacred. And as the director Prateek Vats emphasizes through bustling shots of Delhi’s thoroughfares, trains and cramped slums, Anjani is just one of many precarious migrants trying to eke out a living in an unsparing city.
But what sets “Eeb Allay Ooo!” apart from run-of-the-mill poverty-porn dramas is the mix of comedy and rage it taps into. Though no good at monkey chasing, Anjani starts to find release in the performative aspects of the job, and the film’s serene tableaux of working-class life soon give way to pricklier evocations of working-class discontent. Bhardwaj nails his character’s outward spiral, giving it all in a frenzied denouement set within a religious procession.
Stream it on Mubi.
Time and space ripple like the ocean in “South Terminal,” directed by the Algerian-French filmmaker Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche. The plot suggests that we’re in Algeria sometime in the 1990s, in the midst of a bloody civil war. But the film’s cobblestoned streets and sun-dappled coastlines are from southern France, and glimpses of cellphones and new car models scramble the period setting. Ameur-Zaïmeche never resolves these anachronisms, instead crafting an intentionally abstract film that powerfully evokes the repetitions of history and the troubling universality of violence.
Even the characters are nameless. The protagonist is simply “the doctor” (played with gruff vulnerability by the French comedian Ramzy Bedia), a surgeon who stays put even as those around him flee the country’s growing sectarian conflict and surveillance. His mulish commitment to his lifesaving work lands him in trouble when he is kidnapped and forced to treat a rebel leader, which makes him a target of the army.
The film is violent and fast-paced, and yet curiously spare, with stripped-down sound and languorous moments of mundanity. Ameur-Zaïmeche captures the resilience of ordinary lives caught in the cross-fires of war, while scenes of military checkpoints and oceanic escapes point to resonances with the contemporary crises of migration.
‘Any Crybabies Around?’
Stream it on Netflix.
The title of Takuma Sato’s film is the chant of the Namahage: folkloric ogres that visit houses on Japan’s Oga Peninsula every New Year’s Eve to playfully scare children and teach them good values. Tasuku (Taiga Nakano) is one of the young men who don monstrous masks and straw capes to enact this annual ritual — until, on one of his runs, he drunkenly embarrasses himself on live TV. (I won’t spoil how; it’s a masterful exercise in straight-faced cringe comedy.)
“Any Crybabies Around?” picks up a couple of years later when Tasuku is living in Tokyo, estranged from his wife and child. But when he hears that they’re struggling to make ends meet, he returns to his hometown to reconnect with his family and win his way back into his daughter’s life.
Crisscrossing folklore with the classic movie trope of a man-child, Sato crafts a thoughtful meditation on alienation and masculinity, and the delusions of male saviors. Nakano pulls off a difficult balancing act with the piteous, whimpering Tasuku, who nevertheless invites our empathy with his sincere hope for change. It’s the Namahage that finally offer him some salvation, and the scenes featuring them are some of the movie’s best: gorgeous choreographies of color and slow motion, set to haunting beats of woodblock and drums.
‘For the Time Being’
Stream it on Mubi.
Larissa, a German woman, arrives with her 9-year-old twins at her husband’s family home in the Spanish Sierra Morena mountains, where her mother-in-law and sister-in-law live a quiet, secluded life. Her husband is supposed to join them soon, but when his flight is delayed, the three women and two kids bide their time, waiting for his arrival.
This is the entirety of what might be described as “plot” in Salka Tiziana’s “For the Time Being,” an atmospheric, slow-burning feature that turns uneventfulness into something thrilling. Larissa (Melanie Straub) and her in-laws communicate awkwardly across a language barrier, while the boys (Jon and Ole Bader) explore the lush outdoors with curiosity. The film’s growing sense of intrigue derives from sensory stimuli rather than narrative. Nearby wildfires make the air shimmer, and strange explosions from a military test punctuate the passing time. As days go by with no news of the father, Tiziana fills the characters’ uneasy limbo with thick, intoxicating natural sounds (whooshing winds, chirping cicadas) while alternating between drone shots and crackling, 16-millimeter images of the sun-faded landscape. It’s a lovely film to watch while at home during the pandemic, both for its transporting shots of the mountains and its charged depiction of stillness and anticipation.
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