international releases – These semi-lockdown times might become an excellent opportunity to watch movies from beyond the usual borders of North America. Streaming services—even the most conventional ones like Netflix—are now opening screening space to films made from places other than Hollywood. Good examples of this wider focus are the two films I have reviewed here. “Identifying Features” a Mexican production directed by Fernanda Valadez, and France’s official submission for the Best Foreign Language Oscar category, “Deux” (“Two of Us”) by Filippo Maneghetti.
International releases to be watched
IDENTIFYING FEATURES: Dangerous Borders
For some time now, Mexico has been a country with a conflicting situation at its northern border. Both Mexicans from different regions of the country and many Central Americans arrive there intending to cross into the United States in recent years. However, Mexico also seems to have another sort of “internal frontiers,” the ones set by the various drug cartels and other organized crime groups. In this film, there is a convergence of both kinds of borders and the dramas they entail.
Magdalena (Mercedes Hernandez), a forty-something woman from a rural region in the state of Guanajuato is desperate after losing contact with his son. The latter had left for the US with a friend. She then decides to go on his search, fearing that something could have happened to him. There are many rumours about people being abducted or murdered in the border region.
During her journey, she would meet a woman who just happened to recognize her murdered son’s body. Magdalena also learns that the friend with whom her son was travelling has been killed. That is something she heard since often the victims are burned, and their bodies are rarely found.
Although the movie’s pace is at times very slow, it still manages to attract the viewer for its elements of suspense. When by chance, Magdalena meets Miguel (David Illescas), a young man who was just deported from the US. The story takes its most interesting twist. Magdalena is convinced that an indigenous man who had recently survived an attack on a bus, may provide her with information about her son. Miguel helps her reach the remote place where she finds the man, but the information she gets is not conclusive. When she is back at Miguel’s home, the local criminal gang’s attack will occur, and Magdalena would finally learn what happened to her missing child.
“Identifying Features” is a film that explores the emotional impact that organized crime, poverty, and the hope of reaching the US has on families in those remote regions of Mexico. An area where the cartels have imposed a violent rule for years. It is a sad story that tells us a great deal about why young people, devoid of hope, try to find their way to the Promised Land north of the Mexican border. However, to reach that goal, they have to deal with both the American border patrols and those who control Mexico’s cartels’ territories.
The movie won the Gotham Award for Best International Film and the Audience Award and Best Screenplay prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Available at various streaming services (Spanish with English subtitles). Running Time: 98 min.
TWO OF US: Love and family values
Nina (Barbara Sukowa) and Madelaine (Martine Chevallier), two retired women, have been lovers for a long time. However, Madelaine, who happens to be a widow and the mother of two adult children, has never revealed their relationship. It is her secret, which now, she has agreed to finally unveil. The occasion is her birthday when her two children and the grandchild will be present. Nina and Madelaine have made plans: Mado—as Nina calls her—will sell her apartment and they will move together to Rome, the city where they first met, in their youth.
However, Madelaine didn’t find the right moment to tell her children, the deal to sell the apartment falls through due to her hesitations. Nina accidentally learns about her lover’s change of mind, and her reaction creates a crisis in their relationship. In turn, the crisis unleashes a far worse consequence: while alone at home, Madelaine suffers a stroke. One of the results is that she can no longer speak.
The accident causes uneasiness to her children, especially Frederic (Jérôme Varanfrain). Her daughter Anne (Léa Drucker), although closer to her is also caught in the middle of a situation that she cannot handle well at first.
Italian director Filippo Meneghetti has made a bold movie since a lesbian love relation is not very common in mainstream cinema. The narrative is nuanced and easily captures the interest of the viewer. Beautiful photography by Aurélien Marra, contributes to conveying the relationship’s vicissitudes subtly and engagingly.
This film is France’s submission to the Oscar Foreign Language category. It will be available in French with English subtitles, starting February 5, from various services providing video on demand. Running Time: 95 min.
Feature image: Leaving for the US is the great hope for some young Mexicans, despite the dangers on their way north