Five International Movies to Stream Now
This month’s picks include an unconventional French rom-com, a triptych about Indigenous women in Mexico, a provincial Tamil satire and more.
By Devika Girish
July 1, 2022
Cédric Klapisch’s unconventional meet-cute drama dwells entirely in what happens before rather than after the fateful meeting of two would-be lovers. The film opens with a shot of a man and woman seated next to each other on a train in Paris. We soon realize that these are our protagonists — Rémy (François Civil), a factory worker, and Mélanie (Ana Girardot), a lab researcher — but that they’re strangers to one another. They live in adjacent buildings, frequent the same supermarket and visit the same pharmacy to seek medication for opposing ailments: Rémy can’t sleep; Mélanie sleeps too much.
And yet their lives unfold in parallel, never intersecting. A film about the journeys we must take on our own before we can find fulfillment in others, “Someone, Somewhere” is a deconstruction of rom-com myths that nevertheless retains faith in fate and magic. As Rémy and Mélanie go to therapy and slowly rediscover themselves (through dating apps, pets and heated family visits), there’s comfort in watching them live out their similar (yet different) predicaments in such proximity, not knowing that every day, they walk past someone who’s just as lonely as them. It’s a moving reminder of that essential fact of the human condition: We’re always alone together.
‘My Wonderful Life’
This Polish midlife-crisis thriller has all the ingredients for a pressure-cooker premise: a woman stifled by familial responsibilities, a fraying marriage, a scandalous affair (or two). Yet Lukasz Grzegorzek’s film doesn’t so much explode as simmer, allowing for tenderness and humor even as its heroine’s life falls apart.
Jo (Agata Buzek), a high-school teacher, is dealing with a mélange of crises: Her mother has Alzheimer’s disease, her younger son is failing at school and her older son lives in Jo’s house with his combative wife and screaming baby. Jo is acting out by surreptitiously smoking pot and having an affair with a colleague at school — right under the nose of her husband, who is the headmaster. Suddenly, she starts to receive anonymous messages from someone who’s been watching her and threatens to expose her secrets.
Swirling around Buzek’s delicate, restrained performance, “My Wonderful Life” has a surprisingly breezy texture to it. Shot with a hand-held camera in airy, diaphanous light, the film dwells as much in Jo and her family’s everyday moments together as it probes the suspense and sorrows of her predicament. The intrigue set up by the film’s first half eventually recedes without clear-cut answers, but the film leaves us with something more satisfying: a sense that, even in our worst moments, life is capacious enough to hold many things at once — joy, grief, pathos, peace and more.
In this triptych of stories set in a small village in Mexico, three women from the region’s Mixtec community contend with poverty, patriarchy and the pains of emigration. Each story is spurred by a character’s return from the city. In the first, a gay woman shunned by her family comes back home to attend her mother’s funeral and reconnects with an old lover. In the second, a man suddenly reappears after three years abroad, and finds that his wife has decided to leave him. (“My body had its own needs,” she declares to a village council). And in the third, a woman returns to retrieve her daughter from the clutches of a predatory uncle and to serve him long-overdue justice.
The vignettes are pithy and pointed, like short stories or parables, but filmed with a relaxed naturalism. Each tale takes place over the course of the same day, so that a character or incident glimpsed in the background in one story becomes the center of the narrative in the next. The result is a kaleidoscopic portrait that is both personal and collective in scope, tracing the structural and social issues that underlie individual traumas.
‘Mariner of the Mountains’
The filmmaker Karim Aïnouz was born to a Brazilian mother and an Algerian father who met while attending graduate school in the U.S. When Aïnouz’s mother was pregnant with him, his father left to fight in the war in Algeria, promising to return for his wife and son — but he never did. In “Mariner of the Mountains,” Aïnouz, who grew up in Brazil, visits Algeria for the first time in search of his father’s village. A cross between a travelogue, a diary and an essay film, the documentary consists of an oneiric montage of the people and places Aïnouz encounters in Algeria: the Mediterranean horizons and cobblestone alleys; the tea vendors and grizzled old smokers; the winding roads and vast shorelines.
The lingering absences of Aïnouz’s parents — his father, who is alive but was never around; his mother, who was always there but is now gone — give shape to these abstract and ephemeral images. In his narration, addressed to his mother, Aïnouz is drawn to details that conjure the phantoms of his parents. What would the ocean have looked like through his mother’s eyes? What would his father think of the young man sitting by the sea who wishes the French had never left Algeria? These autobiographical musings open into broader reflections on exile and diasporic longing, making “Mariner of the Mountains” something of an intimate epic — a tale that feels at once personal and eternal.
In this provincial Tamil satire, a public toilet causes a bloody riot; a vote for a local election is auctioned off for millions of rupees; and a nameless man, lacking ID papers, adopts the moniker “Nelson Mandela.” Madonne Ashwin’s debut feature is a bit of a bonkers farce, but it offers a bitingly realistic critique of political opportunism and casteism in India.
The film uses as its microcosm Soorangudi, a remote village in South India that is deeply riven, Verona-like, between two clans. When the heads of both clans decide to contest an upcoming election, the swing vote falls to the only “neutral” man in town: Mandela (Yogi Babu), the barber, who is considered to be of such a low caste that he is accepted by neither clan and bullied by both. Suddenly, men who wouldn’t let him enter their homes now kiss his feet and lavish him with presents.
But soon enough, the bribes become violent threats, and Mandela faces a life-or-death Catch-22. “Mandela” ekes unrelenting hilarity out of its cynicism, partly because the system it skewers is so unabashedly absurd. Democracy without equity is a joke, the film tells us. Yet the movie isn’t just a hoot or a screed either: It ends on an optimistic note, reminding us that as long as there’s solidarity, there’s also hope.