(Welcome to Pop Culture Imports, a column that compiles the best foreign movies and TV streaming right now.)
We’re coming up on the end of the year, and the time when most outlets and critics have released their best of the year lists. Among the usual suspects are a few foreign-language films you’ve never heard of (and no, we’re not talking about Minari), or that might’ve slipped you by. Well, never fear! This week’s Pop Culture Imports is dedicated to those hidden gems, those best international films of the year that you can stream before the year is done.
Fire up those subtitles, and let’s get streaming.
Best Foreign Movies and TV Streaming Now
Bacurau — Criterion Channel
Director: Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles
Cast: Sônia Braga, Udo Kier, Bárbara Colen, Thomas Aquino, Silvero Pereira, Karine Teles.
In the hilariously pitch black Bacurau, directors Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles imagine a post-Bolsonaro country where a group of foreign mercenaries try to (literally) wipe a small rural town off the map. Proudly wearing its Weird Western label on its sleeves, Bacurau is a mish-mash of genres that include magical realism meets western with a splash of Chinatown neo-noir. The film takes place in the desert town of Bacurau, an isolated community in the “backlands” of the North East far removed from the urban congestion of cities like Rio. What starts as a small-town drama featuring a close-knit community unfolds into a surreal Twilight Zone-esque thriller as the townfolk discover that their cell phones and satellites have stopped working, and that their town no longer appears on any maps. It seems a strange glitch at first, until the residents discover something much more sinister at play. Bacurau a brutal, slow-burning conspiracy film that descends into a blood-soaked finale so ridiculous you have to laugh a little. But it’s just the kind of bold genre storytelling that you won’t be getting in the States.
Watch This If You Like: Westerns, but weird.
A Sun – Netflix
Genre: Family drama
Director: Chung Mong-hong
Cast: Chen Yi-wen, Samantha Ko, Wu Chien-ho, Liu Kuan-ting.
A sweeping saga of a family struggling through a bad son’s imprisonment and the good son’s suicide, A Sun is a little overlong and sometimes veers toward the melodramatic, but is punctuated by moments of wry humor that helps digest this tale of a family fractured by violence. Directed by Chung Mong-hong, A Sun follows the family of A-Ho (Chien-Ho Wu), the younger son and problem child of a lower middle-class family of four, who commits a shockingly violent crime and gets sent to juvenile detention. His mother, father, and older brother struggle with the fallout of A-Ho’s incarceration, but are never able to return to the way things were, leading to the older brother (Greg Han Hsu), a promising medical student, to commit suicide. Meticulous in its portrayal of trauma and unmet expectations, A Sun is a remarkably restrained family drama anchored by incredibly nuanced performances from the entire cast.
Watch This If You Like: A Prophet, Ordinary People, Rust and Bone, tales of two brothers.
The Whistlers – Hulu
Genre: Comedy crime thriller
Director: Corneliu Porumboiu
Cast: Vlad Ivanov, Catrinel Marlon, Rodica Lazar, Agustí Villaronga.
The Whistlers is an odd one. Billed as a comedy crime thriller, this Romanian heist film is as deadpan as you can get, with none of its characters cracking the hint of a smile. But its twists and turns and decidedly offbeat sense of humor is reason enough to give The Whistlers a second glance. Directed by Corneliu Porumboiu, The Whistlers follows a crooked cop Cristi (Vlad Ivanov) who gets roped into a heist to steal a secret stash of 30 million euros, using a unique “whistling language” cooked up by the natives at Canary Island. It’s got all the archetypes of a neo-noir — double agents, double crosses, a femme fatale (who is at the center of one of the steamiest sex scenes of the year) — but with everything a little off-kilter. There’s a hotel that only plays opera music, there’s a mattress factory that holds the hidden cash, and there are bad guys employed by even badder guys. It’s stylish and sexy, and a little confusing, but The Whistlers is a cracking Coen Brothers-esque caper.
Watch This If You Like: The Nice Guys, Burn After Reading, comedies where no one cracks a smile.
Synonyms – Criterion Channel
Country: France, Israel
Director: Nadav Lapid
ast: Tom Mercier, Quentin Dolmaire, Louise Chevillotte.
A young Israeli man (Tom Mercier in a knockout debut performance) is found freezing and naked in an empty upstairs apartment by a young Parisian couple, who are immediately taken with this stoic stranger. They ask him his life story, but Yoav is reluctant to give it, having fled to Paris armed with just a dictionary and a resolve to abandon his national identity. From then on, Yoav refuses to utter a word of Hebrew, speaking only in a stilted, poetic French as he attempts to build a life for himself. Nadav Lapid’s French-Israeli drama is based on his real-life experiences, but bucks the usual structure of an immigrant drama. Instead, Synonyms is a meandering, maddening, baffling, and slightly alienating portrait of passion without a purpose. Mercier gives a magnetic performance as a man who is a pressure cooker of emotional turbulence, erupting in bizarrely timed displays of anger that often veer into the absurd. A festival darling that won the Golden Bear at the 69th Berlin International Film Festival, Synonyms is comic tragedy at its most intense.
Watch This If You Like: Un Prophète, Taxi Driver, First Reformed, dictionaries.
I’m No Longer Here – Netflix
Genre: Coming-of-age drama
Director: Fernando Frías
Cast: Juan Daniel Garcia Treviño, Xueming Angelina Chen,
Written and directed by Fernando Frías de la Parra, best known for helming the Spanish-language HBO limited series Los Espookys, I’m No Longer Here is a captivating snapshot of a culture, a time, a place, and a boy who is not well-equipped to navigate it all. Originally published as a short story before adapted as a full-length feature film, I’m No Longer Here takes place in 2011 and follows a cocky 17 year-old teenager named Ulises (Juan Daniel Garcia Treviño) from the slums of Monterrey, Mexico, who leads a gang dedicated to the counter-culture of Kolombia — a lifestyle that consists of wearing baggy clothes, sporting eccentric hairstyles, and dancing to a music genre called “cumbia rebajada.” But after a run-in with the local cartel, Ulises is forced to flee to New York City, where he finds himself out of his depth and painfully isolated from the counterculture around which he formed his whole identity. Remarkably soulful, I’m No Longer Here is a sweet, slow-burning ode to a cultural identity rarely seen on film.
Watch This If You Like: Frances Ha, Skate Kitchen, Inside Llewyn Davis, dancing on the streets of New York.
The post Pop Culture Imports: Best Foreign-Language Movies You Might Have Missed This Year appeared first on /Film.