Credit Tibor Krizsak on Unsplash

5 foreign films you might have missed

By Tara Jackson

A beautiful dive into the diverse world of cinema and human landscapes.

Prayers for the Stolen (Noche De Fuego). Dir: Tatiana Huezo. México. 2021. 

In the state of Guerrero, Mexico, the blossoming adolescence of three young girls in a remote mountain village is threatened by the gender-based violence inflicted by the local drug cartels. Trucks of gangs clutching rifles fall in and out of frame, making demands and hiring local villagers to work in earth-blasting mines or blood-red poppy fields. Occasionally a girl goes missing. Questions remain unspoken, half-formed, hanging, particularly in the mind of Ana (first played by Ana Cristina Ordonez Gonzalez, followed by an older and wiser Marya Membreno) who is acutely attuned to this rumbling peril. Ana knows that hiding is a necessary part of being a young girl, but she also recognizes the power of seeing and being seen. She draws strength through intense female bonds and the beauty of her natural surroundings. Huezo strikes us with the hearts of her characters and of nature, while at the same time her work documents the violence inflicted upon them in the name of profit. 

The Velvet Queen (La Panthere Des Neiges). Dir: Marie Amiguet. France, Tibet. 2021. 

A journey in capturing the impossible. Though we are told that this supposed impossible is the elusive and exceedingly rare snow leopard, the film constantly evokes the everyday impossibility of the natural world and humanity’s place within it. This wildlife documentary avoids falling into the cliché of presenting “nature” as an object to be gawked at, but it always remains at a distance from human lives. While it is an odyssey of breath-taking cinematography, the real joy of the film is that the effort, exhaustion, patience and vulnerability which takes place behind the camera is on full display, and the lives of local Tibetan people are not removed from the scene. The two humans leading the way are wildlife photographer Vincent Munier and writer Sylvain Tesson, whose voice eloquently ruminates on the philosophy of their goal (“encountering an animal is rejuvenation, it opens a door, on the side, the incommunicable”). While the men spend months in the high altitudes of Tibet, awaiting their decisive moment, there are many moments in between which prove the search to be just as important as the reward. Furthermore, the film is tracked to original music by Nick Cave. 

Hit the Road (Jadde Khaki). Dir: Panah Panahi. Iran. 2021. 

A film of laughter and tears, pain and hope, reality and fiction. A perfect film. An Iranian family set out in their car across a barren landscape. A young nightmare child who is both witty and warm-hearted, a dry-humoured father with his leg in a cast, a concerned strong-willed mother and an older son who does not say much but whose feelings can be read on his face. The threatening undertone is swiftly established by the mother’s fear that someone is following them. We realise this is no ordinary holiday as the true purpose of their journey is painstakingly unwound. While the characters and the audience often come face to face with situations which are not in the least funny, magic seeps through, reminding us to see the world through the eyes of a child. The mother insists “We’ll laugh about this someday’ while the older son protests ‘Really? What is there to laugh about?” Indeed, this is a question Hit the Road invites us to ask. 

I’m No Longer Here (Ya No Estoy Aquí). Dir: Luis Fernando Frias de la Parra. México. 2019. 

The intoxicating story of a teenage boy from Monterrey who must flee his city, his country, and his home, in order to escape violent gangs who mistake him as their target of revenge. In present day New York City, Ulises struggles to find work, friendship, and safety, as the city repeatedly turns its back on him and his “alien” identity. He finds solace in returning to memories of a life left behind, a life dominated by deep companionship and the healing power of Cumbia Rebajada – a slowed down form of cumbia music originated in Colombia which is associated with counter culture in Monterrey city. This music is symbolic of Ulises’s attempt to preserve his past. He wisely suggests that “if it is slower it lasts longer”. In this gripping deconstruction of the American Dream, we see the dissolution of the identity of a young man who is forced between two countries and at the cusp between youth and adulthood. This is a story which will draw you in then bleakly cast you aside, only to haunt you more. Enjoy the music while it lasts. 

Atlantics (Atlantique). Dir: Mati Diop. Senegal. 2019.

While this breath-taking Senegalese film did receive glowing international recognition (winner of the Grand Prix, shortlisted for best international feature film at the 92nd Academy Awards), it is also a reminder of the history of films and filmmakers who have been largely ignored by the gatekeepers of privilege. Director Mati Diop made history as the first Black woman to direct a film featured in the competition at Cannes Film Festival. While this may be a sign that times are slowly changing, it is also an opportunity to probe the fiction of creating history. Whose past is remembered in history? Atlantics is itself a ghost story. Ada is hopelessly in love with construction worker Souleiman but betrothed to the wealthy Omar. When Souleiman and the other workers decide to migrate across the ocean to seek a safer future in Spain, the women they left behind (the lovers, mothers and sisters) must attempt to reconcile past and present as a supernatural mystery unfolds. Magic realism seeps through the seams of a realist drama, however, viewers will be struck by the truth behind the fiction. A quietly provocative gem of a film.


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