This month’s picks include a rousing boxing film from India, a Costa Rican psychodrama, a breezy French romantic comedy, a horror film about refugees in London and a charming Tunisian indie.
In the age of streaming, the earth is flat — screen-size, with travel to faraway destinations only a monthly subscription and a click away. We’ve journeyed through the world of options and chosen the best new international movies for you to watch.
Stream it on Amazon Prime Video.
“Sarpatta Parambarai” begins with an open-air boxing tournament thronged with eager spectators. It’s the mid-1970s, and India is under the draconian emergency rule of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The leaders of the southern state of Tamil Nadu are vocal opponents of Gandhi, and the tournament doubles as their soapbox. Over the course of a nearly 40-minute prologue, comprising a series of rapid bouts, the film introduces us to both this broader political history and the complicated micro-history of boxing in the Tamil capital of Chennai: the many rival clans; the dwindling reign of the Sarpatta clan and its once-legendary coach; the rise of a villainous new champion who threatens to end Sarpatta altogether. Soon, Kabilan (Arya), a rookie who lost his father years ago to boxing gang wars, rises to the challenge, vowing to redeem Sarpatta.
Pa. Ranjith, a director known for blending blockbuster style with meaty sociopolitical themes (see his 2018 hit “Kaala,” also on Amazon Prime Video), crafts an electrifying hybrid of sports film and mafia movie. “Sarpatta Parambarai” is as granular in its details — of character, costume, setting — as it is sprawling in scope. Unfolding at a breathless pace, the film follows Kabilan and his crew over multiple years as they navigate challenges, betrayals and games of honor. But it’s in the bravura fight scenes (both inside and outside the ring) that Ranjith truly flexes his chops, staging bouts with such swagger and kineticism that they had me both biting my nails and swaying to their infectious rhythm.
Stream it on HBO Max.
This Costa Rican drama is a fine addition to what I call the Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown canon: movies about women who are undone by the demands of femininity, their unsteadiness producing ripples of disorientation in the fabric of the film. Isabel, a young mother of two girls, can barely find any space of her own in a life circumscribed by child care, housekeeping and her job as a tailor. When her husband and in-laws start pestering her about having another child, despite the family’s insufficient means, she’s unable to voice her refusal. Her repressed dread soon manifests in the form of strange visions of corporeal disintegration: ants crawling all over her body; her hair falling out in clumps.
If Antonella Sudasassi’s film fits into the Nervous Breakdown template a bit too tidily — it even features that cinematic shorthand for neurosis, a woman stuffing cake into her mouth — what sets it apart is that it never quite gives in to hysteria. Instead, Sudasassi’s perceptive character study reveals its insights delicately and without much ado. Daniela Valenciano plays Isabel with an unassuming sense of mystery, never making her inner turmoil too obvious or predictable; refreshingly, her husband, though oblivious, is not made into a villain either. With naturalistic cinematography and sound design, the film builds on Isabel’s small, everyday ruptures into a climax that startles with its simplicity.
Stream it on Mubi.
Resplendent with sun, breeze and youthful desire, Guillaume Brac’s comedy follows a group of 20-somethings on an exuberant adventure in the French mountains. Félix, a handsome nursing student, meets the effervescent Alma on a mellow evening in Paris and spends the night with her. When she leaves for a family vacation the next day, he bone-headedly decides to surprise her with a visit, dragging along his buddy Chérif, and Edouard, a dorky carpooler reluctantly roped into their scheme. What begins as a lust-fueled boys’ trip turns into something warm and tender, with the scenic setting seemingly unleashing confusing, enticing currents of friendship and romance. Félix and Alma test the fickle waters of infatuation; Edouard grows comically attached to his newfound crew; and Chérif, enamored of a young mother, becomes her accidental babysitter. Working with a loose, partly improvised script, the film’s young actors drive its endearing rhythms, combining easy laughs and slapstick with an unforced profundity.
Stream it on Netflix.
In Toni Morrison’s classic novel “Beloved,” a house is haunted by the ghost of a child murdered by her mother to save her from the horrors of slavery. Remi Weekes’s “His House” offers a kind of modern twist on that gothic tale of trauma and survivor’s guilt, swapping the trans-Atlantic voyages of the slave trade for those of the contemporary refugee crisis. In the film’s fablelike opening montage, we see a Sudanese couple, Bol and Rial, escape their homeland in an overflowing raft; as their boat capsizes in a storm, they lose their daughter. Next we meet them in a detention center in Britain, where, after a long spell, they’re finally released on bail and put up in a big, creaky house, whose shadows soon take malevolent forms. What’s brilliant about Weekes’s conceit is how he intertwines a kind of kitchen-sink drama about the life of an immigrant — riddled with unfriendly bureaucracy and rampant racism — with an all-out creepfest. Just as frightening as the film’s zombie sequences are those of Rial being heckled by xenophobic teenage boys as she tries to find her way around London, the camera making dizzying circles around her, rendering palpable her fear and disorientation.
Stream it on Mubi.
The radiant Golshifteh Farahani stars in “Arab Blues” as Selma, a Tunis-born psychoanalyst living in Paris who returns to her hometown to open a practice in the aftermath of the Tunisian revolution. If the reasons for her homecoming are puzzling to her relatives, many of whom yearn to emigrate, the talking cure is an even tougher sell. “My customers come here and talk a blue streak, but they leave with beautiful hair,” a local hairdresser says to Selma. “What do people leave your office with?”
But Selma makes no inflated promises about her services, and neither does Manele Labidi’s script. “Arab Blues” simply revels in the comic, romantic and philosophical conversations that unfold in Selma’s sessions, bringing into focus the minor and major troubles of a people living in the uncertain midst of political upheavals. Labidi pokes gentle fun at the cultural and ideological conflicts that make up Selma’s milieu: Her neighbors balk at the sight of a tattooed, unmarried woman smoking on their roof, while Selma can’t seem to help her own clueless condescension. But these observations are never reduced to punch lines. This is a film that’s sensitive to people’s innate complexities, and it helps that Labidi has an irreverent sense of wit: In one unexpected detour into fantasy, Sigmund Freud himself appears to rescue Selma after her car breaks down, chuffing on a cigar in cool silence while she pours out all her woes.