It's almost time for the annual San Francisco International Film Festival, the oldest in the United States. And as it happens, Netflix just debuted a handful of international films. They have a different perspective on things — specifically, these films tend to have a more broad-minded view of eroticism and a more condemning view of violence. If anything, these 10 movies are proof that the world is becoming even more of a melting pot, with cultures mixing together into an interesting, amazing new brew. Hopefully you're in the mood to read subtitles!
A Touch of Sin (2013)
Arguably China's greatest living filmmaker, Jia Zhang-ke, has created a series of films that are politically aware, yet also deeply personal. His latest, A Touch of Sin (2013), is more pointed — and bloodier — than his earlier films, but like Platform (2000) and The World (2005), it's a smart combination of the intimate and the ambitious. It tells four stories about characters who are bent out of shape due to, either directly or indirectly, work and the economy. One character tries to stand up to the crooked village boss and pays a price. Another — Jia's muse and regular leading lady Zhao Tao — is having an affair and runs into her lover's wife at her job, a massage parlor in a red light district. With consummate artistry, Jia conjures up many images, such as a horse-drawn carriage on the loose, that cleverly illustrate his ideas.
Raised in colonial Africa, Paris-born Claire Denis (Beau Travail, Trouble Every Day) has a unique worldview among filmmakers, with her striking use of environment and her poetic, frequently wordless images. Her latest work, Bastards (2013), is not one of her most successful, although it's still very much worth seeing. It's a crime story, in which a ship's captain, Marco Silvestri (Vincent London), abandons his job to investigate the death of his brother-in-law. He learns that it may have something to do with wealthy businessman (Michel Subor) and the businessman's mistress, Raphaelle (Chiara Mastroianni). He begins sleeping with Raphaelle — Denis spends extra time on the textures and moods of their love scenes — which brings on more immediate trouble. Denis is not at her best with complicated plots, but she can create powerful moments of menace or desire with a single gesture.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)
This experimental, powerful, moving, and even sensual French movie was directed by an American, Julian Schnabel, which just goes to show how international films in general are becoming, and how obsolete the phrase "foreign film" is. Fashion magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric) suffers a stroke and becomes almost totally paralyzed, except for his left eye. This movie tells the story of how he learned to use his eye to communicate and eventually to write the book that this movie is based on. Schnabel films large portions of the movie from Jean-Do's point of view, with several beautiful women gazing at him (and at us), while we hear his thoughts. Despite the dark material, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007) was an art-house success and earned four Oscar nominations.
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