Times are changing in the movie business, and the Cannes Film Festival, running May 17 to 28, has put this reality on brilliant display.
Controversy simmered over the inclusion of two films in the official competition from Netflix, a company that often sidesteps traditionally fixed theatrical release schedules.
At least one of its Cannes films – South Korean director Bong Joon-Ho’s “Okja” – will be available to stream next month.
Audiences booed the company’s logo on screen, French exhibitors protested and Cannes changed rules to require theatrical release in France for future competition films.
Some Cannes purists also weren’t thrilled with the premiere of two TV series, including the first two hours of David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks” reboot, already airing on Showtime. “Right now, cable television is the new arthouse,” Lynch told deadline.com.
This resonates out here in small-town America, where international festival hits rarely – if ever – make it to the theater and online streaming and the small screen experience reign supreme.
We’re not so concerned with the timing of releases, but rather the access online platforms afford us to world cinema.
In that spirit, here’s a look at three other international film festival favorites currently streaming on Netflix.
“Sand Storm” (Sundance 2016 World Cinema Grand Jury Prize)
Israeli director Elite Zexer’s “Sand Storm” was the first film shot entirely in Arabic to win a best film Ophir (Israel’s Oscars).
Turning on a family with four daughters in a Bedouin village, the setting feels remote in more ways than one. This is a world where first wives host their husbands’ subsequent weddings, girls sneak out windows to talk to boys, daughters are married off by their fathers and wives can be banished from their homes.
Yet the emotions at the core of this story of one young woman’s attempt to defy her destiny, and her mother’s improbable role in supporting her, are achingly universal: the urgency of young love, the pride and responsibility of parenthood, the pain of a broken marriage, the irreversible moment when a child loses faith in a parent, the suffocating weight of a life with no hope or future.
“Sand Storm” offers a much subtler rendering of stifled rebellion than the equally lauded 2015 film Mustang, also on Netflix, about five oppressed sisters in Turkey.
It might take you a bit to get into this initially slow-paced movie, which lingers documentary-style on seemingly disconnected sequences, often without much dialogue or explanation. But stick with it – the story, acting and unique setting are all worth it.
“Fire at Sea” (Berlin 2016 Golden Bear)
This Oscar-nominated documentary also requires patience as it leisurely patches together a portrait of modern life on Lampedusa, an Italian island closer to the African coast than the European, and a landing point for hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees over the last two decades.
As director Gianfranco Rosi told Film Comment in October, “Lampedusa somehow became a metaphor of what Europe is right now: these two worlds that collide but cannot interact with each other.”
His camera shows this by following locals as they go about their daily lives, then riding aboard coast guard boats sent to help migrants lost at sea. Rosi juxtaposes the languid days of childhood and the traditions of Mediterranean life with distressing scenes of dehydrated and dazed evacuees being searched and catalogued, or the cavern of a refugee ship layered with dead bodies.
In one particularly memorable scene, a room full of Nigerian men chant their impossible journey across the Sahara, through Libyan prisons and over the sea. In another, the local doctor, who cares for refugees, talks about the patients he’s treated, the cadavers he’s examined and the anger and emptiness he feels in the face of so much suffering.
“It is the duty of every human being to help these people,” the doctor says behind barely concealed tears, providing an eloquent caption to Rosi’s portrait.
“Dheepan” (Cannes 2015 Palme d’Or)
“Dheepan” shows the other side of the emigrant experience: three Tamil refugees escaping violence in Sri Lanka get resettled in France, but wind up in a crime-ridden subsidized housing project.
The trio have fled under false pretenses, posing as a married couple with a 9-year-old daughter, when in reality all three have lost their own families in the war and came together entirely out of convenience.
Their new life in France means creating their own bonds, a storyline that allows the Sri Lankan-born actors to shine. The camera follows them closely for the duration of the film.
As a character study, “Dheepan” provides a credible depiction of how bewildering it must be to start over in a new country where you know neither the language nor the culture. It also offers a fascinating portrayal of complete lawlessness in the French housing blocks.