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Pop Culture Happy Hour’s Oscar Guide to International Features

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Last Played: May 19, 2021
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The films are “Another Round”, starring Mads Mikkelson, “Quo Vadis, Aida?”, Hong Kong’s “Better Days”, the documentary “Collective”, and “The Man Who Sold His Skin”. All of these films propose a happier, better world. Through negativity, they locate an element of hope.
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Blood alcohol level of 0.05%. Things go great until they don't Carlos. What do you think? I mean, I think this one is by far the most accessible in the sense that it's, you know, the situations and the circumstances that these people go through a very relatable, you know, they're having issues at home with their wives, they've lost their, lost for life, there at a place in their lives when they, they're teaching young people and they see themselves are projected in what they've done with their lives and how they no longer feel interested in the things that they used to be. So it's sort of like revitalizing for them, invigorating experience to be drunk and to sort of experience life again. Math Mickelson's performance is really the highlight here throughout, particularly towards the end and a beautiful scene that, you know, has been talked about a lot and it's a film that I feel could be remade in any country in the world. It's not super specific to Denmark, I will say. So that also helps that be relative one connect with people everywhere. Yeah, it does have a sort of not quite sly or, or implicit critique of danish drinking culture, but you're absolutely right. It could apply elsewhere. I admit I got a little impatient with this film because there's only one way it's going to go and it proceeded to go exactly that way. Um, that's why when this film widened out from these four dudes, these for Schmucks, I got a lot more interested in the ramifications of their choices. I didn't need to spend a lot of time watching them make those choices. So the more we saw the world around them, the more I liked it. This one's got the heat behind it. This is the likely winner this year. But I do think there's some more interesting films in the mix. Here's one quote varies. Aida is the entry from Bosnia and Herzegovina. It's written and directed by Yaz Melisa balik and it's streaming on hulu. This is set in the small Bosnian town of Srebrenica in 1995 when I typed Srebrenica into my browser to kind of see where it was in the world. It auto filled with the words genocide and massacre. So that's how I knew when I was in for Aida is a Bosnian woman who works as a U. N. Translator and she spends the film desperately trying to get her family to safety when the Serbian army invades the town. She has played unforgettably. I would say by Yasmina judy kick. It is a very tense film. What do you think this one's my personal favorite? I really think it's a devastating experience to watch in the sense that you know, like you said the tension and so the choice is that this woman is forced to make. She is you know being put in a position in which she wants to save her own her immediate family. But at the same time she's responsible for communicating with the thousands of people that have been displaced. And I think that we get the sense of how her position within the institution of the United Nations and this crisis it's very chaotic and we we understand that her hands are tied and she's you know pushing against the sort of inaction and and the bad decisions that the U. N. Made and described it. And I feel like like you said just a jury six performances stunning. You could feel that that worry that painting in her face and just seeing her going to incredible lengths to try to find a solution and trying to save her family. I do think that one of the most important irrelevant things about this movie that the director makes very clear is that these people, the victims and the perpetrators belong to the same community, right? We find out that IDa who was a teacher before being uh forced to become an interpreter had been the teacher for a lot of the people who are in the serving army. And you know, they were all sort of the same group and were divided among ethnic and religious lines. So the fact that we learn that the violence comes from from within from the same group, I think makes it very powerful. Yeah. And you're absolutely right because the choice to make her a translator really opens up the film in a really smart way, because we see what, how much access to information she has and how much she still doesn't know what's going on and how she passes that along to people or chooses not to pass it along to people. This is a film with just a growing sense of panic and helplessness. I think it works best when it stays on her point of view. When we widen out, we get yes, we get more context, but we lose some of that urgency. What I admire most about this film is that in its attempt to unpack what happened, it's also pointing out implicitly the many ways that this could happen again, where evil is met with inaction or as it was in this case with a kind of misguided sense of impartiality. It's a very wrenching film. There's a moment of grief in the last act that is completely unforgettable and yet the film leaves room for a little grace note at the end that kind of points forward. That suggests some means of moving on. I really admire the hell out of this film. All right, next up Better Days. This is from Hong kong. It's directed by Derek Sang. Uh this is available to rent or buy as we take this. It's about a girl Kenyan who gets bullied at school, then she meets a kid who's in a street gang and as her bullying intensifies, he attempts to protect her. What do you think of this? This one was less successful for me in the sense that I feel that it falls into the melodramatic and sort of pushes into P. S. A. Territory. I mean, I feel like the the final moments of this movie are quite literally a P. S. A. Against bullying, which is clearly an important issue. Having said that I do think that the performances at times they're very engaging and I felt the chemistry between the two protagonists. Uh the depiction of bullying, it's very brutal and cruel in ways that I feel we we rarely see an american television or films. You know this is the type of bullying that should cause alarm anywhere. You know? And and I do think that the length of the film and how much time we spend with them is not always to the benefit of the story. I feel like there could have been a little a little less beautiful moments of connection between them. No they're not interesting but I do feel like it extends unnecessarily. Uh hear what you're saying, I mean you're right, it's very overt in its mission to proclaim the evils of bullying. It does feel a little schematic at times. But what it does nicely is contrast they're two different worlds. Hers is one of very high pressure studying for exams that are going to determine the course of her life and his is just trying to survive on the streets. The thing that unites them is that they're both alone. And as they get closer, there's some great shots of him walking on the other side of the street, slightly behind her, she walks to school to protect her. It's really involving, Yes, it's melodramatic, but it's really involving. You hate these bullies and you really root for this young couple and it's got a great final shot. Next up, a movie we talked about before on this show collective from Romania. It's directed by alexander. Now now it's streaming on hulu. It's also nominated for best documentary. When I tell you that this is that documentary about the Romanian healthcare system, I can hear pulse is quickening across the nation. But listen, it starts out investigating the aftermath of a fire that broke out in a crowded nightclub and then it follows the burn patients who should have recovered, but instead they ended up dying months and months afterwards. What you make of this Carlos? This one's a river and documentary. It's one of those films that, you know, it's so specific and like yeah, it's about the Romanian healthcare system, but in in is ramifications and how it explores this this particular event and everything that happened after becomes very important and sort of uh you see parallels with the american experience and with any country that's sort of been uh kind of pushed into the fake news and and and sort of the lack of support for the press. I do think that it's it's very commendable in how it really put the journalists as the heroes of this story, as as the ones that are, you know, against their better judgment, in a sense, going after. You know, the corrupt politicians and the corrupt institutions that are, you know, quite literally putting people's lives at risk. And and as we learn sort of the layers of of how deep this goes, it becomes even more shocking and and engaging and having that help minister who sort of like the good guy trying to make a change and seeing him also be kind of swallowed by the system. And it's also compelling. I really I'm a fan of this one. Yeah, you hit the right where they're compelling because even though this gets into ramifications and details of healthcare systems, it starts from a place of intense emotion. You see these families shattered. It does contain footage of the fire and the club. So we should warn folks about that. That's a tough sit. We see the ouster of corrupt politicians, they get replaced by these technocrats who try to strive to correct. But ultimately, this is a film about shoe leather reporting, a very slow kind of thread pulling the revelations into this corruption that we get. They happen slowly. They haven't incrementally, this is a very unglamorous look at journalism. And therefore, I say, anyone who is inspired to get into journalism by this movie, I feel safe to say is getting into journalism for the right reasons because this is tough. We could do a super cut of just the amount of pained rubbing of the eyes that takes place in this film. The access granted to this film crew took government meetings where language is being hammered out for official statements is remarkable. But the other way this film could have gone wrong is if it turned these reporters into crusaders into heroes. But we keep going back to the victims and this film ultimately becomes about the way systems strike back at any attempt to change them. This has a little less hope than some of the other films in this mix. Finally, we have the man who sold his skin. This is the tunisian entry. It is written and directed by Counter Ben Hania. It's only in theaters as we record this. Here's the deal to be able to travel freely in europe and reunite with the love of his life. A Syrian man named Sam who is played by Yamaha. Any agrees to have his back tattooed by a very famous artist becoming an art object himself. As you can probably guess, he gets more than he bargained for. What you think. Carlos. Uh, I'm not a fan of this one. This one to me feels very schematic and so trying to push its ideas, we think is very important in a way that it felt to me a bit and sincere. I understand that is based on a on a real story about an artist who actually to to the back of another person. And so there is a piece of art. So, just coming from that, it's, you know, it's interesting as a concept for me. Um just the execution and the performance is the tone and at times trying to be a satire dealing with this subject. That uh those moments in which, you know, we have Monica Belushi being sort of this uh you know, this art curator, this assistant to the artists who is very ruthless and you know, sort of uh pushing for this man to be completely exploited and give up the any freedom as a as a person. They didn't feel to me like they work in a in a sincere and a narrative way that I could believe. Like I was always sort of questioning the intentions and the validity of the filmmaking and the final act um is really the weakest part of this film. It just goes into a very neatly wrapped sort of ending that to me takes away from the big questions that is asking about exploitation, about, you know, the pain of refugees and how, you know, we see refugees in their struggle, that about the art world, about what's considered art, and who gets to make art and who gets to travel freely with this visa that this uh this man gets tattooed on his back. So I feel like the concept and and some of the ideas within our very uh you know, relevant and should be talked about. I just wasn't a fan of the tone and the execution that the director chose to use to tell them. I'm a big fan of her previous film, Beauty and the Dogs, which uh, so I don't think the filmmaking has married, I just wasn't a fan of the tone. No, I get that. I mean, this is another film, like another round, frankly that sets up its dominoes and you know exactly how they're going to fall. Uh, I thought I had some fun watching it. I mean, it's not the blistering satire of the art world that the square was a couple years back, but it's playing in the same sandbox. You mentioned the actual artist who actually tattooed dudes back, He gets a brief cameo, that's vim Del boy. He plays an insurance guy who's trying to estimate the amount that this guy is worth. He tattooed the back of a guy named Tim Steiner and that guy is going to be sitting in art galleries for the rest of his life and when he dies his tattoo will be framed. You're always a step or two ahead of this character. But I was always with him. I really like the performance, We spend so much time in close ups on his face because of course this film is about the humanity of that character and he doesn't want to let you forget that Now, Carlos, I was trying to come up with some kind of through line here, some kind of thread that weaves through these five films. I I mean the most I could come up with this violence, they all kind of deal with violence in some way, including the violence we do to our livers in the case of another round. But what do you think do you take away from this mix here? I mean, I think that to a degree, they're all avid life.
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