Streaming Spotlight: Sundance With Subtitles

This week we look at some world cinema gems from the indie festival

by Amber Wilkinson

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
After turning our Streaming Spotlight on some of Sundance's less well-known indie gems a couple of weeks ago, we thought we'd have a look at some of the subtitled films that have screened there. The attention of critics is, understandably, most drawn to the premiere and US Dramatic Competition sections of the festival but both the World Cinema Competition and Midnight sections often harbour gems of their own, some of which go on to get a bigger spotlight after travelling to other festivals. Here's a handful to catch if you can. You'll note that there is a slight skew towards Latin America in these titles - a result perhaps of Sundance being able to get an early pick of these as opposed to European films, which gravitate more readily to Berlin or Cannes.

Monos, Netflix

Worth seeking out for the tour de force score by Mica Levi, which knows just how and when to make itself felt, this riff on Lord Of The Flies lost out to Joanna Hogg's The Souvenir but has picked up plenty of plaudits since. The story of eight child soldiers leading a feral existence with their captive in a remote part of Latin America sees Alejandro Landes generate a nightmarish mood from the start, which feeds off the unpredictability of the youngsters as the group begins to fragment. Shot with a realism that makes you fear on a visceral level for the safety of those involved, Landes' film is has a deliberately chaotic, gripping energy that proves addictive.

Loveling, Amazon Prime

Sundance is perhaps most associated with gritty films about edgy subjects - but the programmers often show a sharp eye for a bit of heartwarming programming as well - with English-language charmers Sing Street, Brooklyn and Blinded By The Light all premiering there. This winning slice of Brazilian family life also has the feel-good factor, as Gustavo Pizzi (writing with star Karine Teles) offer a snapshot of a clan whose son is preparing to leave for Germany. The film is all about the heart of the family and how the mum (Teles), in particular, copes with her son's impending departure. Full of well-observed moments of family life - a midnight feast, bath-time fun - the film is also notable for its well-controlled use of blue and neatly worked water imagery. Read our interview with Pizzi and Teles here

Metro Manila - Google Play, YouTube

This is one of three films to make this list that is shot in a foreign language - in this case Tagalog - despite being made by a British-born or UK-based director. Sean Ellis shows he's a dab hand at mixing genre, blending documentary-style realism with a heist plot to tell the story of a family who move to Manila in search of a better life but just cannot catch a break. The fierce sense of Quezon slums coupled with its initial focus on the family, hooks us emotionally so that when the thriller elements kick in we feel there is plenty at stake. A career high for Ellis, whose most recent film Eight For Silver is currently in post-production. Read our interview with Ellis about the film here.

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night - Amazon Prime, Google Play

US produced and directed by British-born Ana Lily Amirpour, this has been described as everything from "an Iranian vampire western" to a "romcom". However you want to label it, it's a classy and atmospheric addition to the bloodsucker genre, that sees a lonely vampire (Sheila Vand) cross paths with an exhausted young man (Arash Marandi, channelling James Dean) in the imagined Bad City, where everyone speaks Farsi, although it was shot in California. Shot in crisp black and white, this is a strange and haunting film that tells an unlikely love story, whose off-beat but beguiling style is likely to have you in thrall throughout.

The Second Mother - Amazon Prime

The second film on my list to feature Karine Teles, this is another humanistic drama from Brazil, this time considering the class system through the interactions of an upper middle-class household run by Teles' high-flying businesswoman and their long-time maid Val (Regina Casé). Director Anna Muylaert isn't looking for an easy target here, refusing to demonise the employer's family but instead, with the arrival of Val's daughter Jéssica (Camila Márdila), shows how change is coming whether the older generation realise it or not. Featuring strong performances all round, this is an optimistic film, looking forward not back.

Under The Shadow, Netflix

British-Iranian filmmaker Babak Anvari made an instant name for himself with the late-night crowd when this premiered in the festival's Midnight section in 2016. Set at the tag end of the Iran-Iraq War, the filmmaker draws on the myth of malevolent djinn spirits, who can blow in on the wind, to explore the psychological trauma caused by the threat of war - a subject, sadly, still as relevant today as ever. Mother and daughter relationships have long proved fertile territory for supernatural stories and Anvari shows how the daughter and mother's fears end up in a feedback loop. Anvari creates a world where the everyday can shock you and where things that might usually be used to signify email appear utterly innocent. Beneath the genre thrills there's also plenty of social commentary. Read our interview with Anvari.

The Wound, Amazon Prime

Another strong debut feature, this time from South African director John Trengrove. Sexual repression rises to the surface as a young man prepares for a traditional Ukwaluka coming-of-age circumcision ritual. More than a straightforward coming-of-age tale, this becomes an interrogation of masculinity as the self-confidence of gay young initiate Kwanda (Niza Jay Ncoyini) threatens the sense of identity of the closeted Xolani (Nakhane Touré), who has been assigned to help the young man go through the ritual. Trengrove gradually ratchets the tension to breaking point while balancing the scrutiny of the clash between tradition and the modern world with the personal tale of growing conflict between the two men. Read our interview with Trengrove.

We're straying away from subtitled fiction for this week's short film selection - The Fighting Cholitas, which received a Special Jury Mention back in 2007. Mariam Jobrani's documentary opens a window into the world of female Bolivian wrestling and is brimming with energy.

The Fighting Cholitas (2006) from Saffron for the Soul on Vimeo.

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