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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Five international movies to stream now



Sharon Fontaine-Ishpatao and Yamie Grégoire in “Kuessipan.” (Filmoption International)

By Devika Girish


This month’s picks include a coming-of-age story set in Quebec, an observational Tunisian drama, an erotic French movie about a strip club and more.



‘Kuessipan’


This gorgeous French Canadian drama opens with two orbs of light approaching the camera in a dark, nocturnal frame. Slowly, the joyous faces of a pair of young Innu girls come into view, bathed in the glow of headlamps, as they delight in a night-fishing expedition with their families. “Kuessipan” jumps ahead soon after to Mikuan and Shaniss’ teen years, fraught with conflicts and complications, but that luminous sense of possibility lingers throughout. The two girls are still close, but lead entirely different lives. The studious, ambitious Mikuan dreams of going to university outside the reservation and becoming a writer, while Shaniss struggles to raise her baby with her abusive husband.

Director Myriam Verreault beautifully mixes joy and tragedy, offering a view of Indigenous life that feels both authentic and bereft of cliché. As both Mikuan’s naive optimism and Shaniss’ cynicism are tempered over the course of the film, they arrive at a truth somewhere in the middle: that while the world is an unfair and unequal place, they can dream of a different one. (Stream it on Amazon Prime Video.)



‘Under the Fig Trees’


Erige Sehiri’s film was Tunisia’s submission to the international feature category at the Oscars this past year, and it’s unfortunate that it wasn’t nominated, because this observational drama is a miraculous, and very worthy, gem. Sehiri builds a simmering, sun-swept film out of small, everyday gestures and passions. The movie follows a day in the life of a rural community of fig pickers. As the camera probes into the thickets of the fig trees, it captures the minute dramas that unfold in the cover of the rustling green leaves. Lovers — former, and to-be — flirt in these gentle shadows; women swap stories about their home lives and their dreams; the employer exploits the laborers, and they, in turn, plot to steal his fruit.

The actors are mostly nonprofessionals, and their rhythms are naturalistic. Shot in tactile close-ups crisscrossed by leaves and branches, “Under the Fig Trees” gives the impression of peeking behind the veil — of being privy to the intimate spaces that those who lack privacy or leisure carve out within the tedium of survival. (Rent or buy it on most major platforms.)



‘Kaathal — The Core’


Indian cinema has seen a wave of queer-themed commercial movies since gay sex was decriminalized in a Supreme Court decision in 2018. (See, for example, the 2022 comedy “Badhaai Do.”) The new Malayali-language drama “Kaathal — The Core” is the latest entry in this trend, and one of the most sensitive and intelligent films I’ve seen about the far-reaching scourge of homophobia in a patriarchal society. In a village in South India, the respectable Mathew (the superstar Mammootty, in an audaciously unconventional role) is the local leftist party’s choice of candidate for the City Council election. But no sooner than his candidacy is announced, his wife’s divorce petition, which accuses him of having an affair with another man and neglecting her, becomes public.

What emerges is a drama that takes on difficult questions with surprisingly gentleness, eschewing scandal or violence. Mathew’s party is supportive of him, but his comrades also seem to be tokenizing him opportunistically against his will. While Mathew is spared any bullying in public, his lower-caste lover is subjected to all kinds of taunts. And in the courtroom, an extraordinary scene unfolds: Mathew’s wife (Jyothika) recounts — kindly, patiently — the pain that his refusal to accept himself and give her a divorce has inflicted on her over 20 years of arranged marriage. What begins as a case of “outing” becomes a much more complex consideration of the ways in which different oppressions are all interlinked, making freedom a fight for all of us. (Stream it on Amazon Prime Video.)



‘Never Too Late for Love’


A feel-good drama about an aging couple’s autumnal love story might sound trite, but Gianni Di Gregorio’s film “Never Too Late for Love” turns this premise into something fresh and funny. Astolfo, a retired professor based in Rome, returns to his ancestral home in the village of Abruzzo after being evicted from his city apartment. His decaying, 500-year-old family mansion is full of surprises: a man has been squatting there for more than a decade; the church adjacent to the building has unceremoniously taken over some of the rooms; and water leaks — nay, pours — from the priest’s quarters above into the kitchen stove below. Amid all this madness, Astolfo meets the charming Stefania — but their romance is a mere subplot.

The title notwithstanding, the meat of “Never Too Late for Love” is all of the provincial pettiness that Astolfo suddenly finds himself embroiled in. Forming a community of sad-sack men with the squatter and a local handyman, our kindly hero takes on the unctuous priest and the corrupt mayor, in a small-town comedy that sparkles with unique characters and heartwarming wit. (Stream it on Ovid.)



‘My Sole Desire’


Think “Hustlers” but with explicit nudity, queerness and a cameo by American documentarian Frederick Wiseman. That’s “My Sole Desire,” a delightful French drama by actress-director Lucie Borleteau. Starring Zita Hanrot and Louise Chevillotte, the film exudes neon-drenched sensuality from its very first scenes, as we, along with Chevillotte’s Manon, a graduate-school dropout struggling to make rent, enter the Parisian club known as À mon seul désir. Here, in a semiprivate room, beautiful women in sexy lingerie enact inventive erotic scenarios for a paying audience of googly-eyed men (including Wiseman, at one point).

The strength of “My Sole Desire” is how tenderly it balances both the creativity that the strippers find in their craft, and the danger and precarity that always lurk in their interactions with men. Hanrot’s Mia dreams of becoming an actress, and in a moment at once hilarious and touching, incorporates Chekhov into her strip show to impress a theater director in the audience. Even as the film ventures into more melodramatic territory — Manon and Mia fall in love, bringing about complications of desire and morality — these strip performances remain exuberant and joyous, an unapologetic display of female sexuality. (Stream it on Film Movement Plus or rent it on all major platforms.)

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