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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Five international movies to stream now



“Rest in Peace” (Netflix)

By Devika Girish


This month’s picks include a twisty Argentine thriller, a gutting Syrian documentary, a movie about a queer club in China and more.



‘Rest in Peace’


The sleek suspense of a mob thriller and the big, dramatic swings of a telenovela combine to produce something truly unpredictable in “Rest in Peace,” by Argentine director Sebastián Borensztein. We first meet Sergio (Joaquín Furriel), a handsome business owner and beloved husband and father, as he’s tearing up at his daughter’s lavish bat mitzvah; in moments, the mood shifts, when he spots a menacing stranger eyeing him from a corner and faints. As his wife, Estela (Griselda Siciliani), soon discovers, Sergio is drowning in debt and facing threats from a mysterious, ruthless lender. Their picture-perfect existence is on the verge of shattering — and then it does, albeit not how either of them (or the viewer) might have expected.

A tragic accident offers Sergio a way out of his predicament, though at the cost of his life with his family. The twists of the film are best left unspoiled, because Borensztein and his fine cast (Siciliani is majestic, in particular) achieve an impressive series of tonal tilts in the course of a narrative that eventually spans decades. Just when you think a cat-and-mouse game is about to begin, the film douses you in endearing romantic and familial drama; just as surprisingly, danger creeps back into the narrative. The result is a movie whose genre pleasures are undergirded by genuine emotional heft. (Stream it on Netflix.)



‘Little Palestine: Diary of a Siege’


Between 2013-15, in the midst of the Syrian civil war, the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus — known colloquially as “Little Palestine” — was placed under siege. Citizens were barred from entering or exiting the area, and eventually, food and water were restricted, leading to widespread starvation. Amid all this horror, Abdallah Al-Khatib, a Yarmouk resident in his 20s, picked up a video camera and started recording what he saw around him: the tremendous suffering, but also the resilience of resistance.

Edited over several years, “Little Palestine, Diary of a Siege,” which premiered at festivals in 2021 and now arrives on streaming, is a dispatch from the past with uncanny echoes of the present. Al-Khatib’s camera captures his community as they sing, paint, chant, rally, scrounge for food and try to take care of one another. His interactions with the older generation — Palestinians who have endured many displacements over decades — are poignant, underscoring the oppressive cycles of history. But it’s his conversations with the children of Yarmouk, aged far beyond their years but still not rid of hope, that have stayed with me. In one shot, a crowd of schoolboys share their dreams with the camera. Their beaming, excited smiles belie the tragedy of their words. “I dream of my brother coming back to life,” says one. “I dream of eating sugar,” says another. (Stream it on Ovid.)



‘The Last Year of Darkness’


This portrait of Funky Town, an underground nightclub in Chengdu, China is a hypnotic, mutating beast; it goes seamlessly from night to day, techno to the noise of traffic, nonfiction to gently staged drama. To capture the cultural place of this beloved institution — a bastion for free expression and desire that is soon to be shut down because of a subway expansion — the director, Ben Mullinkosson, follows a few of its regulars in and out of the club: a young drag queen, a woman struggling with mental health issues, a Russian expatriate exploring his sexuality, an exuberantly gay DJ. Instead of traditional interviews and documentary scenes, the movie finds intimate moments within layered, often ironic, compositions. In one shot, two people have a deep conversation in the background while a woman vomits into a cup in the foreground; in another, a high-angle shot of a crowd on a street makes the scene look like a kind of pointillist painting. Formally and emotionally expansive, “The Last Year of Darkness” is a stirring evocation of the beauty and ephemerality of being young. (Stream it on Mubi.)



‘Merry Christmas’


Two strangers cross paths on Christmas Eve in Mumbai. He’s just returned from a trip; she’s out in the city with her young daughter, having been abandoned by her philandering husband. A chance meeting at a restaurant leads to another encounter at a movie theater, and then a walk through the city and a drink and a dance back home. Sriram Raghavan’s movie takes its time with its setup, indulging in each scene and exchange with patience and exquisite detail, never showing all of its cards.

From the very first minute to the very last, “Merry Christmas” keeps you guessing — about the motives of the characters, their fates and the type of movie this is. Rom-com? Crime thriller? Black comedy? It’s a little bit of everything, and it’s executed with impeccable yet restrained style, much like Raghavan’s prior outing, “Andhadhun.” The stars, Katrina Kaif and Vijay Sethupathi, are at once mysterious and winningly sincere, and the film’s storybook-like rendering of a Mumbai decked out for Christmas is delightful. (Stream it on Netflix.)



‘Yuni’


There’s a moment in Kamila Andini’s sensitive coming-of-age drama that will feel familiar to many women, whether or not they grew up in the rural Indonesian town where the film is set. In a grassy field, a group of high-school girls whisper about sex and desire. It’s the question of pleasuring oneself that both excites and scares them the most. Can women even do it? How does it work? They ask each other.

“Yuni” is about women’s oppression — about the social forces that constrain girls from pursuing their dreams — but its strength lies in its focus on women’s pleasure. The movie’s protagonist, the high-school senior Yuni (Arawinda Kirana), faces some tough dilemmas. She wants to go to college, but her family is already entertaining potential marriage for her. She is eager to explore her body on her own terms, but her school has instituted mandatory virginity tests for the girls in a twisted response to a case of rape.

Things are bleak, and Andini’s sobering film offers no miracle escapes, but it makes it a point to show us the defiance of Yuni and her classmates, their small yet powerful negotiations in this constricted world. Shot with tactile sensuality, as if in formal protest of the systems the movie critiques, the best scenes in “Yuni” are its moments of intimacy between women — dancing, gossiping or dreaming together, helping each other survive an unforgiving world. (Rent it on Amazon.)

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