Welcome to Pop Culture Imports, a column that compiles the best foreign movies and TV streaming right now.
As this quarantine wears on, I know you’re all bored enough that you will give a foreign film a try. And with studios releasing some of their biggest theatrical and festival hits on digital platforms early, now is never a better time. Neon’s romance for the ages, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, hit Hulu early last week, while Netflix has some word-of-mouth hits on its hands with the electric K-drama Itaewon Class and the Spanish dystopian thriller The Platform. Those films and more are in this week’s Pop Culture Imports.
Let’s fire up those subtitles and get streaming.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire – Hulu
Genre: Romantic drama
Director: Céline Sciamma
Cast: Noémie Merlant, Adèle Haenel.
When the poets write of the great love stories, at the top will be the searing romance between Marianne and Héloïse in Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Céline Sciamma’s rapturous lesbian drama, Portrait of a Lady on Fire follows female artist Marianne Noémie Merlant who is commissioned to paint the wedding portrait of a mysterious daughter Adèle Haenel of a French countess, under the pretense of being her walking companion. But as they spend more time together, a close friendship blossoms and eventually, a deep, ecstatic romance. What else can there be written about this movie that hasn’t been written already? Why haven’t you seen it five times already? Watch it now and weep over the sheer overwhelming emotion of it all.
Watch This If You Like: Call Me By Your Name, Carol, Disobedience, the myth of Orpheus but 10 times sadder.
Itaewon Class – Netflix
Country: South Korea
Creator: Kim Do-soo
Cast: Park Seo-joon, Kim Da-mi, Yoo Jae-myung, Kwon Nara.
I write about a lot of K-dramas in this column, and even as a fan of the medium, they start to feel samey after a while. But Itaewon Class has an energy to it, an electricity that pulses through its story of a young business owner whose group of ragtag employees try to hold down their bar in the hottest neighborhood in Seoul, that makes the series feel like few K-dramas I’ve watched before. The series follows Park Saeroyi Parasite‘s Park Seo-joon, an impossibly principled young man with a bad haircut whose opens a pocha a sort of sit-down bar called DanBam and destroy his enemies by turning it into the biggest food company in Korea. He opens the restaurant in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood of Itaewon and hires a crew of misfits that all hail from backgrounds not usually seen on Korean TV — an ex-con, a transgender woman chef, and a black Korean man among them. Itaewon Class has a realistic edge to it that gives it more grit than the dozens of swooning K-dramas that often gloss over some of the more unseemly aspects of Korean society.
Watch This If You Like: House of Lies, Entourage, How to Make it in America, ragtag crews with ragtag haircuts.
Cast: Iván Massagué, Antonia San Juan, Zorion Eguileor, Emilio Buale Coka, Alexandra Masangkay.
A man Iván Massagué wakes up in a concrete square room with a large hole in the middle and a “48” marked on the wall. “You’re lucky,” his cell mate remarks. “48 is a good number.” The man, Goreng, is trapped in vertical prison made up of hundreds of levels, with two prisoners per level. In the big rectangular hole, a floating platform holding a feast of gourmet food drops down every day, stopping at each level so the prisoners can eat for a short amount of time before it lowers down to the next. But naturally, by the time the platform reaches the lower levels, the food has been entirely devoured by the higher-up prisoners. Left to their own devices, the lower-level prisoners resort to cannibalism and violence. The Platform made a big splash at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, winning the People’s Choice Award for Midnight Madness and raves for its grotesque and brutal skewering of capitalism and class division. Its rather on-the-nose premise will earn it comparisons to Snowpiercer, but this is a nasty, ugly little film without the elegance of Bong Joon-ho’s horizontal metaphor on capitalism. But if you have the stomach for it and I don’t recommend eating before watching this, Monos is an effective and spectacularly violent social thriller.
Watch This If You Like: Snowpiercer, Cube, High Rise, allegories about capitalism with some cannibalism thrown in.
Crunchyroll is getting into the original titles game, and one of its first new animes has the potential to be the promised one. Based on the South Korean webtoon of the same name, Tower of God is a gorgeously animated, frustratingly withholding fantasy-adventure series that is primed to be one of the next great battle animes. Set in a mysterious giant structure called The Tower, Tower of God follows Bam, a young amnesiac boy who enters the Tower to search for his best friend Rachel, who is on a quest to “see the stars.” As he desperately races after her, Bam finds himself battling all manner of mythic monsters and fellow “residents’ of the massive Tower, which is made up of hundreds of levels that each host a different wide-open environment. The anime’s striking animation and intriguing mysteries are enough to get you hooked, but the artful cinematography and colorful characters will keep you watching.
Watch This If You Like: Bleach, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, animals with swords!
Monos – Hulu
Genre: War drama
Director: Alejandro Landes
Cast: Julianne Nicholson, Moisés Arias.
What happens when children are given guns, a milk cow, and a hostage? Alejandro Landes’ eerie take on Lord of the Flies asks. Chaos, cultish rituals, and a bloody descent into chaos. Monos follows a group of teenage guerilla fighters run amok on an isolated mountaintop, playing games and hazing each other in cultish rituals when their commander leaves them in charge of keeping an American hostage Julianne Nicholson and a conscripted milk cows. But when the hostage attempts to escape, the fragile balance among the guerilla fighters collapses and the hotheaded second-in-command Moisés Arias takes control to establish an anarchic command over the group. A moody psychological thriller that pays loyal homage to the William Golding novel that inspired it, Monos sometimes gets caught up in its own atmosphere and starts to lag somewhat in the middle, but is otherwise a fresh new take on Lord of the Flies.
Watch This If You Like: The Hole, The Beach, any Lord of the Flies-inspired story.