Monday, May 2, 2011

International: Ajami (2009); Absurdistan (2008)

So I had the best intentions this weekend.  I looked ahead at Coming Soon listings on both InstantWatcher and FeedFlicks and noticed that a lot of Miramax titles were supposed to start on Netflix Watch Instantly yesterday, May 1.  So I started to prepare four separate entries to use throughout this week, covering international films, American indies, genre films from Dimension Films, and Oscar prestige films. I intended to use the posts to briefly trace Miramax's history from its origins as a specialty distributor to its status as a mini-major. Imagine my amusement when none of the films actually started streaming.

So for now I'll keep those entries in the queue, and hope that they appear in the near future.  So today's picks are going to be brief.

First up is Ajami, the first Arabic-language film submitted by Israel for Oscar consideration, and it was indeed nominated for Best Foreign Language Film.   It has a 97% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so needless to say this is in my queue and I'm looking forward to it.  Interestingly it has a much lower audience rating (76%) perhaps because of the difficult narrative structure and the assumed knowledge of the region that makes it confusing to some viewers.

Ajami (Scandar Copti, Yaron Shani, Israel, 2009, 125 minutes)
Netflix: When their uncle wounds an important clan member, 13-year-old Nasri (Fouad Habash) and his older brother, Omar (Shahir Kabaha), fear he has put their whole family in terrible danger in this moving, Oscar-nominated drama set on the West Bank. A truce is arranged, but Omar must start selling drugs to pay the fine he now owes. Meanwhile, a number of other locals struggle to negotiate the political and social tinderbox of Jaffa's Ajami neighborhood. Netflix link. 

Absurdistan is a charming, low key comedy from the director of Tuvalu (which was also streaming up until recently).  Sometimes the satire is a bit broad, but it's at its best when dealing with the young couple protagonists and when it occasionally dabbles in a bit of magical-realism.

Absurdistan (Veit Helmer, Russia, 2008, 84 minutes)
Netflix: On the verge of their first intimate encounter together, two teenage sweethearts find their plans thrown into peril. In their village, all the women are preparing to go on a sex strike against the men, who've been too lazy to fix broken water pipes. Starring Max Mauff and Kristyna Malérová, this romantic comedy was inspired by actual events in which women of a Turkish village withheld physical favors from their menfolk. Netflix link.

On the exact opposite end of the charming scale is Man Bites Dog, one of the coldest media satires that I can remember.  It's been years since I've seen it, and perhaps I only saw the R-rated version, which was already pretty brutal at times.  I'm not sure which version is streaming (there seems to be a reluctance to stream unrated versions when available, see John Waters' A Dirty Shame), but if you're in the mood for something that will make you wallow in the depravity of humanity but laugh at the same time, check this out.

Man Bites Dog (Remy Belvaux, Andre Bonzel, Benoit Poelvoorde, France, 1992, 96 minutes)
Netflix: A satirical look at how the media affects and promotes violence in modern society. Spoofing reality television, a fascinated documentary crew follows a charismatic yet unrepentant serial killer on his murder sprees. The crew attempts to objectively document the horror, but as the violence escalates, they ultimately get sucked into participating. Man Bites Dog won the International Critics' Prize at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival. Netflix link.

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