Stream These Five International Films Now
In the age of streaming, the earth is flat – the size of a screen, trips to faraway destinations only require a monthly subscription and a click. We’ve scoured the options world and picked the best new international movies to watch.
‘The Unknown Saint’
Stream it on Netflix.
In the prologue to Alaa Eddine Aljem’s charming comedy, a runaway robber hides a bag of money in the middle of the Moroccan desert just before being arrested by the cops. When he returns after a few years in prison, he discovers that there is now a mausoleum dedicated to the “Unknown Saint” above his loot, and an entire village around him.
Dealing with the quirks of small town life and the bizarre cogs of faith and superstition, “The Unknown Saint” pulls a cast of funny, unemotional characters into playful high jinks. There is the thief and his moronic sidekick, ironically nicknamed “the Brain”; a newly arrived doctor confronted with a daily parade of small hypochondriacs; and a barber who doubles as a handyman dentist.
Underlying the film’s playful satire is a sincere respect for the things that often fuel belief: survival, sustenance, hope. We soon learn that the villagers are migrants from a nearby drought-stricken town, where a lone farmer still prays for rain, while explosions from a nearby construction project signal an imminent change, though they are sometimes confused with signs from God. Rich in these revealing details, “The Unknown Saint” transforms its slight sketch-like premise into a parable of deceptive depth.
Stream it on Mubi.
That life on social media can be lonely and shallow is no revelation, but in “Sweat”, a behind-the-screen glimpse into the life of a Polish fitness influencer, director Magnus von Horn pushes back moralistic assumptions to reach the intoxicating emotional rush of the digital domain. From the first scene, a bootcamp-style workout in a mall, the camera plunges us deep into the eerie intimacy of an internet celebrity, staying close to Sylwia (Magdalena Kolesnik) as her interns swarm around her with almost religious fervor.
Like the hundreds of savvy self-marketers who have built empires on Instagram, Sylwia seemingly encompasses every aspect of her life – her meals, her shopping, her choice to take the stairs instead of the elevator – into her brand. Is she cheating on her fans or herself? “Sweat” poses this not as a judgment but as a real existential question. A particularly outspoken message blurs matters even further as fans eager to share too much accost Sylwia in public spaces, while a stalker pulls up outside her apartment.
These developments take dark turns, but “Sweat” is more of a character study than a drama, closely following Sylwia as she goes through her daily routines. The camera remains focused on Kolesnik’s face, who masterfully transmits the currents of emotion that ripple under a stoic surface ready to photograph.
Stream it on Netflix.
“Nayattu” unfolds a labyrinthine cat and mouse chase amid the venal world of police and politicians in the state of Kerala, southern India. Three little cops are caught in a traffic accident that results in the death of a man from a lower caste community, and as local elections approach, outgoing chief minister demands that unlucky officers become scapegoats . As they flee across the state, other police officers chasing them, the rot of systemic corruption slowly reveals its horrific depths.
Even with its scorching, twisted up-to-the-minute narrative, the film is packed with dense, scenic detail – such as the tug-of-war contest that opens the film. The thrilling sequence foreshadows the macho posture and the overbidding that color this world. And a moment later, widens the chasm between the vested interests of the powers that be and the needs of the people they serve: when fleeing cops suggest to a farmer involved in a heated argument over water that the police might be useful, he replies: “The police will ask for documents, witnesses, evidence. All we need is a little water.
Stream it on Mubi.
This magico-realistic mystery from Angola is the dazzling proof that to make a truly inspired cinema, all you need is resourcefulness and a vision. A wonder of building a low-budget world, the film takes place in a sweltering Luanda struck by a most unusual technological disaster: air conditioners keep falling from buildings, causing injuries and exacerbating the already unbearable heat wave.
On the radio we hear politicians making big claims about import bans and trade wars, while on the ground the poorest of the poor are forced to bear the brunt of the problem. Two of those people, security guard Matacedo and maid Zezinha, are in charge of fixing the air conditioner of a wealthy apartment owner. Their quest leads them into the dilapidated shop of an eccentric electrician – a sort of Luandan Doc Brown – whose crazy experiments seem to summon the ghosts and lost memories of the civil war in Angola.
But don’t go into “Air Conditioner” waiting for clear answers and resolutions. On a transcendent jazz score, the film moves unpredictably between fantasy and cruel reality, evoking historical trauma and contemporary unease through a session of mixing atmospheres, colors and sounds.
“Lina From Lima” is the rare film about immigrant labor which is as sensitive to the vibrant inner life of workers as to their difficulties. Maria Paz González’s exuberant indie follows a Peruvian maid, Lina (Magaly Solier), who works for a wealthy family in Chile. As Christmas approaches, Lina tries to raise enough money to buy presents for her teenage son, who appears to be walking away from her in their WhatsApp and video calls. Lina burns with desire – for her son, for the house, for love, sometimes just for sex – and finds her escape in glamorous musical reveries in which she represents herself as a synchronized swimmer, a cabaret dancer, even Our -Lady of Sorrows.
Real life also has its own adventures, mostly with other immigrant workers that Lina meets in her hostel and at work, and occasionally invites encounters on the plastic-covered beds of her employer’s posh under-construction house. These moments of upbeat comedy don’t blunt Lina’s disappointments, such as when she realizes she can’t afford to go home for Christmas. Powered by Solier’s captivating and open-hearted performance, Lina emerges as a woman who contains multitudes even though she wants more.
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