This month’s picks include a dystopian Greek film about a mysterious disease, a thought-provoking film about the British Windrush scandal, a heart-wrenching drama from Colombia, a modern Indian version of Shakespeare and a dazzling stop-motion opera from China.
Stream it on Mubi.
Janis Rafailidou’s disturbing film introduces its main characters via a sex scene, although what we’re watching isn’t immediately clear. All we see are fragments of fleshy, tangled limbs, filmed so closely that it is impossible to discern any recognizable shapes or forms. This is Rafailidou’s modus operandi throughout “Kala Azar”: scrutinizing familiar objects and bodies so closely, and from such unusual angles, that their outlines become strange.
The story takes place in a desolate, somewhat dystopian Mediterranean landscape, although the setting is never explicitly identified. There are distant mountains, dilapidated fields and dusty construction sites where teams of South Asian workers toil. Penelope (Penelope Tsilika) and Dimitris (Dimitris Lalos) are pet creamers who walk through this lot, stopping at homes to pick up dead dogs, cats and fish, assuring their owners that they will be disposed of. with ceremony and care.
Fragments of the tale emerge as the couple clash with the director of the pet crematorium over the mysterious traffic accident they encounter on their travels. But “Kala Azar” invests less in the plot than in a sensual and tactile atmosphere, drawing on the morbid implications of its title (the name of a deadly parasitic fever) to evoke a melancholy world where life and death are not. more in balance. It’s a particularly haunting watch in our current coronavirus era.
“Sitting in limbo”
Stream it on Netflix.
Anthony Bryan’s mother arrived in London in the 1960s as part of the ‘Windrush Generation’ of Caribbean immigrants: working-class men and women who were encouraged to settle in Britain in the post-war decades to fill labor shortages. Bryan was all 8 when he joined his mother, and in 2015 he had lived and worked in London for almost 50 years, when suddenly he was declared an illegal immigrant and threatened with deportation.
Bryan was among hundreds of immigrants wrongly targeted in the British Windrush scandal. In “Sitting in Limbo,” which dramatizes Bryan’s hellish experience, director Stella Corradi captures the spiritual toll of this injustice. Bryan (Patrick Robinson) spends his humble but busy life with his partner, children and friends on the labyrinthine tour of immigration offices, courtrooms and prison-like detention centers. Any legal redress, procured by his family at great expense, turns out to be short-lived.
Corradi renders Bryan’s lows and eventual highs with the same low-key and impartial style, reflecting the truth that Robinson forcefully conveys with his tired, hardened face. Regardless of the outcome of his ordeal, Bryan has lost something he will never regain: a sense of belonging. Still, “Sitting in Limbo” is not so dark. Corradi is careful to highlight the intimacy, love and solidarity of Bryan’s community, paying homage not only to their suffering but also to their resilience.
‘Valley of Souls’
Stream it on Mubi.
“Valley of Souls” opened in 2002 when José (José Arley de Jesús Carvallido Lobo), an old desiccated fisherman, canoeed down the Magdalena River in Colombia. The night is dark, the river is vast and threatening voices are heard in the distance. The United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, the far-right paramilitary army that sowed terror in the region in the late 1990s and into the 2000s, are bringing residents together. When José returns to his hut in the morning light, his sons have been taken away.
For a year, the “Offstage” series followed the theater until it closed. We now take a look at its rebound. Join Times theater reporter Michael Paulson as he explores the signs of hope in a changed city with Lin-Manuel Miranda, a performance by Shakespeare in the Park and more.
So begins the heartbreaking drama of Sisyphus from Nicolás Rincón Gille’s film. José’s unerring determination to find his sons becomes all the more tragic when we realize that the best he can hope for is their corpses. He is not fighting for their life but to grant them dignity in death.
Like the river at its center, “Valley of Souls” unfolds at a calm, steady pace that at times quickens to reveal the horrors beneath its placid surface. Lobo is beautifully stoic, and Rincón Gille follows him with a lens of patient observation, making José a sort of patron saint of all victims of the violent Colombian civil war who remain lost in damp graves.
Stream it on Amazon Prime.
Three brothers share a house with their formidable father on a leafy rubber plantation in the state of Kerala, in southern India. When the grizzled Patriarch (whom we first meet while doing anti-aging pull-ups) suffers a debilitating stroke, Joji (Fahadh Faasil), the youngest of the rascal sons realizes that this could be his only chance to grab the life he desires. And that’s what he does, unleashing a chain of deadly lies and betrayals.
Blending nuances of ‘Macbeth’ and ‘King Lear’, director Dileesh Pothan brings to life the universal themes of greed, ambition and family strife by anchoring his film firmly in its time and place. The power games in “Joji” draw upon caste and class inequalities, religious animosities and feudal dynamics in rural Kerala, while the pandemic’s props – masks, quarantines, protective gear – all become chess pieces in the story.
“Joji” reminded me of HBO’s “Succession”, with its tightrope walk between suspense and dark humor. The twists and turns are entertaining and unpredictable, but the thrill of the film is watching its carefully drawn characters squirm as they attempt to keep up appearances in absurd situations, like a funeral service where speeches are excuses to exchange. beards. My takeaway? There are few things as universal across cultures as passive-aggressive families.
In Zhou Shengwei’s “S He”, a single mother struggles to raise and nurture her daughter in a man’s world. Except the “mother” in this case is a shiny red pomp with a crown of green vines, and the “men” are shiny black moccasins with a wide mouth and pointed teeth.
It’s hard to do justice to the dazzling art of Zhou’s stop-motion film with simple words. You have to see it to appreciate the visual and thematic richness that the director creates from everyday objects. Shoes, socks, pins, nails, fruit and more become the characters in a lyrical battle of the sexes. The pomp assassinates the moccasin which keeps her locked up, Mrs. Rochester style, then ventures into the forbidden kingdom of male shoes, imagined here as a cross between a smoking room and a sweatshop. There she must fight wandering mechanical eyes and deadly keys to steal food – i.e. socks – to feed her offspring.
A dystopian screed against misogyny and capitalism unfolds against the backdrop of plastic seas and furry sunsets, but “S He” is not simply an exercise in symbolism. With his play of light, movement and sound, Zhou choreographs great emotions and moving pathos: the rage of a despised woman, the despair of a protective mother, the lost innocence of a neglected child. Despite all its elaborate craftsmanship, “S He” reminds us that the magic of films lies in their power to make us Feel.