• The San Juan Daily Star

Five international movies to stream now


Yuh-Jung Youn, left, and Kang Mal-Geum in “Lucky Chan-sil.”

By Devika Girish


In the age of streaming, Earth is flat — screen-size — with travel to faraway destinations only a monthly subscription and a click away. We’ve journeyed through the world of options and chosen the best new international movies for you to watch.


‘The Intruder’

HBO Max

This Argentine fantasy-thriller shape-shifts so deftly over the course of its 94-minute run time that to summarize it is like trying to pin down an eel. In the film’s opening, we’re plunged into scenes of BDSM only to realize that we’re in the recording studio where Inés (Erica Rivas), the singer and voice actor at the center of “The Intruder,” dubs for trashy foreign-language films. In the 20 more minutes that pass before the title card appears, there’s also a drug-induced reverie on an airplane and a romantic tiff that leads to a mysterious death — with quite a few cringe-laughs along the way.

Director Natalia Meta maintains this tricky tightrope walk all throughout the film as Inés, traumatized by the sudden loss of her lover, is soon plagued by strange visions and aural intrusions (brought to eerie sonic life by sound designer Guido Berenblum) that disrupt her choir practice and recording sessions. Another film might have turned the midlife-crisis-stricken Inés and her malaise into solemn vehicles for allegory. Meta resists this temptation, instead unfurling a wry and kooky genre fable that indulges in the sensuousness of Inés’ otherworldly encounters — particularly with a sexy, mysterious organ tuner played by Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, who slithers around the film like a specter — than in any labored symbolism.


‘Endless Night’

Mubi

A superbly inventive seance of the unhealed wounds and fascist phantoms of the Spanish Civil War, Eloy Enciso’s feature unfolds as a series of abstract, talky vignettes adapted from letters, diaries and plays from the era of Gen. Francisco Franco. A sparse and sinuous thread of plot connects these segments: Anxo, a former fighter in the Republican army, returns to his hometown in Galicia and encounters various scenes either as an interlocutor or as a peripheral observer. Some scenes are whimsical, such as a conversation between two beggars about their place in the world, and others are harrowing, as when, in a still, extended shot, a woman recounts memories of imprisonment and torture.

Nonprofessional actors deliver these exchanges, both fictional and real, archly, against a breathtaking Galician countryside thick with mist and intrigue, so that the horrors of the war feel suspended in time and space — detached from their sources, like unresolved ghosts. Enciso brings these repressed histories to a simmer in the film’s final segment, where Anxo wanders through a dark wood, whispered voices from the past swirling around him, threatening to erupt into a precarious present.


‘Ibrahim: A Fate to Define’

Netflix

Part of a newly added collection of movies on Netflix titled “Palestinian Stories,” Lina Al Abed’s autobiographical documentary probes into a familial tragedy both personal and historical in scope: the sudden disappearance of her father, Ibrahim, in 1987, when Al Abed was just 7 years old and living in exile with her family in Syria. Ibrahim was a member of the Abu Nidal Organization, a Palestinian liberation group. At some point, he vanished mysteriously, and the clue that sends Al Abed on her investigative journey is little more than a footnote: a comment in an investigative book by Patrick Seale that contends that Ibrahim was suspected of being a CIA and Mossad spy and killed.

In interviewing her mother, siblings and relatives, who live all over the world, Al Abed confronts questions about filial responsibility, political will and martyrdom. What could compel a father to abandon his family? What makes people fight — even die — for their country? At the heart of “Ibrahim: A Fate to Define” is Al Abed’s struggle to reconcile her own sense of rootlessness with her father’s undying commitment. Her journey becomes less about locating Ibrahim’s fate and more about tracing the threads that connect them both, and, in turn, generations of dispersed Palestinians.


‘Gaia’

Hulu

This South African thriller is as schlocky as eco-horror gets, with upside-down drone shots of a verdant forest; travelers venturing off the beaten jungle path in willful denial of obvious danger; and nebulous elemental villains that signify, vaguely, the revenge of nature against man. Yet there’s something eminently watchable amid the thicket of cliches that make up Jaco Bouwer’s “Gaia.”

Like “Annihilation,” “Gaia” understands that the porosity of the boundaries between the human body and its environment is as beautiful as it is terrifying. Loosely following Gabi, a forest ranger, as she’s injured and then taken in by an Earth-worshipping father-son duo of survivalists deep in Tsitsikamma National Park, the film is in essence a procession of images of seductive somatic terror. Fungi sprout through skin; an overgrown corpse resembles a vivid, ash-dusted bouquet; the yonic inside of a tree-trunk gapes wide, emanating a blood-red halo. Even when the tableaux veer into corniness — at one point, a character humps the roots of a tree — the film’s imaginative, CGI-enhanced cinematography and haunting sound design evoke a powerful reverence for Mother Earth that draws you in as if into a ritual.


‘Lucky Chan-sil’

Mubi

This tender Korean drama enlivens a familiar premise — a woman navigating a midlife crisis after a traumatic loss — with strange and idiosyncratic whimsy. Directed by Kim Cho-hee, who has produced films for Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo, “Lucky Chan-sil” opens with an alcohol-soaked scene straight out of Hong’s movies before taking a tragicomic turn: As a film crew unwinds over an evening of drinking and bantering, the director has a sudden heart attack and collapses.

His longtime producer, Chan-sil, finds her life unraveling in the aftermath of this tragedy as she struggles to find jobs (it doesn’t help that she has only ever worked with one director) and contemplates a life without her singular obsession: movies. Characters both real and imagined offer wisdom, respite and comedy: There’s Chan-sil’s curmudgeonly landlady, played by Yuh-Jung Youn of “Minari” fame, who is dealing with grief of her own; a handsome young filmmaker whose poor taste in movies leaves Chan-sil torn; and the ghost of Leslie Cheung, a legendary Hong Kong singer and actor, who magically appears every now and then in his underwear to offer Chan-sil advice on love and life. A beautifully simple, endearingly silly film about the powers of cinema and the fantasies that both hold us back and propel us forward, “Lucky Chan-sil” shimmers with the charm of its lead actress, Kang Mal-Geum.