One of the great allures of the movies is the thrill of seeing faraway places, and entering lives that are to some degree unlike ours. It’s a selling point that hearkens to the early days of film, and the ultra-brief travelogues of distant locales that the Lumière brothers commissioned as the hook to hawk their groundbreaking moving-image cameras. (Same as it ever was: sell the hardware via the software.)
The impatience to venture further afield is natural, even palpable, after some two months of confinement and streaming of long-form television. Here are some foreign streams to dip your toes in, along with a few closer to home.
New French Shorts 2020
Lark (now), Roxie (May 22)
Generally and simplistically speaking, U.S. filmmakers view short films as reel items to audition for feature films and episodic TV while Europeans see them as a distinct art form. (Much in the same way that short stories differ from novels.) This accomplished collection of short fiction opens with Foued Mansour’s Ahmed’s Song, a no-fat, no-frills tale of an accidental mentor—a solitary, graying employee of a public bath whose family lives in an unnamed Arab country—and the wayward, would-be rapper assigned to work off his probation. Straightforward yet soulful, with a satisfying open ending.
BAMPFA from Home
At the other end of the spectrum, Béla Tarr’s slow-cinema magnum opus runs (or should I say walks) over seven hours. A grimly unsmiling yet (occasionally) darkly funny rendering of rural Hungarian malaise and ritual, Sátántangó imagines a society—and a species—in dismal decline and primitive rebirth. To quote from Jason Sanders’ meaty program note, “Tarr’s mesmerizing recreation of an entire world, complete with all of this world’s poetry, despair, horror, and humor ... makes it not so much a film as a place to visit, or stay.” Pack a lunch.
System Crasher, 2019
Nora Fengscheidt’s debut feature was the runaway winner at the recent German film awards with eight Lolas, including best feature, director and screenplay. Eleven-year-old Helena Zengel took home the best actress trophy for her ferocious portrayal of a screwed-up child (Benni) who charms social workers (and viewers) with the illusion that they’re making progress. Alas, Benni destroys more than illusions. (Fengscheidt’s forthcoming project, starring Sandra Bullock as a parolee adjusting to society, focuses on another of society’s outsiders.)
A Secret Love, 2020
Canadians Terry Donahue and Pat Henschel met in the late 1940s, a period that coincided with Donahue’s stellar career with the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Horsehide junkies will savor that chapter of Chris Bolan’s bracing documentary and wish it was longer. But he has more history to cover—the impossibility of coming out as a lesbian for most of the 20th century, most crucially—as well as the present-day, universal struggles of a no-nonsense Midwestern couple in their 80s. All in all, an incredible, moving love story.