Stream it on Criterion Channel.
Rhayne Vermette’s experimental feature opens with a series of gauzy, mysterious images. First we see a woman walking through a desolate gray landscape shrouded in eerie morning sounds; then, above close-up shots of a fire, a girl’s disembodied voice recites a letter to an absent mother. These scenes sow the seeds of the film’s tenuous narrative: a strange, whimsical tale of a woman who returns to her Métis Nation family in rural Manitoba after an unexplained disappearance of four years.
But the plot is almost a red herring; it appears and disappears in short, unresolved fragments of conversation, giving way for the most part to transfixing scenes of tactility and community. Both trivial and ancestral tales are exchanged during fireside gatherings and dinners, which Vermette, firing at sparkling celluloid, records at an angle, zooming in on someone’s gesticulating hands as they speak, or on the ripples of a pond as children throw stones into it. Slowly an intimate but enigmatic portrait of a place and a people flows together.
“St. Anne’ is deliberately abstract, resists linear narrative, yet captivates with its fusion of documentary realism and cinematic magic. In one scene, when a family remembers a long-dead relative, he materializes in the background as a translucent figure—turning a mundane conversation into a séance.
This sweet, strange Spanish drama follows a 45-year-old woman, Rosa (Candela Peña), who decides to solve a midlife crisis by getting married herself. This may sound like the plot of a corny ’90s Hollywood rom-com, but “Rosa’s Wedding” is a film of surprising nuance and depth – a beautifully executed film about the gestures, however nonsensical, we sometimes need. to become who we want to be.
Peña brings a beautiful, light-hearted pathos to a character used to helping everyone in her life: her boss in the wardrobe department of a film shoot, where Rosa works as a seamstress; her businessman brother navigating a divorce; her interpreter sister with an alcohol problem; and her nagging father who clings to Rosa after his wife’s death. Further demands from a daughter living abroad and a needy boyfriend eventually push her to a breaking point, and Rosa drives to her seaside hometown, where she decides to reopen her mother’s dressmaking business and pursue her long-held dreams.
And what better way to start a new life than with a wedding? Hilarious and tense clashes ensue as Rosa’s family arrives at the picturesque site in anticipation of a traditional ceremony. The cape ends as you’d expect—with a colorful feel-good finale—but the film’s vulnerable performances and penetrating exchanges about grief and growth mean it never feels banal.
‘The problem with being born’
Stream it on Mubi.
The Austrian Filmmaker Sandra Wollner’s provocative feature begins with scenes of a girl and her father lounging by a swimming pool in a wooded suburb. The eerie sound design and surveillance-esque cinematography suggest something is off, but it’s not until a few minutes into the film, when the girl nearly drowns and is rescued by her father, that we notice her lofty movements and silicone-smooth skin. on. We soon realize that Elli is an automaton – a cybernetic stand-in for the 10-year-old daughter who lost her father many years ago.
The first half of “The Trouble With Being Born” follows the domestic life of this duo, forcing us to struggle with that elusive yet unmistakable line that separates humans and non-humans – an uncanny gulf made even more disturbing by the fact that Elli is played by an anonymous actress who wears a mask. In the second half, the film changes from contemplative to judgmental as the twisted nature of the relationship between Elli and her father figure becomes apparent. Rather than becoming sensational, Wollner’s film maintains a cool dystopian image and confronts us with a nihilistic (albeit undeniably realistic) world where science, no matter how advanced, can never transcend the depravity of its creators.
‘Lift like a girl’
Stream it on Netflix.
If you walked past Captain Ramadan’s weightlifting gym in Alexandria, Egypt, you’d never guess that it has spawned 17 Pan-African champions, nine world champions, and four Olympians. Located in an open yard full of weeds and surrounded by traffic, this gym is more like a dumping ground for rusty equipment. But in this dilapidated, budget-less institution, Ramadan has not only coached world-class athletes but also led a unique movement of female Egyptian weightlifters.
The documentary “Lift Like a Girl” follows Ramadan as he trains another champion in the making, the bespectacled teenager Asmaa for four years. By closely observing the routines of the weightlifters with a handheld camera, the film captures the mix of chaos, deprivation and grit that drives this untidy community. Ramadan makes for an extremely cinematic figure: he’s a gray nerd who is just as likely to burst into songs of fatherly affection as he is to burst out with profanity or throw stones at guys who dare to fool his girls.
With an intimate, embedded approach, director Mayye Zayed outlines Ramadan’s hard love and its profound, formative effects on Asmaa. A belated twist pushes the film beyond the realm of sport and underscores the avenues of hope and solidarity the gym offers to young women of modest means.
Five movies to watch this winter
‘This is Cristina’
Stream it on Ovid. Rent it on Amazon.
Gonzalo Maza’s lo-fi black-and-white comedy about the misadventures of two charmingly aimless women is as strikingly original as it is warmly familiar; the portrait of millennial malaise is laced with surprising and invigorating darkness. The film, which unfolds in short, sardonic episodes, follows two best friends, Cristina and Susana, as they navigate a twisting stretch of their 30s. Cristina is coping with a messy divorce from her selfish ex-graphic novelist and an even messier relationship with her theater director, while suffering a serious case of artist blockade. Meanwhile, Susana faces a crisis of faith when her mother goes on vacation with a new lover, and her father entangles her in a web of lies and unpaid loans.
It’s as if the maturity and its consequences took the two women by surprise. But the film never feels double or tacky; it maintains a mature, realistic attitude to life, even as it regales us with pretentious acting workshops and wellness-themed parties. Time and again, Cristina and Susana return to the memory of another friend who died in an accident a few years earlier. The abrupt end of her life hangs over the couple’s stalled, confusing paths, bringing a sense of perspective to even their most pitiful moments.