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The Man Who Sold His Skin

(Syria, English subtitles): This film, which was Syria’s entry to the Oscars and made the shortlist, centers on Sam Ali, a refugee who agrees to have his back tattooed as a form of art in exchange for money, freedom, and a visa to Europe, where his girlfriend is betrothed to a member of the embassy. While uneven in its execution, the film works best as a commentary (and perhaps even satire) on the question of art and its commodification (as well as the commodification of Sam). Sam exchanges his back for his freedom, but he comes to realize that he …

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Quo Vadis, Aida?

(Bosnia and Herzegovina, English Subtitles): This historical film is based on the massacre of thousands of men and boys in an ethnic cleansing operation in Bosnia in the mid-1990s. The event is told through the experience of Aida, a translator for the United Nations peacekeeping forces assigned to monitor a temporary cease-fire between the Bosnian Serbs and the Bosnian Muslims. Aria knows more about what is going on and what is about to happen, but she finds herself torn between the needs of her people and the activities of the UN overseers as well as the need to save her …

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The Mole Agent

(Chile, English Subtitles). The subject of this documentary is Sergio, a widower of 83 years, who applies for a job to go undercover in a nursing home. The private investigator has been hired by the daughter of one of the residents who believe the nursing staff is stealing from her. Sergio takes the job as a way to help deal with the loss of his wife. The film provides an insider look at life in the nursing home. It is rather sad, for the most part, how Sergio engages several of the residents and learns of the loneliness that many …

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Collective

(Romania, English subtitles): This fascinating documentary follows a sharp investigative journalism team that began by investigating a fire at a nightclub in Romania that killed about two dozen young people but went on to claim nearly 40 additional lives. This movie reminded me of the wonderful film Spotlight several years ago based on the team who cracked the story about one of the cardinals accused of sexually abusing boys. While that was a reenactment of the story, Collective is a documentary that follows the team as piece together several seemingly unrelated events – the nightclub fire, the resignation of the …

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Dear Comrades!

(Russia, English Subtitles): The film, based on a true story, takes place in 1962, when workers in a factory, complaining about high prices of food, food shortages, and low wages, went on strike. To break the strike, the government fires on the protesters, killing several, and went to extreme measures to cover up the murders. The film is shot in black and white, which gives it an interesting air of history and the times when most broadcasts were in black and white. It is a commentary on the extent that governments go to hide the truth, but the best part …

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Night of the Kings

(Ivory Coast; French with English Subtitles): A young man, a small-time thief is sent to MACA, a prison in the Ivory Coast that is essentially run by the inmates. The leader of the inmates is close to death, and as part of the legend, he must surrender his rule, and his life, during the red moon. He chooses an inmate (who he calls “the Roman” to tell a story, and as the film progresses, we get a sense of how important that story is to the Roman in order to stay alive. This film is very beautifully shot and also …

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Minari

(Much of the film is Korean with English subtitles): Jacob, Monica, are Korean – American immigrants and move from California to Arkansas with their two young children. They arrive at the property that has several acres with no irrigation, and an old trailer. Jacob is looking to find success in creating a niche farming Korean vegetables and not have to make money in the chicken houses “looking at chicken butts”. There is something very special about this film that is based on the experiences of the director as a child. While the film is from an immigrant point of view, …

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The White Tiger

The movie is about the rise of Balram from growing up in a poor neighborhood to becoming a successful entrepreneur in Delhi. As a teenager, he manages to land a job working as a driver for Ashok and his wife Pinky, both of whom have returned from America to expand their business. I didn’t think the film is terrible, but when I think that it was an adaptation of a book that won the Booker Prize, the story had to have been told MUCH better there than in the film. I found it mostly a tedious exercise that required significant …

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Funny Boy

(Sri Lanka, some parts in English and English subtitles): This film is a coming-of-age story of a boy, Arjie, growing up gay in Sri Lanka during the civil war between the Tamil and Sinhalese ethnic groups. We see him first probably around 8 years old, in a mock wedding in which he is dressed up as the bride and another girl from the neighborhood is the groom. While his father is concerned about him being a “funny boy”, his Aunt Radha encourages his differentness. The film then jumps to Arjie as a teenager attending a preparatory school, where the tension …

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Druk (Another Round)

(Denmark, English subtitles). Martin (Mads Mikkelsen) is a high school teacher who has hit a bit of a mid-life crisis. His classes are boring, his family life is boring, with a wife who works nights and is becoming more estranged, and two teenage sons who are off doing their own thing. He and three other teachers decide to test a theory that blood alcohol content should always be at least .05 with no drinking after 8 pm or on the weekends. Their goal is to see if it improves their professional and social lives. The test starts off well enough, …

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