This lack of travel has made me quite twitchy. Fortunately, I’ve found a sort-of/not-quite solution — making a great escape by watching a flurry of international films.
The California Film Institute and the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive are helping out wanderlusters like me, whisking us away from the same-oldness of our homebound lives via their choice offerings.
This week, Pass the Remote hopscotches vicariously to Brazil, Puerto Rico and on over to Greece, Japan and even tours a futuristic Ukraine.
Just like last week, we will continue to dip into the CFI’s addictive “For Your Consideration: A Celebration of World Cinema,” an annual event that showcases a slew of Oscar submissions for best international feature. To check out the whole program and purchase tickets, go to https://rafaelfilm.cafilm.org/for-your-consideration-2021/
“Apples”: Greece’s submission for the 2021 Oscars opens with a man banging his head against the wall. Considering the world of late, most of us can relate, and that scene resonates even more so once we learn that a mind-wiping virus is erasing identities of those afflicted, and that poor guy doesn’t have a clue (or does he?) of who he is. Christos Nikou’s black comedy finds No. 14843, a.k.a. Aris (Aris Servetalis), following doctors’ dubious orders to create a New Identity. But what’s deemed as appropriate behavior isn’t always appropriate nor enlightened. It’s an absurdist fable with just the right mix of ponderous thoughts and goofy humor, a nudge of a reminder that following the commands of a textbook life sometimes blanches it of all its joy and discovery. (Available now; https://rafaelfilm.cafilm.org/apples/)
“Atlantis”: This stark, brilliant Ukranian Oscar submission is a damning indictment on war and how, in its destructive wake, conflict destroys collective psyches while polluting our lands and savaging economies. Valentyn Vasyanovych paints a dim future for battle-ravaged Eastern Ukraine, populated with angry workers and former trigger-happy soldiers. Suffering from PTSD, Sergiy (Andriy Rymaruk) lumbers through life, shooting at targets with his shaky friend and then joylessly going to a job at a soon-to-be-shuttered steel factory. His life takes a “Heart of Darkness” pitch once he begins delivering precious water throughout the region. When he meets a volunteer (Liudmyla Bileka) tasked with the unenviable job of cataloging and trying to identify the war dead, Sergiy’s life starts to shift. Vasyanovych is a masterful filmmaker, framing Sergiy’s odyssey in often-static wide shots that reflect how much Sergiy is confined, even trapped by his spiritual and physical environment. This is a sweeping, immersive experience, one that demands it be viewed without interruption just so you can absorb and then process what you’ve just witnessed. (Available Friday; https://rafaelfilm.cafilm.org/atlantis/)
“True Mothers”: Naomi Kawase is certainly not in a rush to tell her engrossing adaptation of a Japanese bestseller about a childless Japanese couple (Hiromi Nagasaku and Arata Iura) adopting 14-year-old Hikari’s (Aju Makita) newborn. Kawase revisits all these characters’ past through well-edited flashbacks — from the agonizing over not being able to conceive to the puppy-dog teen romance that forever alters the course of Hikari’s life. It’s an epic-sized drama that draws its power from how it looks with empathy at its well-drawn, memorable characters. Worth its nearly 2-and-a-half-hour running time. (Available Friday, https://rafaelfilm.cafilm.org/true-mothers/)
“Landfall”: The PFA sustains its rep for plucking out choice documentaries with this thoughtful, illuminating meditation on the Puerto Rico of today, as well as before and after Hurricane Maria powered in and ripped it apart. Filmmaker Cecilia Aldarondo and crew hang out with farmers, bit-coin entrepreneurs, uneasy residents and luxury real estate sellers — to name a few. What she uncovers by allowing the cameras to roll provides more clarity on this remarkable land and its remarkable people, both challenged by the interests of others. It’s dynamite. (Available Jan. 29; https://watch.eventive.org/bampfa/play/5fdaa394151ab700755d1a3d)
“I Remember the Crows”: Another film series that’s well worth the time is the New Brazilian Cinema program, now available at the PFA. This award-winning documentary is surprisingly compelling, filmed over one wine-heavy night with actress/filmmaker Julia Katharine, who is trans. Director Gustavo Vinagre literally points and shoots, keeping the camera on Katherine as she divulges sometimes shocking, sometimes sad and sometimes funny stories about navigating life in Brazil and Japan. In the process, Katharine parcels out truth and fiction in this variation on “My Dinner With Andre.” (Available through March 7; https://watch.eventive.org/bampfa/play/5fd960c37754d80078528327; for a complete list of films in the series: https://bampfa.org/watch-from-home/streaming-spotlight-new-brazilian-cinema)