Now Playing! 9 Streaming Films To Sate Your Wanderlust

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Still from Béla Tarr's 'Sátántangó,' 1994.  (Courtesy of Arbelos Films)

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.

Sátántangó, 1994
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.

Helena Zengel in 'System Crasher.' (Courtesy kineo Films and Weydemann Bros.)

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.)

Terry Donahue and Pat Henschel in 'A Secret Love.' (Courtesy Netflix)

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.


Dykes, Camera, Action!, 2018
Caroline Berler’s talking-heads doc, featuring everyone from Barbara Hammer to Su Friedrich to B. Ruby Rich, is an oral history of the formative years of queer cinema in New York and elsewhere as recounted by the pioneers themselves. Your ticket includes a pre-recorded panel discussion moderated by local filmmaker and maven Jenni Olson.

Still from 'Circus of Books.' (Courtesy of Netflix)

Circus of Books, 2019
The queer grapevine has no doubt already spread the word about both A Secret Love and Rachel Mason’s personal doc about the culturally important L.A. purveyor (and producer!) of hardcore gay pornography. The filmmaker’s parents got into the business through happenstance and ended up running it for three decades, keeping the scandalous secret from practically everyone, including their kids and Karen’s synagogue friends. Circus of Books is never less than entertaining (Jeff Stryker and Larry Flynt make generous appearances) but it needs a jolt of high-stakes drama. The big-deal events—a Poppy Bush-era FBI bust, the AIDS pandemic and one of the Mason kids coming out—are in the past.

5 Blocks, 2019
I’ve touted Dan Goldes’ years-in-the-making doc about the development of Mid-Market in this space on a previous occasion or two. If you haven’t caught up with it yet, it’s streaming via the Roxie’s virtual cinema for a few more days. 5 Blocks is a valuable asset at a time when we’re talking about how to make appropriate use of public spaces—and imagining what they will look like in six months or a year.

Still from Yuri Norstein's 'Tale of Tales,' 1979. (Courtesy of Kino Klassika)

Tale of Tales, 1979
Kino Klassika Foundation
I promised you journeys abroad, and here are a couple far off the beaten path. The Kino Klassika Foundation spotlights a wide range of Russian cinema, with a few different titles every week. Yuri Norstein’s half-hour masterpiece of animation, streaming May 19-26, contemplates the immediate and lasting effects of war on the civilian population and the overall society.

Beverly Garland and Skip Homeier in 'Stark Fear.'
Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn (Pusher, Drive, The Neon Demon) is not my cup of bitters, but there’s no question he’s a fellow cinephile. He bills his website as “an unadulterated cultural expressway of the arts.” (Ah, but what’s a little redundancy among friends?) Poke around the various volumes of strange stuff lurking behind the portal, the hours will disappear and your nightmares will be the better for it. Or go straight to the current offering, Stark Fear (1962), an obscure Oklahoma noir starring Beverly Garland that marks the lone directorial effort of one Ned Hockman. Good luck finding your way back.