A Global Cinema Watch-List

Julia Alekseyeva, Assistant Professor of Cinema Studies, shares her list of the best works of global cinema available on Netflix.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

By Susan Ahlborn


Julia Alekseyeva, Assistant Professor of Cinema Studies



Have you watched all the disease and disaster movies you can handle? Would you like to use this time of isolation to catch up on some quality films and stretch your horizons a bit? Julia Alekseyeva, Assistant Professor of English and Cinema and Media Studies, took some time away from her online-teaching preparations to give us her suggestions for the best works of global cinema available on Netflix. “I'd like to focus on what is usually accessible to students with Netflix, since most don't have access to other services like Criterion Channel,” she explains. (Note: Netflix also offers a free 30-day trial when you sign up.)

Alekseyeva’s research focuses on the interactions between global media and radical leftist politics, delving into the film, comics, television, and digital media of Japan, France, and the former Soviet Union. Along with her academic research and teaching, she is an author-illustrator whose award-winning non-fiction graphic novel, Soviet Daughter: A Graphic Revolution, was published in 2017.

Here are her recommended movies with her comments.

Armando Iannucci, The Death of Stalin (2017 – U.K.) (Arriving on Netflix on April 1, 2020)

Death of Stalin is one of the few films in recent years that functions both as scathing political satire and rib-busting comedic fun. Steve Buscemi is brilliant as the sniveling yet empathetic Nikita Khrushchev, while Jason Isaacs plays the bloodthirsty and charismatic Red Army Marshal Georgy Zhukov, and Jeffrey Tambor plays Georgy Malenkov with bumbling, idiotic aplomb. Soviet history buffs will also be pleasantly surprised to see how loyal (in most cases) Iannucci remained to the historical facts of Stalin's death. Did Soviet officials in 1953 speak in wry Britishisms? No, but the brilliance of the film lies in how it was able to accurately translate real-life absurdity into true comedic gold.

Mati Diop, Atlantics (2019 – Senegal)

Atlantics is impossible to describe without giving away clues about its most interesting characteristics. Simply put, this stunning debut feature film by Senegalese filmmaker Mati Diop—who made history as the first black woman to direct a film in competition for France's Palme d'Or—is about a young couple struggling in the face of unemployment, migration, and family struggles. Ghosts may or may not be involved. Interestingly, Diop is the niece of Djibril Diop Mambéty, whose film Touki Bouki ("Journey of the Hyena," 1973) finds many resonances with Atlantics: ancient curses, a renegade couple, and a touch of magic realism combined with harsh reality.

Jérémy Clapin, I Lost My Body (2019 – France)

I Lost My Body is one of many French animated films geared towards adults, with dark themes and gorgeous 2D animation techniques (the U.S. should be taking notes!). The film operates on multiple overlapping storylines: on one level, a hand, severed from its body, crawls around the suburbs of Paris; on another level, a young man named Naoufel struggles through daily life as a pizza delivery boy. Clapin's film has traces of animated films that likewise delve into the macabre, such as Coraline (Henry Selick, 2009), but the results are entirely its own. The film is emotionally gripping and incredibly dark—a film fit for these uncertain and unequal times.

Yorgos Lanthimos, The Lobster (2015 – Ireland)

I consider The Lobster to be one of the very best films of the 2010s, and for good reason. It also launched Lanthimos—who has since received high praise for Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017) and The Favourite (2018)—to international stardom. The film, starring a morose and contemptible Colin Farrell, exists in a dystopia where everyone is given 45 days to find a romantic partner; if they do not succeed, they are turned into the animal of their choice (hence the film's title: the protagonist's animal of choice). The Lobster is a dystopian classic that is much smarter, sleeker, and better than other apocalyptic fare, and unlike any other film to have ever existed.

Duncan Jones, Moon (2009 – U.K.)

Even in a space-film-saturated era like ours, a film like Moon stands out. Unlike the science fiction films dominating box offices for the last several decades, Moon was made on a very modest budget. More like Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) than any of its myriad contemporary imitators, Moon describes space travel—and the dilemmas that come with it—on a fundamentally human level, without the need to resort to excessive CGI. Its cinematography is somehow beautifully melancholic. Visually, it will satisfy both lovers of sci-fi and lovers of independent cinema. It is also known for being very scientifically accurate, and was even screened at NASA—a notable difference from contemporary space travel films.    

Robin Hardy, The Wicker Man (1973 – U.K.)

For fans of Ari Aster's Midsommar (2019), I highly recommend this early "folk horror" film that inspired it. In Hardy's Wicker Man, a devout Christian police sergeant travels to the isolated island of Summerisle, where Christianity never took hold and paganism continued to reign. The man investigates the disappearance of a young girl, but the folk villagers aren't too keen on this outsider disrupting their way of life. While artful and known for its gorgeous set design, it is also notable for its beautiful folk soundtrack, including highly evocative songs derived from works of Scottish poetry, among others. And don't worry: compared with other horror films, the blood and gore is quite (perhaps surprisingly) minimal.

Ang Lee, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000 – China)

You might not have known that Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon—one of the most famous films of all time, and certainly one the most famous Chinese-language films known internationally—was on Netflix! For those who haven't seen it, or haven't seen it recently, the wuxia (martial arts) film packs as much of a punch as it did two decades ago. The film won over 40 awards and was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, winning Best Foreign Film, Best Art Direction, Best Original Score, and Best Cinematography. Until it was tied with 2018's Roma (a much worse film, in my opinion), it received the most nominations for any non-English language film. For times such as these, it remains the perfect escapist treat.

Hara Keiichi, Miss Hokusai (2015 – Japan)

Hara's animated film is based on a manga of the same name, written and illustrated by Sugiara Hinako. The narrative revolves around O-Ei, daughter of renowned artist Hokusai, who also works in his studio. This gorgeous anime brings together the animated medium with many of Hokusai's most inventive artworks, marrying two visual media in a striking fashion. Similarly modernist is the film's concern for queerness, sex, and gender: the film is set in Edo-period Japan, full of bustling trade, as well as a bustling red light district. The anime provides a glimpse into a complex, modernizing, and often sexually radical, time in Japanese history. Highly recommended for Japanophiles, art buffs, and anyone in between.

Alfonso Cuarón, Y Tu Mamá También (2001 – Mexico)

Before Cuarón won Oscars for much worse and much less interesting films, he directed Y Tu Mamá También, which launched his international fame. The film is a coming-of-age and road film about two teenage friends, played by Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal in career-defining roles, who meet an older woman. The film is erotic and sensual, and its setting—the beaches of Oaxaca—lend it the perfect backdrop for a lush escapist fantasy that is nonetheless very, very real. The last act of the film especially is quite striking; without revealing more than I should, I will just say that it is thrilling, cathartic, and unexpected. The film has since been massively influential for filmmakers globally.