(Welcome to Pop Culture Imports, a column that compiles the best foreign movies and TV streaming right now.)
With last week’s announcement of the Golden Globe nominees and the plethora of film awards ceremonies popping up every week, we’re well into the swing of awards season. You know what that means: a full month of Oscar contenders making their way to theaters while studios vie for the precious golden statuette. But in the case of a few of these foreign films, Oscar contenders are making their case on streaming services too.
This isn’t a special Oscar season edition of Pop Culture Imports, but a few of the movies this week are strong competition during awards season — and rightfully so. This week we have Alfonso Cuaron‘s magnum opus Roma, which hits the streaming service after a two-week theatrical run, Alice Rohrwacher‘s mesmerizing Cannes favorite Happy as Lazzaro, a French comedic crime caper featuring Vincent Cassel, an absurdist Mexican thriller about the horrors of timeshare, and a timely HBO original immigrant drama.
Fire up those subtitles for the best foreign movies and TV streaming now.
Best Foreign Movies and TV Streaming Now
Roma – Netflix
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Cast: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Marco Graf, Daniela Demesa, Enoc Leaño and Daniel Valtierra.
Words can’t do justice to this masterpiece of filmmaking. Alfonso Cuarón has crafted a pure cinematic experience out of his own childhood, in a film that has rightfully become Netflix’s best shot at a Best Picture Oscar. Drawing from his own childhood growing up in 1970s Mexico, the Gravity and Children of Men director tells the story of a housekeeper working for a middle-class family in Roma who enjoys a warm relationship with her employers while striking up a budding romance outside of her work. Anchored by a tender and uninhibited performance by Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo, Roma envelops you in an overwhelmingly empathetic and human experience. The narrative is exceedingly spare, moving at a slow and deliberate pace, but Cuarón makes it clear that this is a master at work: every scene is meticulously staged, every frame gorgeously rendered. And though the film hones in so closely to Cleo’s story, Roma is never anything less than sprawling — in one scene in particular, Cuaron’s camera floats over the rooftops of Roma away from Cleo to show hundreds of other women, each with their own stories, dreams, and sacrifices. While the groundbreaking sound design that accompanies the film in theatrical screenings likely won’t translate to streaming, Roma remains a film that gently washes over you until you’re drifting in a sea of half-remembered memories, before it strikes you with a sudden wave of emotions.
Watch This If You Like: Is there any film like Roma?
Happy as Lazzaro – Netflix
Genre: Surreal drama
Director: Alice Rohrwacher
Cast: Nicoletta Braschi, Adriano Tardiolo, Sergi López, Alba Rohrwacher, Luca Chikovani.
Italian neorealism meets magical realism in this gem of a movie that many will probably overlook as Roma earns all the awards hype. Well, I’m here to tell you: Don’t. Italian director Alice Rohrwacher creates an offbeat modern-day fairy tale with Happy as Lazzaro, which follows a naive 20-year-old sharecropper named Lazzaro (Adriano Tardiolo) who becomes the unlikely confidante of the estate’s marquis, Tancredi (Luca Chikovani), who schemes to trick his domineering mother with a fake kidnapping. But after Lazzaro comes down a fever, he falls down a cliff and wakes up decades later to find that the estate has been abandoned and reality has corrupted the idyllic existence he once lived. Part Rip Van Winkle myth, part anticapitalist manifesto, Happy as Lazzaro is an odd and dreamlike film that nonetheless grabs you. At the center of it is Lazzaro himself, who Tardiolo plays as an infuriatingly guileless man out of time, whose wide eyes and trusting nature leads to his constant exploitation. Happy as Lazzaro is a crazy-quilt of genres and narratives, transforming from a languid rural drama into a meandering urban fantasy that is ultimately a cynical vision of the idyllic world it once envisioned.
Watch This If You Like: Sorry to Bother You, Big Fish, Amelie, falling asleep in a sunny pasture and having a nightmare about the ills of capitalism.
The World Is Yours – Netflix
Genre: Comedy crime caper
Director: Romain Gavras
Cast: Gabby Rose, Karim Leklou, Vincent Cassel, Isabelle Adjani. François Damiens, Oulaya Amamra.
For a good 30 minutes through The World is Yours, I wondered whether this was a tongue-in-cheek reference to the recurring theme in La Haine, especially with Vincent Cassel‘s appearance in a supporting role. But apart from giving a glimpse of the seedy underbelly of French society, The World is Yours has little in common with the seminal ’90s drama. But that doesn’t make it any less fun. A stylish and slightly vacuous crime drama, The World is Yours follows a small-time mobster in Paris, François (Karim Leklou), who takes on one last job in Spain to escape a life of crime and ends up trapped in a chaotic web of drugs, the Illuminati, and the hijinks of his overbearing mother. But François isn’t your typical cutthroat mobster — mild-mannered, pudgy, and sentimental, he was born into the life because of his con artist mother Dany, (a hilariously pathological Isabelle Adjani), and wants nothing more than to become the CEO of a small frozen soft-drink company operating out of North Africa. The World is Yours zips and zags through a wild series of heists and stumbles, with colorful characters like Cassel’s conspiracy theorist Henri flitting in and out. It’s a wacky and hyperstylized crime caper that doesn’t reinvent the genre, but sure delivers a good time.
Watch This If You Like: Trainspotting, Logan Lucky, Snatch, wishing Guy Ritchie would go back to making heist movies.
Time Share – Netflix
Genre: Suburban thriller
Director: Sebastian Hofmann
Cast: Luis Gerardo Méndez, Miguel Rodarte, RJ Mitte, Cassandra Ciangherotti, Montserrat Marañon, Andrés Almeida, Emiliano Rodríguez.
Time Share is a paranoid suburban thriller that is as baffling as it is intriguing. At first the Mexican family unfolds like an absurdist family drama before director Sebastian Hoffman plants seeds for a greater conspiracy, which…never really amount to anything. But Time Share will keep you watching, if only for the way that Hoffman creates a sense of electric, gripping unease throughout this story of a family going on a dream getaway that turns nightmarish. Time Share follows Pedro (Luis Gerardo Méndez) as he, his wife, and young son arrive at a resort for a much-needed vacation. But things go awry when the resort overbooks, forcing Pedro to share his villa with another obnoxious family. Meanwhile, an employee at the resort struggles to keep his marriage together in the wake of his son’s death, and finds something sinister afoot at his company. A psychological thriller that offers more questions than answers, Time Share is a strange one, but nonetheless remains a compelling watch.
Watch This If You Like: Get Out, The Stepford Wives, Hot Fuzz, denouncing timeshares as scams.
Ice Box – HBO Go
Director: Daniel Sawka
Cast: Anthony Gonzalez.
A competent and important film that hits harder because of its timely topic, Icebox tells the story of Óscar (played by Coco‘s Anthony Gonzalez), a 12-year-old Honduran boy who is forced to flee his home and seek asylum in the United States, only to find himself trapped in the U.S. immigration system. Based on his short film of the same name, director Daniel Sawka expands the story into a humanistic drama that puts a face on the news reports that dominated the cycle earlier this year. Icebox is a haunting, compassionate film that soars thanks to the performance of Gonzalez, who makes a powerful turn as a boy forced into gang violence. Though visually it doesn’t offer more than “this is an HBO original film,” Icebox is personal and affecting film that will give you chills.
Watch This If You Like: Sin Nombre, Under the Moon, angrily watching CNN.
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