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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Five international movies to stream now


Amed Bozan in “The Conference.”

By Devika Girish


This month’s picks include a comedic Swedish slasher, a Tunisian noir, an Austenian take on the Indian wedding melodrama and more.



‘The Conference’


This Swedish slasher, arriving on Netflix right on time for Halloween, is about one of the great horrors of modern life: work retreats. A group of municipal employees gathers at a resort to get back in touch with nature, build team spirit and discuss plans for a controversial project that requires the appropriation of local farmland. The strained smiles of the leaders of the project — and their circular corporate-speak whenever any colleague raises ethical qualms — are sinister in their own way. But when the resort staff and guests are killed one by one in spectacularly disgusting fashion, the group’s ability to work together — and traverse zip-lines and make do-it-yourself rafts — acquires life-and-death stakes. Director Patrik Eklund crafts a lean thriller out of this premise, serving up sharp satire about corporate greed with a generous splattering of blood and gore. (Stream it on Netflix.)



‘Ashkal: The Tunisian Investigation’


The premise of this Tunisian thriller by Youssef Chebbi is mesmerizing in its own right: In Tunis, a young detective, Fatma (Fatma Oussaifi) investigates a string of increasingly inexplicable cases of self-immolation. But historical context deepens the genre pleasures of “Ashkal: The Tunisian Investigation” into a political parable. In 2010, a Tunisian street vendor lit himself afire in public to protest harassment by authorities in a tragic spectacle that set off the Arab Spring. Taking inspiration from that moment, Chebbi crafts a beguiling take on the classic, hard-boiled police procedural. Many of his flourishes are familiar (although rendered with great visual originality), like the puzzle-solving detectives prowling an industrial urban landscape depicted in stark chiaroscuro. The mystery at the heart of the film, however, burns unquenchably: It illuminates no answers or evidence, but only a people’s blazing desire for self-determination. (Rent it on Amazon.)



‘The Foolish Bird’


If you saw and liked the film “Stonewalling,” by directors Huang Ji and Ryuji Otsuka, which was released in theaters earlier this year, their 2017 movie “The Foolish Bird” — newly streaming on the Criterion Channel — is a must-see. Like its successor, “The Foolish Bird” is a somber, delicately crafted drama about the nexus of ruthless capitalism and patriarchal violence that ensnares young women in China. Here, a shy and bullied high schooler, Lynn (Yao Honggui), charts a difficult coming-of-age in the shadow of sexual violence in a small Hunanese city. The recent rape and murder of a girl has shaken the town, but it doesn’t dampen the yearning of Lynn and her friend May to break free of their restrictive, impoverished home lives. They start selling stolen phones to make some extra cash but find themselves repeatedly — and in some instances, brutally — fenced in by a world where it seems like masculinity, rather than money, is the real currency. (Stream it on Criterion Channel.)



‘Back Home’


In this gentle French drama, a man, Thomas (Niels Schneider), returns to his hometown after 12 years away and confronts a family in disarray. His mother is on her deathbed; his father still has not forgiven him for leaving; and his sister-in-law, Mona (Adèle Exarchopoulos), whose husband died under mysterious circumstances, struggles to raise her 6-year-old son. Grief hangs over the house and the adjoining farm, which debt has chipped away over the years. Thomas feels his way through this emotional fog, finding his way back into the family through his young nephew, Alex (Roman Coustère Hachez). Jessica Palud’s film is remarkably simple yet dense with feeling, thanks to an ensemble of sensitive performances. Exarchopoulos exudes both sensuality and suffering, and Schneider simmers with love and hurt, but Coustère Hachez is the standout: His precociousness and mischief perfectly embody the ways in which children can usher in the future when adults are too mired in the woes of the past. (Stream it on Tubi.)



‘Aachar & Co.’


Boxy vintage cars, creaky dial-up phones and women traded off in marriage like cattle: Set in the 1960s and ’70s in the South Indian city of Bangalore (now Bengaluru), this period drama by Sindhu Sreenivasa Murthy (she also stars) combines nostalgic charm with a whip-smart satire of fusty old patriarchal traditions.


When the film opens in 1960, the fearsome Madhusudhan Aachar (Ashok), an engineer with a temper, is the envy of his neighbors with his government job, big house and 10 children. Three are boys who he hopes (or rather, demands) become engineers like him, and seven are girls he hopes to match with successful husbands. As the film zips through the next two decades, a multitude of weddings, unexpected deaths and births shift the family’s fortunes, as do changing attitudes about marriage and women’s social roles. Narrated with great wit and charming irony and brimming with gags (three neighborhood gossips, nicknamed BBC for their initials, appear every now and then like a Greek chorus), “Aachar & Co.” is a clever, Austenian take on the great Indian wedding melodrama. (Stream it on Amazon.)

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