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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Five international movies to stream now


Laurent Lafitte, center left, with Blanche Gardin, in “Everybody Loves Jeanne.”

By Devika Girish


This month’s picks include a bittersweet French comedy, a gutting Serbian social-realist drama, a Mexican true-crime doc and more.



‘Everybody Loves Jeanne’


Anyone with an overactive inner critic will feel seen and heard by this bittersweet debut feature from illustrator and filmmaker Céline Devaux, which charts a middle-aged Frenchwoman’s coming to terms with grief and professional failure. As Jeanne (Blanche Gardin) deals with the aftermath of her mother’s suicide and the televised collapse of her own invention to rid the ocean of microplastics, Devaux imagines her protagonist’s anxiety as an animated figure that nags her constantly, voicing Jeanne’s worst thoughts about herself. This nifty conceit is one of the many inspired quirks that imbue “Everybody Loves Jeanne” with wit and charm, without undercutting its more serious themes.


With brisk editing and bright colors, the film unfolds as a tale of whimsy. Jeanne travels to Lisbon to clear out her mother’s apartment and sell it to save herself from bankruptcy. On the way, she runs into Jean (Laurent Lafitte), a goofy kleptomaniac who claims to know her from her school days. As Jeanne confronts difficult memories (and even ghostly hallucinations) of her mother and exasperating encounters with her ex, her path keeps crossing with that of Jean, whose kooky exterior slowly chips away to reveal his own battles with mental health. Brimming with warmth and hope, “Everybody Loves Jeanne” is a light-as-air tale about the heaviest of themes: the grown-up struggle to love oneself. (Stream it on Mubi.)



‘Father’


This drama about the failings of corrupt bureaucracy pulls no punches: In its opening scene, a woman (Nada Sargin) storms into the courtyard of a factory with two children in tow, pours gasoline on herself and sets herself on fire. She is the wife of Nikola (Goran Bogdan), who was laid off from a factory two years ago and is still owed his pending wages and severance. Poverty and hunger have driven her to madness, and this spectacle of self-inflicted suffering is her last resort.


Yet the film only has more heartbreak in store for her, and for us. She is sent off to a hospital to recover, and her children are taken away by social services. When Nikola, who spends his days working seasonal construction jobs, tries to get his children back, he is told that his lack of a full-time job makes him unfit to care for them. Faced with a Kafkaesque, no-win conundrum, Nikola sets off on foot to Belgrade — 300 miles away — to file an appeal in person with the ministry.


Nikola encounters both misfortunes and small kindnesses along the way, so that his journey becomes a showcase of Serbian society — of the powers that exploit, and the people that persevere. As he undertakes this Sisyphean quest, the director, Srdan Golubovic maintains an austere, realistic tone that matches Bogdan’s heroically stoic performance — a razor-sharp evocation of the stubbornness that only the very desperate can summon. (Stream it on Ovid.)



‘The Harvesters’


Set in the Free State province of South Africa, where white, Christian families tend to vast, golden-yellow fields of maize, Etienne Kallos’ feature weaves threads of coming-of-age, queerness, colonial reckoning and pastoral horror into a combustible domestic thriller. The film is arresting in its vivid evocation of the insular world of Free State farmers. Alternating between shots of wind-swept farmland and claustrophobic close-ups of faces, Kallos conjures the sheltered and overwhelmingly macho environment in which the sensitive Janno (Brent Vermeulen) grows up, trying dutifully to please his religious mother and gruff father. When his mother brings another adolescent boy into the family — Pieter (Alex van Dyk), an orphan and addict rescued from the streets — the familiar routines of Janno’s life are ruptured, and secrets and repressed feelings come pouring out. Kallos is careful never to overstate any of the film’s themes. Instead, he allows calibrated atmospherics and the fantastic performances of the two leads to suggest bigger ideas — about the saviorism that can underlie adoption, the racialized fear that causes white South African communities to insulate themselves and the toxic masculinity that is so inherent in imperialism. (Stream it on Tubi.)



‘Zoo Lock Down’


In 2020, during the pandemic-induced lockdown, Austrian filmmaker Andreas Horvath took his camera into an eerily vacated world: the Salzburg Zoo. With no visitors around, he was free to observe the lives and routines of the animals and their handlers: the feeding of bears, the cleaning of fish tanks, the grooming of elephants. In “Zoo Lock Down,” he combines these stark visual tableaus with bursts of dramatic music that evoke action movies or thrillers. These incongruities emphasize the strange, artificial, even tacky world of the zoo, where leopards prowl in front of painted backgrounds, and lemurs titter in glass cages illuminated by fluorescent lights. Parallels with our own experiences of confinement during the pandemic come to mind, but the film also gets, wordlessly, at something about the nature of spectacle — about the hubris of ecosystems created and cultivated by humans solely for the purpose of voyeuristic viewing. (Stream it or rent it on Fandor.)



‘The Lady of Silence: The Mataviejitas Murders’


Between 1998 and 2005, a string of women older than 60 were strangled to death in Mexico City by a killer who posed as a social worker. The perpetrator was nicknamed La Mataviejitas, or The Little Old Lady Killer. Elaborate searches, arrests of suspects, and sensationalist media coverage yielded no answers — until, in 2006, a man saw the killer leaving his neighbor’s home and beckoned police. María José Cuevas’ documentary traces the yearslong hunt for the murderer, Juana Barraza, who became known as Mexico’s first female serial killer.


There’s plenty in “The Lady of Silence: The Mataviejitas Murders” to whet the appetites of true-crime nuts — Cuevas combines interviews, reenactments, and snazzy visuals to recreate the macabre mystery. But the film also takes a keen look at the failures of the justice system and the ways in which gender stereotypes influenced the case. Although witnesses claimed the killer was a woman, investigators believed that only a man would have been strong enough to strangle the victims to death, and they began persecuting gay and trans sex workers. Activists interviewed by Cuevas in the film also noted the staggering number of unsolved femicides in Mexico, which, in contrast to the “little old lady” rhetoric of the police and the media in the Mataviejitas murders, attract victim-blaming comments about young women’s life choices.


With her careful attention to everyone who bore the brunt of the killings — from the victims and their family members to innocent people who were illegally detained and arrested — Cuevas paints a portrait not just of a crime, but also of the projections and fears that often cloud pursuits of justice. (Stream it on Netflix.)

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