(Welcome to Pop Culture Imports, a column that compiles the best foreign movies and TV streaming right now.)
Welcome back to your regularly scheduled programming on Pop Culture Imports, in which I dispense with the themes now that Oscar season is over, and I give you some good foreign-language movies and shows to watch while you’re working from home waiting for the coronavirus scare to die down. In fact, there may be no better cure for the closet racism and xenophobia that the coronavirus has inspired than watching a few international films to remind you that there is a world outside your heavily bolted door. And if you’re not going to eat at your local Chinese restaurant, the least you can do is watch an HBO anthology series about food around East and Southeast Asia. In addition to that series, called Food Lore, there is a moving and magnetic German childcare drama, a Spanish-British romantic dramedy, a very bizarre anime series, and more.
Let’s fire up those subtitles and get streaming.
Best Foreign Movies and TV Streaming Now
System Crasher – Netflix
Director: Nora Fingscheidt
Cast: Helena Zengel, Albrecht Schuch, Gabriela Maria Schmeide, Lisa Hagmeister, Melanie Straub, Victoria Trauttmansdorff.
System Crasher is in danger of coming off like a preachy social drama — director Nora Fingscheidt, who makes the transition from documentaries, spent years researching and observing the German child welfare system — but ends up a moving and intimate account of a young girl who is just too much for anyone to handle. The term “system crasher” is used in Germany to describe out-of-control kids whose behavior is so antisocial that the country’s usually airtight foster system can’t place them: they’re too young for confined in-treatment programs, too violent for foster care or group homes. In any other country they may be faced in a psychiatric hospital or juvenile imprisonment right off the bat. But System Crasher puts a face to that statistic, introducing us to the violent, explosive Benni, a 9-year-old girl who yearns only to be unconditionally loved.
Watch This If You Like: The Florida Project, My Life as a Zucchini, seeing a far superior but still flawed child welfare system at work.
Anchor and Hope – Hulu
Country: Spain, Britain
Genre: Romantic dramedy
Director: Carlos Marqués-Marcet
Cast: Natalia Tena, Oona Chaplin, David Verdaguer.
A charming lesbian romantic drama-comedy, Anchor and Hope follows the free-spirited Eva (Oona Chaplin) and Kat (Natalia Tena) who enjoy their carefree life on a London canal boat until Eva tells Kat that she wants a baby. Society comes crashing into their nomadic lifestyle, along with all the complications of love and family — Chaplin’s real-life mother Geraldine Chaplin is excellent as her overly worrisome and meddling mother Germaine. Chaplin and Tena give performances as breezy as Marques-Marcet’s warm and evocative direction, making this somewhat predictable dramedy incredibly watchable.
Watch This If You Like: Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Imagine Me and You, charming lesbian romances.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure – Netflix, Hulu, Crunchyroll
Genre: Action anime series
Director: Naokatsu Tsuda, Ken’ichi Suzuki
Cast: Daisuke Ono, Fuminori Komatsu.
I have to admit: I didn’t know what JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure was. And after watching a few episodes I still don’t know. But I think I get it? This is a show people watch out of an ironic sense of humor right? They have to, with its painfully dated animation style that harkens back to ’80s or ’90s-era action animes, its flowery dialogue, its overly serious tone, and its absurd battle sequences sparked by a trivial argument. The series follows several generations of the heroic Joestar family — each descendent inexplicably given the nickname “JoJo” — as they wage their never-ending battle against the forces of evil, going all the way back to 19th century England. I’m going to assume that JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is a satire of ’90s action animes that operates on a higher level than I am capable of, but I think I saw brief glimpses of the satirical masterpiece that it is. Or maybe I’m just thinking too deeply about this.
Watch This If You Like: I have no idea what to compare this to. A fever dream?
Food Lore – HBO Go
Country: Japan, Singapore, Thailand, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam
Genre: Anthology drama series
Showrunner: Eric Khoo
Cast: Valentine Payen-Wicaksono, Firdaus Rahman, Dominique Husken-Ulbrich.
Beef noodle soup. Mango sticky rice. Chicken adobo. All drool-worthy Pan-Asian dishes that are featured in HBO scripted anthology series Food Lore, a series that does well to remind us that there is delicious food waiting outside our heavily-bolted doors. Showrunner Eric Khoo helms an episode set in Singapore, while several other directors — Japan’s Takumi Saitoh, Indonesia’s Billy Christian, Vietnam’s Phan Dang Di, Thailand’s Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, the Philippines’ Erik Matti, Singapore’s Don Aravind, and Malaysia’s Ho Yuhang — craft eight fictional stories that span the globe. The stories range from unlikely friendships, to missed connections, to commentary on class divisions, but are all brought together by the universal language of delicious, scrumptious-looking food.
Watch This If You Like: Eat Drink Man Woman, The Wedding Banquet, food porn.
Followers – Netflix
Genre: J-drama series
Director: Mika Ninagawa
Cast: Miki Nakatani, Elaiza Ikeda, Mari Natsuki, Yuka Itaya.
Shot entirely in the afterglow of bright pink neon lights (or the glow of phone screens), Followers is like millennial pink writ as a J-drama. But there are some deeper undercurrents to this social media soap about a struggling actress whose fame skyrockets after she gets randomly photographed by a famous photographer. Elaiza Ikeda stars as Natsume, a struggling actress on the verge of quitting, when she is randomly photographed by Limi Nara (Miki Nakatani) a famous and successful fashion photographer, who publishes a photo of a despondent-looking Natsume on her Instagram. But Followers cuts into the dirty side of fame, as Natsume struggles with her newfound notoriety and Nara tries to balance having a career with trying to have a baby. It’s a bit soapy and director Mika Ninagawa, also a photographer, runs the series through the Instagram filters a few too many times, but Followers is a compelling look at fame and friendship in the social media age.
Watch This If You Like: The Bold Type, Younger, feeling seen by The Cut article about the millennial aesthetic.
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