‘The Father Who Moves Mountains’
Stream it on Netflix.
Following an intelligence officer whose son goes missing on a blizzard-stricken mountain, this slow-burning Romanian film deepens familiar Hollywood templates — a father’s relentless quest to save his child; a battle of man against nature — into a complex ethical drama about the blurred lines between desperation and hubris. When Mircea Jianu (Adrian Titieni) first learns of his son’s disappearance, his reactions are what one would expect from any parent in his shoes: panic, despair, anger. He insists on following the rescue team up the slopes, despite the inclement weather, and lashes out at their seeming slowness.
But his anguish soon blurs into indignation. Mircea calls in the intelligence services to set up an illegal high-tech search operation, which piques the suspicions of local journalists and invites pleas from the relatives of other lost trekkers for Mircea’s help. Meanwhile, the weather grows worse, endangering the men Mircea bullies and bribes into what increasingly feels like a futile quest. Is his refusal to accept the writing on the wall an admirable streak of parental devotion or a relic of an era when bureaucrats always got their way?
This Daniel Sandu film stays delicately balanced between both these possibilities, with the steep, stark setting providing an elemental backdrop for existential quandaries.
‘Koshien: Japan’s Field of Dreams’
Stream it on Criterion Channel or rent it on Amazon Prime Video.
Like the best sports documentaries, Ema Ryan Yamazaki’s revelatory portrait of Japanese high school baseball is as much about the game as the culture that surrounds it. “Koshien: Japan’s Field of Dreams” invites us into the cutthroat arena that first thrust Major League stars like Hideki Matsui and Shohei Ohtani onto the professional stage: Japan’s annual national high school baseball tournament, also known as Koshien after the stadium where the finals take place.
Yamazaki follows two coaches in the lead-up to the much-awaited 100th anniversary of Koshien in 2018: Tetsuya Mizutani, who has made it to the finals only once in his nearly three-decade career, and his former mentee, Hiroshi Sasaki, who has been to Koshien nine times but never won. Their differing approaches — Mizutani is strict and old-fashioned; Sasaki tech-savvy and adaptable — trace the competing impulses that define Japanese baseball. Though imported from the United States in the 1800s, the sport has imbibed the ritualism and reverence of the Japanese martial arts, while also blossoming into a highly commercialised TV spectacle in the 21st century.
Yamazaki’s interest, though, is in the deep emotional bonds forged in the fire of the competition. When the captain of Mizutani’s team rallies together the teary-eyed players rejected from the Koshien squad, assuring them that “those who have been picked will play carrying the hearts of everyone here,” even my sports-averse heart gave in to the wonders of the game.
‘I Never Climbed the Provincia’
Stream it on OVID.tv or rent it on Amazon Prime Video.
When a decades-old bakery in Santiago, Chile, is shut down and replaced with a new apartment block, filmmaker Ignacio Agüero no longer has an unobstructed view of Mount Provincia from his window. This small change in his visual landscape becomes the catalyst for an expansive rumination on gentrification, community and memory in “I Never Climbed the Provincia,” an intimate documentary in the style of the film-memoirs of Chris Marker and Chantal Akerman.
Agüero takes an openhearted and endearingly rambling approach to his modest investigation: He interviews neighbours and shopkeepers about all the memories that make up his little pocket of the city, recalls his own experiences of growing up in the neighbourhood, and writes mysterious, melancholic letters to an unnamed recipient who never writes back. A thick bed of ambient sound grounds Agüero’s itinerant images, reminding us of the power of cinema to resurrect lost places and times — which the director further emphasises through interspersed clips of Charlie Chaplin’s “The Immigrant.” Though made before the pandemic, “I Never Climbed the Provincia” feels like a film very much of the moment, animated by a yearning for both stasis and change.
Stream it on Amazon Prime Video.
The Tamil filmmaker Mari Selvaraj’s latest is a thrilling Indian twist on the neo-western, featuring spunky villagers-in-arms, villainous policemen and a swashbuckling, horse-riding antihero. The film unfolds in Podiyankulam, a small, rural lower-caste settlement in south India that suffers the contempt and indifference of the state. The village isn’t even deemed worthy of a bus stop, which further reinforces its poverty: Kids struggle to go to school, young people can’t commute to jobs, and the lack of access to hospitals leads to tragedies.
From this milieu emerges the pugilistic Karnan, whom we first meet in a moment of Arthurian glory: He wins an annual contest that involves slicing a fish midair with a sword. (The scene is better seen than described.) Yet he is regarded by everyone as a nuisance for the first half of the film, his quick temper getting him into frequent fights with bus drivers, rival villagers and policemen.
But bubbling under Karnan’s recklessness is a righteous rage. When an encounter with the police leads to the vicious torture of the village’s elders, Karnan’s anger explodes across the community. Drawing on horrific real-life incidents from the 1990s, Selvaraj gives long-overlooked victims of police brutality a Tarantino-esque tale of bloody, gloriously stylised revenge, while the Tamil superstar Dhanush turns in a swaggering performance as the fearless Karnan.
‘The Cloud in Her Room’
Stream it on Mubi.
Transposing the gauzy black-and-white palette and formal experiments of the French New Wave to present-day Hangzhou, in China, “The Cloud in Her Room” offers a beautifully oblique glimpse at a few days in the life of Muzi, a 22-year-old college grad who returns home from Beijing for the Chinese New Year. Avoiding exposition or a traditional plot, the director Zheng Lu Xinyuan slowly clues us into Muzi’s life through the quiet scenes she spends with her divorced parents, her two handsome suitors and often by herself in the desolate rooms of her childhood home.
Even as the film moves at a languid, uneventful pace, the cinematographer Matthias Delvaux holds our attention with his camera, constantly probing the setting for unusual angles and compositions: A swimmer is captured up-close through rippling water; Muzi and her mother are glimpsed through a small, oblong window as they sing karaoke under strobe lights; a shot of the moon suddenly inverts colours, so that a black orb shimmers in a neon-white sky. The questing gaze of the camera eventually mirrors Muzi’s own search for connection as “The Cloud in Her Room” emerges as an evocative portrait of the rootlessness of youth — a malaise as unplaceable as it is universal.
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