In the age of streaming, the earth is flat – about the size of a screen – and travel to distant lands can only be achieved with a monthly subscription and a click away. We’ve traveled the world of options and selected the best new international films for you.
Rent it on Amazon.
It wasn’t until I laughed, cried, and bit my nails in anticipation of watching Binty that I realized that it had been tagged in the kids category on Amazon. This Belgian film, directed by Frederic Mig, demonstrates a feat rarely seen in American children’s cinema: it folds the sobering real-life issues of racial inequality and immigration into an enjoyable story, never condescending to its audience. In the beating, bursting heart of this film is 11-year-old Binti (played by the cheerful Bebel Chiani Balogi), an undocumented immigrant from Congo who lives in Belgium with her father. She is a teenager social media freak with a sizable online following, amassed through videos that add a glamorous twist to her precarious life.
When a police raid forces Binty and her father to flee the house they share with other undocumented immigrants, her paths cross with Elias (Mo Bakker), a white teenager trying to come to terms with his parents’ divorce. With a wonderful faith in humanity typical of children’s films, Elias and his mother decide to give shelter to Binty and her father. Soon, this impromptu family is planning a charity dance show for an animal that adores Elias, an okapi, an endangered species associated with a giraffe and endemic to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Warmth and comedy permeate these antics, but when the characters are faced with the threat of deportation, Moment takes it with clear seriousness, tying it all together in a climax that is both realistic in portraying an unfair world and optimistic about people’s potential. – and especially children – to improve the situation.
Stream to HBO Max.
Sleek, unsettling and totally unexpected, Labor forces unfolds in the first half as a harsh Kafkaesque drama about exploited workers. After losing his brother to a workplace accident, Francisco (Luis Alberti), a construction worker from Mexico City, tries to get compensation for his pregnant daughter-in-law, but an indifferent and corrupt bureaucracy baffles him. In clear-cut neorealistic scenes, director David Zonana details the daily suffering of Francisco and his colleagues. Not only do men work all day to build a luxurious home that looks indecent in comparison to their own cramped, leaky shacks, but they also endure routine humiliations at work: overtime, unpaid wages, deductions for minor mistakes.
But halfway through, this slowly smoldering kitchen sink drama suddenly changes shape as a dark twist causes Francisco and his colleagues to take possession of the home and live in it with their families. The group’s discussions and negotiations – and their amazement at the relative luxury now available to them – are touching and eye-catching. But worry persists and grows as Francisco morphs into a slippery, morally ambiguous figure. Zonana keeps her cards to herself until the very end, turning her sharp criticism of class inequality and capital corruption into a tense thriller.
This Malayal superhero story begins literally with an explosion. In a tiny village in the south Indian state of Kerala, a rare astronomical event strikes two men simultaneously: Jason (Tovino Thomas), a handsome young tailor who dreams of moving to America to find work; and Shibu (Guru Somasundaram), an eccentric outcast whose long-lost love has just returned to the city. From the outset, the film reveals an intriguing mystery. Which of these two men, both of whom are soon coughing up blue phlegm and moving objects with their minds, is the superhero of the film’s title (minnal, which means lightning)? And are they potential teammates or antagonists?
In clever narrative tactics, Minnal Murali does not clarify these issues, at least until the start of the film, instead tracing the two protagonists’ rise to power with equal sympathy and wit. Donning a patchwork disguise, Jason uses his new-found mega-power to teach the city’s dumb, corrupt police force while Shibu defends his love from nasty guys and rob a bank to help a woman’s sick daughter. Jason signs his antics with the name Minnal Murali, and confusion and rivalry ensues when the village speculates that Shibu’s antics are also being performed by the same masked man. The stakes rise over time, but for the most part, Basil Joseph’s film is less like a superhero action movie, but a charming provincial comedy. Featuring a unanimously fantastic cast, the film revels in the charming quirks of a small village and the humble aspirations that drive even its most influential inhabitants.
Stream it on Mubi.
“Gritt” is the nickname for Gri-Jeannette, the performance artist behind Itonier Soymer Guttormsen’s film, but it could also be a reference to a quality that our headstrong, headstrong protagonist may have in abundance. When we first meet Gritt, she is in New York with a Norwegian theater troupe as an assistant to an actress with Down syndrome, whom she looks at with envy and resentment. This is the latest in a series of Gritt’s attempts to make her way onto the avant-garde art scene, and she seems to be promising when a local theater director links her up with a colleague from Oslo.
However, as we will soon learn, Gritt has neither the resources (she has no stable home and is denied government grants for lack of experience) nor the integrity to bring her lofty ideas to life. In Oslo, she apprentices at the Theater of Violence and begins working on a project with local Syrian refugees, only to ruin it with bad decisions and selfish lies – a twist that finally encourages introspection. With real-life artists from New York and Oslo looking like themselves and the frantic handcrafted cinematography that evokes reality TV, Gritt itself can feel like a performance at times – a portrait of a character who incites the viewer with its deeply ambiguous yet gripping theme. played with excellent dedication by Birgitte Larsen.
Five films to watch this winter
Stream to Ovid.
The personal and the political are fascinatingly intertwined in a meditative documentary essay by Federico Atejortua Arteaga. The director originally set out to make a film about what many consider the birth of Colombian cinema: a re-enactment of the 1906 assassination attempt on then-President Rafael Reyes for photo coverage. While he was working on this project, Atejortua’s mother Arteaga suddenly developed a mutism that the doctors could not explain. In Silent Fire, the director draws associations between these two events, weaving them together in an inspirational exploration of performance, trauma and the unspoken ways in which the weight of Colombia’s bloody wars is physically borne by its people.
Using archival images and home videos, Atejortua Arteaga is researching the role of images in family and historical memory. Deftly, in a poetic voice-over, he weaves together the early films of Thomas Edison, which recreate famous executions; controversy surrounding one of the first films made in Colombia, about the death of political leader Rafael Uribe Uribe; and the “false positives” scandal of the Colombian military, involving thousands of innocent men and women killed and passed off as combat killings during the country’s recent civil conflict. War, as Atejortua Arteaga touchingly demonstrates, is waged with both images and weapons, and since these images persist over time, the same happens with many of the wounds of battle.