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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

5 international movies to stream now

Eka Chavleishvili and Temiko Chichinadze in “Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry.” (Mubi)

By Devika Girish

This month’s picks include an Indian political thriller, a beautiful tale of coming-of-middle-age from Georgia and more.

‘Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry’

Movies about middle-aged women seeking a new lease on life are a dime a dozen, but it’s rare to find one as gloriously strange, tender and erotic as “Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry,” from Georgian director Elene Naveriani. Part of the charm is the protagonist, Etero, played by a truly magnetic Eka Chavleishvili, who sports sharp, drawn-on eyebrows, piercing eyes poised between rage and childlike vulnerability, and a stout figure held upright and proud. Etero manages a threadbare convenience store in a provincial village and spends most of her time alone, chasing birds and picking blackberries. She is self-sufficient in every conceivable way, as we learn early on when she swiftly and determinedly ends her “48-years-long virginity,” making an advance at the local delivery man, who welcomes it enthusiastically.

Much of the film traces Etero’s relationships with this new lover and the other women of the village, who alternate between pitying and envying her, and our heroine’s grappling with the changes in her body: hot flashes, erratic bleeding. There are references to her troubled childhood, beleaguered by the early death of her sick mother and the suffocating grips of her brother and father, but “Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry” is less interested in the past than in Etero’s present and future — all the possibilities her life still contains, whether or not those around her can see it. (Stream it on Mubi.)

‘Down the Rabbit Hole’

If “The Suite Life of Zack & Cody” were set in a narco kingpin’s palatial hideout, it might look something like “Down the Rabbit Hole,” from Mexican director Manolo Caro. The 10-year-old Tochtli (Miguel Valverde) lives with his father, Yolcaut (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), a cartel boss, and their tight-knit chosen family of servants and right-hand men in a beautiful estate where the young boy has everything he needs: a personal tutor, a zoo with exotic animals, a wall decked out with sombreros of every kind. But it’s a gilded cage. Tochtli cannot leave this home — for his own safety, he’s told — and his understanding of the larger world is cobbled together from books, movies and his father’s stray comments about gang honor codes.

Whether “Down the Rabbit Hole” is a movie for kids or adults is hard to say: It somehow manages to convey both Tochtli’s naive curiosity and the menace of his father’s world without diluting either tone. The film takes us along on the kid’s various little adventures — including a trip to Namibia to find some hippos, a la Pablo Escobar — and draws us into his tender relationship with Yolcaut, but violence constantly laps the edges of his idyll, finally exploding in a gore-and-gunshots finale. The movie is an odd little dark comedy, buoyant enough to see with the family and gritty enough to prompt some hard conversations. (Stream it on Netflix.)


A real-life story inspires this brilliant, bristling drama from South India: In 1996, four men stormed a local bureaucrat’s office and held him hostage, demanding the reversal of a legislation that robbed the region’s tribal peoples of their land. Following the activists’ plan over two tense days, “Pada,” directed by Kamal K.M., moves and pulses like a thriller, deploying its message — about the oppression of India’s tribal communities, and the lack of avenues available to them for recourse — with panache and without didacticism.

The first half unfolds like a heist movie, as each of the four men make preparations and adapt to unexpected contingencies: In one set piece, they weave through a crowd, trying to confuse a plainclothes police officer, while in the background, we hear a speech from a tribal rights activist. The second half takes the form of a chamber drama, confined mostly within the barricaded office where they hold their hostage at gunpoint. Tense negotiations and conversations follow, touching upon ethical and political questions. What constitutes a righteous and moral form of protest? Is deference to the law of any use when legislation is used unjustly? Thought-provoking and timely, “Pada” ends with archival footage that reminds us of the failed promises of democracy and the resilience of India’s tribal peoples in the face of ongoing persecution. (Stream it on Amazon Prime Video.)

‘The Sales Girl’

A coming-of-age tale from Mongolia, “The Sales Girl” is equal parts raunchy and sweet, a film that appreciates sex both for its absurd humor and its revelatory capacities. Saruul (Bayarjargal Bayartsetseg), a studious college student, is roped into taking on her classmate’s job at a sex shop when the latter has an injury and needs a reliable stand-in. Frumpy and baby-faced, Saruul cuts an incongruous figure at the shop, surrounded by dildos and sex toys and packets of Viagra. She goes into the gig with a wide-eyed innocence that is slowly whittled away by Katya (Oidovjamts Enkhtuul), the magisterial and mysterious owner of the shop, who takes Saruul under her wing and teaches her to appreciate life’s — and the body’s — pleasures.

The director, Janchivdorj Sengedorj, has a striking eye for montage and mise-en-scène, and he ekes out emotion from well-timed cuts and music cues — including a running motif where Saruul puts on her headphones and tunes in to Pink Floyd, and the world around her is transformed momentarily into something like a music video. This mix of fantasy and deadpan realism gives “The Sales Girl” its winning charm and casual profundity. (Stream it on Film Movement Plus. Rent it on Amazon Prime Video.)


This Quebecois comedy from Monia Chokri is a weird, warped yet deeply intelligent satire of the male gaze. The madness all begins when Cédric (Patrick Hivon), a young husband and father in Montreal, drunkenly kisses a female news anchor on live TV. He is swiftly suspended from his job and becomes the subject of a turbulent online discourse on harassment. Egged on by his brother Jean-Michel (Steve Laplante), a self-flagellating, holier-than-thou feminist — the kind to interrupt women to loudly proclaim his respect for them — Cédric starts writing a penitent letter to the TV anchor, which soon turns into a book-length apologia for misogyny.

As Cédric and his brother devote themselves to this ludicrous project, Cédric’s wife, Nadine (Chokri herself), quietly deals with postpartum depression and child care struggles, barely registering on the two men’s radar. Enter a new babysitter, played by Nadia Tereszkiewicz, who seems to have walked out of a pinup poster in her tiny skirt and low-cut tops. Chokri uses eye-popping production design and a frenetic, ever-switching point-of-view to explore how this young, impossibly cheerful woman becomes a site of projection for each of the characters, bringing out their secret desires: Cédric’s desperation to be useful, Jean-Michel’s barely concealed savior complex and Nadine’s yearning for connection and validation. That Chokri delivers these cutting insights with a truly acrid sense of humor is the icing on the cake. (Stream it on Mubi.)

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